(BIVN) – Top state officials say social media posts concerning the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea are crossing the line.
At a Friday news conference held on Oʻahu, Governor David Ige, Attorney General Clare Connors, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Director William, and Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said the online comments have become increasingly inflammatory – even threatening – and used numerous examples to support their claim.
“Today’s press conference is about how we speak to one another and how we treat one another while we work towards this path of a resolution,” Governor Ige said.
Comments and posts on social media have “created a consistent and repeated narrative that we believe falsely characterizes law enforcement,” said AG Connors. “Characterizing law enforcement as ‘out to get people who oppose construction of the telescope’, or out to harm the very people that law enforcement is sworn to protect. This false narrative about law enforcement sets a tone it causes alarm and it can cause people to react.”
Conners pointed to a monitor that depicted several examples, one of which appeared after the hale near Puʻuhuluhulu was dismantled on September 6. “It’s $5,000 dollar reward offered for the identity of the law enforcement officer who was part of that very tense and volatile operation to safely remove that unpermitted unauthorized structure last Friday,” Connor said. The image showed a masked officer cutting through a Hawaii flag in order to gain entry to the building.
“We have addressed the events surrounding this particular incident on multiple occasions,” the AG said, “but I hope that we can all agree that putting a bounty on the head of a law enforcement officer is disturbing and deeply concerning.”
Connors also played a threatening phone message that she says was left on the voicemail of a state employee.
“We acknowledge that not all individuals and persons involved in this movement are associated with this type of conduct,” Connors said, “and we’re not suggesting that they condone it. But it is important for all who post – for all who send out public messages – to take care and to really think about the repercussions of words that are used. Especially when they create narratives that can cause people alarm and can cause people to react.”
“Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu has never put out any calls for any kind of violence or aggression,” said Andre Perez, one of the leaders of the TMT opposition, who was on hand to respond to the news conference. “We constantly share the message of Kapu Aloha.”
“You cannot use social media to judge everyone,” Perez told KHON 2 News. “Social media is not controllable. We cannot take responsibility for the thousands – if not millions – of people who post on social media. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that DOCARE chief Jason Redulla posted pictures of his assault rifles.”
“We’re in agreement with the governor’s office and the general messaging that we do not support violent language and aggression,” Perez said. “We do not support putting out a call for bounties,” or putting out public info that will expose or put people at risk, he said.
Since tasking Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim with finding a way forward on TMT, Governor David Ige has taken to using his social media account to share messages, hashtags and images in support of the planned observatory. In recent days, he has also pushed back on accusations of unethical business relationships.
“The Iges do not have any financial relationship with TMT,” stated one Facebook post from the Governor. “They contracted Pacific International Realty, Inc. to manage the home they have rented out. Any suggestion of a connection between this property management contract and TMT is utterly without merit.”
In another message, the Governor tackled the controversy on the flag removal:
Let’s talk about respect for the flag of the State of Hawaiʻi. Our law enforcement officers serve proudly under the state flag, and they would never intentionally damage it. Last week, protesters used screws to attach the state flag to plywood and then nailed additional pieces of wood over the flag to block entry to an unauthorized structure on Mauna Kea. The screw heads were stripped to prevent removal of the flag with a screwdriver. As they do in their jobs every day, they decided to move quickly in a difficult situation, and in this case, a state flag was damaged in the process.
Protester tactics such as putting the flag across an entrance then claiming officers didn’t respect it and crying “assault” and “attack” as they are peacefully doing their jobs were designed to interfere unfairly with law enforcement activities and produce an unnecessary reaction.
Both posts combined received over 2,000 comments, many of them critical.
When reporters asked if death threats have been made, the Governor replied, “I am aware of death threats made against me personally and others in the administration.”
“We won’t comment on ongoing investigations,” AG Connors said, “but as I said there are violations available under the state law that we could pursue and there are investigations that are ongoing to some of these threats.”
On Thursday, the state held a press conference to warn that the standoff at the base of Mauna Kea is impacting the environment; in particular endangered plant species found on Puʻuhuluhulu.
At both the Thursday and Friday press conferences, state officials sought to keep the conversation limited to the subject matter of environmental impacts and social media and declined to discuss other TMT-related topics.