“No aloha in showing your papers.”
“Obey God, defy tyrants.”
“Vaccine passport = Communism.”
Those are some of the statements posted on the Instagram page of the Aloha Freedom Coalition, a new group that is helping to lead growing opposition to government mandates intended to control the spread of Covid-19.
Though small in number, the AFC is one of several groups — along with Knights of Aloha, For Our Rights and the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent — that use social media and public rallies to push their views and enlist support.
Their views and tactics vary but also overlap. Some of the groups or their members are attracting increased scrutiny because of protests held outside the downtown condominium of Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
Green, a medical doctor and prominent face of the state effort to get residents vaccinated, has come under particular condemnation from the AFC. It has posted a caricature of Green on its website along with two lengthy screeds that lambast the lieutenant governor and the media, as well as a video that the AFC says shows Green not wearing a mask or practicing social distancing at a Honolulu restaurant last month. Green says all the nine guests were vaccinated.
In the meantime, the rallies continue. On Saturday evening, the AFC is holding what it calls Freedom Mega March 3.0 at the entrance to the Honolulu Zoo to honor the sacrifices of first responders on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
It coincides with similar rallies across the state this weekend also to honor 9/11 responders and celebrate freedom and comes just days before Maui and Honolulu counties are scheduled to initiate mandates requiring customers of many businesses to show proof of vaccination.
On Friday the state also will launch an electronic Hawaii Smart Health Card system for people who have had two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson, followed by a two-week waiting period.
And on Thursday, the Biden administration announced new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an effort to get more people vaccinated to curb the delta variant.
To groups like the AFC, such developments are alarming. Freedom means people are free to get inoculated and wear masks, but also to choose not to. Having government force such requirements on citizens is anathema.
“Our website spells out our principles well,” said Gary Cordery, the director of AFC. “We are about maintaining freedoms, preserving aloha, protecting ohana. People have a right to be free, and Aloha Freedom Coalition is an organization here to support the rights of individuals and organizations.”
The raised profile of the AFC and other groups also sometimes involves confrontation, including at a Honolulu City Council hearing last week on the mandates and vaccines.
While Mayor Rick Blangiardi has called the protesters a vocal minority, they appear to be growing in intensity, as demonstrated by the shouting and pounding of fists on windows at Honolulu Hale last week.
The Aloha Freedom Coalition was formed in September 2020 by supporters of Bud Stonebraker, a former Republican state legislator who ran unsuccessfully for the nonpartisan office of mayor of Honolulu last year.
Cordery said he and others supported Stonebraker’s platform, which stressed the value of liberty and individual rights and service to the community “with love and spirit of aloha,” as his campaign website states.
“We understood his principles and what his platform represented, and it resonated,” Cordery said. “And when he did not prevail, about 20 to 30 of us got together and said, what now?”
The group that would become AFC focuses on the media, government, business and church, and its members are allowed to “gravitate toward that area or pillar,” said Cordery.
The AFC has no religious or political bent, he said, “no unifying voice. It is a call for liberty and freedom, and if that is a principle for you, you will most likely find a home here.”
The AFC has about 1,500 people actively engaged, said Cordery, “and probably another 1,500 more following us or participating in some level at their convenience.”
He said the group is not tied to any national group, nor funded by anyone other than members who make small donations.
Cordery himself is a Christian who says that his life is governed by biblical principles and that he is committed to behaving with honor and integrity. A resident of Hawaii since 1981, Cordery, now 62, operates a construction company called Kingdom Builders, based in Aiea.
Stonebraker, an Oahu pastor, could not be reached for comment.
Civil Beat asked to speak with other members of AFC, but Cordery said he tries to limit who speaks to the media in order to present a consistent message.
He also emphasized that AFC members are free to do as they please.
Another member, Ed Arcalas, is separately leading an online petition to impeach Blangiardi. As of Thursday, it said it had collected more than 4,000 signatures.
According to the city charter, a mayor can be impeached for malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance in office. Once 5,000 signatures of registered voters are obtained and the petition filed, hearings could be held by a court.
AFC’s presence on social media illustrates both the group’s views and approach. Its YouTube account, for example, has videos titled “Blangy the BULLY,” in which the mayor is shown directly shouting down protesters at Honolulu Hale, and “Rules for thee but not for Green,” which shows the lieutenant governor mask-less and giving hugs at a Honolulu restaurant.
“It’s not exactly Gavin Newsom at the French Laundry, but we won’t split hairs here,” says a posting on AFC’s website, which also links to the video. “We see a fraud when we see one.”
The AFC’s postings chastise local media for not accurately reporting on AFC rallies and for giving outsize attention to Covid rather than what they say are more serious medical conditions like heart disease and cancer. And, while defending AFC protests as peaceful and anti-racist, the posts frequently refer to both Green’s leadership and his faith.
“Jewish scripture highlights morality and comes down heavily on those who willfully mislead others,” it reads in part. “The Hebrew term geneivat da’at refers to deceiving and cheating for personal gain. Such a person has an obligation to come clean.”
Asked about the postings, Cordery said via email that “the lengthy letters are comprised of a repost of others letters, although we do agree with their underlying message.”
Cordery said the postings address Green’s faith only because Green raised the issue of anti-Semitism, something that Cordery said has no place in his coalition. He also said that Green, while he does not have the authority to implement mandates, has nonetheless become a vocal advocate for them.
“In summary, he is leading the charge against the liberties of the people of Hawaii,” he wrote. “This places him in the spotlight for criticism of his policies. We have absolutely no animosity toward him, only his policies.”
Green said he is strongly in support of free speech and the right to protest.
“But they are fostering an environment of rage and hate, and I am just trying to get people vaccinated,” he said of AFC. “The injection of my religion and my parents’ religion is toxic and we should know better in America than to do that.”
As for the video that purports to show him ignoring Covid guidelines, Green said it was taken at his gubernatorial fundraiser Aug. 24 at Scratch Kitchen in Kakaako. He said it involved fewer than 10 people and adhered to social distancing rules.
The very nature of social media can blur distinctions between groups, who often post or link to outside content. A flier circulated this week promoting a Freedom Rally at the state Capitol Saturday includes the logos of the AFC and the Knights of Aloha, which goes by KOA, although neither group is officially participating.
The AFC, the KOA and another group called Klean House Hawaii have scheduled a press conference Friday at 11 a.m. next to Honolulu Hale. Topics will include opposition to vaccine mandates and related issues, according to a press release.
There is evidence of an evolving dynamic of the anti-mandate groups. KOA, for example, rallied with Native Hawaiian kiai, or protectors of Mauna Kea, on Labor Day. KOA will also hold assemblies in all four counties Sunday in a Last Stand rally “against the health card mandates on the last day before this tyranny is forced upon us.”
State Rep. Dale Kobayashi showed up at the KOA rally at Magic Island. While he calls himself a progressive Democrat, Kobayashi does not support government mandates, which he describes as coercive.
To that end, Kobayashi, along with fellow Democrat Rep. Angus McKelvey and GOP Reps. Val Okimoto and Gene Ward, introduced a bill in the 2021 session to prohibit discriminatory practices based on an individual’s “invasive medical test status or vaccination status.”
The bill died, but Kobayashi still speaks out against mandates.
To his surprise, the AFC tweeted out a photo of the lawmaker standing with KOA members at Magic Island. While Cordery says the AFC is nonpartisan, Kobayashi said he was taken aback when rightwing commentator Dennis Prager was the keynote speaker at an AFC rally earlier this year.
“I do not agree at all with his methods,” Kobayashi said of Cordery. “And I resent him going out there and waving me around there like a flag.”
Meanwhile, AFC’s online presence is being noticed from afar. Marjorie Freije of Columbus, Indiana, posted on AFC’s Facebook page this week, saying that she has just posted to Gov. Ige’s Facebook page.
Freihi said that Ige’s executive orders on Covid “are insulting to the intelligence of the citizens of Hawaii.”
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