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Security heightened at state Capitol ahead of protest today and presidential inauguration

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Fences have been erected at both entrances of the Hawaii state Capitol.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Fences have been erected at both entrances of the Hawaii state Capitol.

A pro-Donald Trump local grassroots group that pursues “faith, family and freedom” plans what it calls a “peaceful rally” at the state Capitol Friday amid heightened security including the installation of chain link-fence barricades blocking off the rotunda.

Even with the violence seen in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol and up to 20,000 armed National Guard troops pouring in ahead of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Wednesday, the sight of related security measures in laid-back Hawaii still has come as a shock.

State House Speaker Scott Saiki said he expected the Hawaii National Guard to add locally to that security presence through the inauguration — something that officials said has not been seen at the Capitol in decades.

“It’s sad that it’s come to this,” state Sen. Chris Lee said in posting multiple photos to Facebook of the security fencing at the Capitol. “Hawaii’s state Capitol was built as the most open and accessible in the country. But threats to the safety and security of our staff working in the building mean precautions must be taken.”

Lee, a Democrat, said that “many Trump supporters and extremists who have been lied to and misled by the president and right-wing conspiracy theories have threatened violence at state Capitols around the country.”

Plans for the protest by Knights of Aloha Friday come amid the still-raw images of rioting at the U.S. Capitol and an FBI warning that “armed protests” were being planned ahead of Biden’s inauguration in all 50 states.

In a release, the political action committee said it will be protesting “against Hawaii’s current leadership” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“The people of Hawaii have no trust in our current government and are tired of being taken advantage of,” the release said. “From the already high cost of living, worst place in America to start a business, corruption, and now mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local people are suffering.”

The group also said, “This is a peaceful rally. The Knights of Aloha condemns any damage of private or public property and any form of violence.”

Their website features a lot of images of Trump support signs, flags and T-shirts. Followers have participated in Trump car rallies on Oahu.

It said it also has plans on Jan. 22 for a “Together We March For Life” anti-abortion rally at the Capitol.

Knights of Aloha said in an email that it anticipates a few hundred people at the Friday gathering. It also said it “will not be about President Trump or Vice President Biden at all. It’s about the people. We may not all stand on the same side of the isle, but the Knights of Aloha will always speak up for our faith, our family, and our freedom.”

A permit was not issued for the protest on state Capitol grounds — meaning the group will have to conduct its vigil on the sidewalk, officials said.

The state Department of Accounting and General Services said that “due to recent national threats to all state Capitols across the United States,” it has taken “proactive measures to protect the Hawaii State Capitol, its tenants and the general public.”

DAGS is responsible for the state Capitol and other state facilities. Since March 16, DAGS has suspended special use permits for protests at its state facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it said.

State Comptroller Curt Otaguro authorized the placement of barriers on the mauka and makai sides of the state Capitol rotunda “as an additional deterrent to large gatherings,” the department said.

The barriers were emplaced on Wednesday and will remain there through Jan. 22.

“This action is part of a collaborative effort between the governor’s office, the Legislature, and other federal, state and county agencies to respond to this national threat,” Otaguro said.

Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the the Department of Public Safety Sheriff Division, said that, “At this time, the PSD Sheriffs Division has not received word of any credible threats to Hawaii’s Capitol Complex.”

She said public safety is working with its federal, state and local law enforcement partners to monitor real time and updated intelligence reports but that it “cannot discuss specifics of operational planning for law enforcement actions.”

Republican State Rep. Gene Ward said the violence last week at the U.S. Capitol was “totally unacceptable.”

“I think anybody who’s doing anything should pay attention to what President Trump (most recently) said — and that is, anybody who has done any violence who is my supporter, is not my supporter,” Ward said.

Ward said of Knights of Aloha that “basically these guys have been waving on the highway for Trump, so waving on the highway is benign.”

“I think we have to have an abundance of caution, but quite frankly, I don’t think anything is going to happen,” he added. “Again, if these (Knights of Aloha) people are really patriots, and peaceful, it’s First Amendment rights (to free speech) and no more or no less than that.”

About 200 Hawaii Army National Guard troops are being mobilized and heading to Washington D.C. to help with inauguration security. Those citizen soldiers will be armed, officials announced today.

Jeff Hickman, a Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said he could not say if any Hawaii National Guard troops are being activated to provide security at the Hawaii Capitol.

“We don’t want to give any of the protesters any information,” he said.

State Senate President Ron Kouchi, a Democrat, said, “We’re just cautioning everyone to be safe if there are other groups that are leveling threats on social media. We’re not sure how real it would be. But we are certainly preparing to ensure the safety of the people who work at the Capitol and ask people to exercise caution and keep themselves safe.”

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