Editorial: Fight TMT threats with cooperation
Well-intentioned people on either side of the Thirty Meter Telescope debate — naturally, one hopes that this would be most people — surely agree on at least one minimal objective: Do no harm.
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Well-intentioned people on either side of the Thirty Meter Telescope debate — naturally, one hopes that this would be most people — surely agree on at least one minimal objective: Do no harm. But when a standoff persists for a long time, as has the one at the road to the Mauna Kea summit since mid-July, it’s bound to loop in people entirely without good intentions, who don’t mind venting their hostility through physical threats.
It was the matter of threats disseminated through social media that truly sounded an alarm — and should underscore the imperative to lower the temperature and avert a violent outcome.
Gov. David Ige said Friday that he and other state employees and officials have been hit with harsh rhetoric and even death threats. What seemingly ratcheted up the tension was the Sept. 6 demolition and removal of an illegal structure built near the encampment.
Clare Connors, the state attorney general, laid out some of the disturbing evidence, ranging from one social media post proposing that TMT staff be assassinated and another offering a $5,000 reward for identification of an officer involved in removing the illegal structure.
That same day, a comment posted below the site where the news conference video was streamed online amounted to a threat of a “mass shooting” at the state Capitol. In the context of today’s all-too-frequent domestic terroristic attacks, this is not something the state can ignore.
In fact, the FBI issued an alert identifying George Sopi, 29, as its author. He has an assault record and apparent access to a gun, according to the FBI bulletin.
Hawaii may not be seen as a hotbed of violent crime, but neither is it immune, so such threats can’t be brushed off naively.
Nobody has yet affirmed any connection between Sopi and the Mauna Kea protest. In fact, leaders of the kiai (“protectors”) have said they do nothing to encourage such behavior, that their messaging has been to promote nonviolent civil disobedience, which here has been dubbed “kapu aloha.”
On another level of “do no harm,” there is the protection of Mauna Kea’s delicate environment.
It was this environmental issue, the observation that the crowds of TMT opponents gathered and camping at the base of Mauna Kea Access Road had put endangered species at risk, that also drove state authorities, rightly, to speak out.
On Thursday, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife issued an advisory about damage to the rare anunu vine. Colonies of five other critically endangered plants had been stepped on as well, officials said. They also aired concerns about threats to the endangered nene goose in the wildlife refuge.
On the matter of environmental protection, the protesters assert that they do take precautions against seeding the sensitive mountain site with invasive species.
True though this might be, more can be done on messaging toward nonviolence and environmental safeguards. To begin with, the kiai should put out a broadly disseminated statement disavowing these specific acts of threatening rhetoric. Fairly or unfairly, the general public will associate these acts with the protest leadership, so distancing themselves would be wise.
And coming to some resolution about environmental protection should be an additional goal for the discussions on Mauna Kea governance that, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said, are in the works.
There are paths on which both sides could agree — on nonviolence, environmental protection, better oversight of the summit. Even if negotiations don’t yet touch the core issue of building the TMT, following these paths would be a prudent course, regardless.