A sizable security force that tried to be as low key as possible loomed over the Hawaii Capitol Wednesday as a taro farming sustainability group peacefully took center stage with 10,000 Hawaii state flags planted on the lawn, a band and the give-away of 10,000 taro plantings.
Except for one demonstrator, there was little support for former President Donald Trump outside the Capitol on the opening day of the state Legislature and as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States in Washington, D.C.
Concern that followed the Jan. 6 rioting and assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters attempting to interfere with the election process spread to all 50 states, and Hawaii took its share of precautions.
One state sheriff’s and eight Honolulu police squad cars lined the Beretania Street side of the Capitol just before midday.
Law enforcement personnel in a variety of attire was everywhere. Some Honolulu police wore aloha shirts that covered sidearms, while others had on black polo shirts to try to be less conspicuous.
On the Richards Street side of the Capitol grounds, at least 10 Honolulu and sheriff’s police milled about in groups of two to five.
Three Honolulu police in aloha shirts and four bike police kept an eye on the Punchbowl Street side off Beretania.
Five Hawaii Air National Guard security force airmen, who were not carrying weapons, were posted with a like number of uniformed sheriff’s police at the entrance of the vehicle tunnel leading to the basement of the Capitol.
Altogether, about 75 citizen soldiers were present and on standby if needed, an official said.
There were no military-style AR-15 rifles visible among the law enforcement groups — unlike in Washington, D.C., where M-4 rifles were standard issue for National Guard troops.
Republican state Sen. Kurt Fevella, who represents Ewa Beach, visited with the Hui Aloha Aina Momona group off Beretania, which had about 75 followers present.
“This is something beautiful. The rest of the world should see what’s happening in Hawaii. Family, love and unity. That’s it,” Fevella said while standing on the sidewalk and holding a small Hawaii state flag. “All about the aloha spirit. No matter what’s happening on the mainland, I always said, Hawaii is different.”
Fevella said authorities “tried to damp this event, and the event went on anyway.”
“People who put this on were creative enough to do something to spread the aloha spirit — and I think that’s the best thing,” he said.
One of the reasons the gathering turned out to be an “awesome experience,” Fevella said, was because even though security was visible and “you can see their presence with the uniforms, they didn’t have guns (displayed) while walking around and try to make it uninviting. It was inviting and everybody did a great job in doing that.”
Fewer than 30 Hawaii National Guard troops were at the Capitol. They were there to support sheriff’s police for the opening day of the Legislature but “they were not needed or required for action,” the Guard said. They were not armed.
“There also was a Quick Reaction Force of about 50 (Hawaii Guard) members off-site that could be called in if needed,” the Guard said. “They could have arrived armed if the situation dictated it.”
Daniel Anthony, one of the founders of Hui Aloha Aina Momona, said the group has rallied for 11 years on the opening day of the state Legislature.
“Our group is focused on subsistence, which means growing food to feed yourself,” Anthony said. A big focus is on taro for poi.
“Starches are 40% of your diet. We grow 40% of our diet in one crop,” he said.
Asked if he had a permit to place 10,000 Hawaii state flags all around the Capitol grounds, he said, “Guess what, the Realtors passed a law that flags of this size don’t need a permit.”
He added that the flags “allowed us to have presence without people.”
Backers held placards that read “Huli da system,” “Year of the farmer,” “No farmer, no food” and others. Car honks of support from vehicles passing on Beretania were frequent for the group.
Fevella said he was wholeheartedly in support of Hui Aloha Aina Momona. “I’m definitely for food first,” he said, “because you cannot eat windmills. You cannot eat solar farms.”
On the mauka side of Beretania, directly across from the Capitol, a lone Trump supporter who identified himself as Edward “Rambo” Odquina, of Hawaii Kai, showed up in fatigues waving a Trump flag.
Odquina, who said he was a Navy veteran, wore no mask and smoked a cigarette. Honolulu police officers asked if he was armed. He wasn’t.
“I’m here to remind people that this election was stolen in front of the whole world to see,” Odquina said. “He (Trump) is our president, and he will always be our president.”
About 20 feet away, Chris Sablan hoisted a sign with “Black Lives Matter” on a black, round shield below which was “2021” in blow-up balloons. Above were small American, Hawaii state and POW/MIA flags.
“I’m here to represent the movement of racial justice and just let people be aware when there’s one opinion, there’s another opinion,” the 51-year-old said.
With Wednesday’s presidential inauguration, “I just wanted to show Hawaii support for what’s going on and I’m praying and hoping there’s actions behind the political promises made,” Sablan said.
He added that “a weight has been lifted off my shoulders” with the transition. “I’m hoping it’s going to be a better future.”
Access inside the Hawaii Capitol already had been cut off to the public because of COVID-19 and is likely to remain off-limits during the entire session, House Speaker Scott Saiki told reporters after a truncated opening day House session that lasted barely 20 minutes.
National Guard troops arrived days before the opening day of the Legislature. With not much violence materializing nationwide in conjunction with the presidential inauguration, House Majority Leader Della Au Bellati said, “Across the nation and the state we breathed a sigh of relief. It was really important as a nation that we took all of these precautions.”
Republican State Rep. Gene Ward, who represents Hawaii Kai and Kalama Valley, expected nothing more than peaceful demonstrations in Hawaii.
“We’re different from the mainland,” he said. “We’re more civil than the rest of the nation in the way we treat each other. We should be a model for the rest of the nation.”
Staff writer Dan Nakaso contributed to this report.