I recently witnessed an anti-vaccination demonstration of several hundred people. I, on the other side of the street, was part of small group quietly letting them know that many in the faith community don’t agree with them.
Admittedly, some of the anti-vaxxers have bought into the cynical misinformation campaign of Fox News hosts and politicians (many of whom are already vaccinated) that the vaccine is not a good one and is a violation of their freedom. They, therefore, don’t want to be “forced” to take it. As misguided as this might be to the majority of us who believe vaccinations are crucial to stopping COVID-19, it also flies in the face of the judgment of the preponderance of the scientific community.
But it seems that many of the so-called anti-vaxxers really have other issues in mind. Judging from their signs, and rhetoric, they came to rant about many other grievances: big government, corporate abuse, sexism, even critical race theory, and yes, all in the interest of “making America great again.” As the attacks on Lt. Gov. Josh Green showed, a strong strain of anti- Semitism also runs through their protests.
And just this past Saturday, they held another rally of hundreds — mostly without masks, with no interest in social distancing, and some even brought children along. This occurring at a time during which more than 25 people are not permitted to gather outdoors. It has been reported that the rally had not been given permission to march. As before, the police monitored the demonstration (creating the appearance that the gathering was approved), while overlooking all city and state prohibitions about masks and group gatherings. Make no doubt about it — these events had the potential to be super spreaders.
Saturday’s event, like those before, included the waving of Hawaiian and American flags, and some new slogans including ones about Big Pharma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, corruption, and even Bill Gates. These events reportedly have been coordinated with World Wide Rallies for Freedom and Democracy, a German group started to provide rallying cries and platforms for the kind of grievances mentioned earlier.
The takeaway for me is that the anti-vaxx movement has morphed into more than a genuine disagreement over health and freedom, and will continue to provide a platform for countless grievances and countless political memes stirring inevitable hate and the crimes that may follow. Many will argue that they are patriots, when in fact, knowingly or otherwise, they often endorse political views and politicians following in the tradition of authoritarian leaders like Orban of Hungary, Putin of Russia, and Erdogan of Turkey, who often fashion a society very different than the one we have. Our society is one that we should be proud of as Americans – one that is desirably multiracial, desirably comprised of immigrants, and one that recognizes that responsibility goes hand-in-hand with freedom.
To tourists witnessing these demonstrations, “aloha” is being redefined, much in the same way that “patriotism” and “being American” have been by the insurrectionists and the politicians who fan their hatred. The police will need to be more than passive onlookers at these destructive events and remain at a heightened level of vigilance for a considerable time to come. We have to be better at enforcing the law if we want to beat back the right-wing extremism and hate that has become more evident in Hawaii since the GOP’s elevation of Donald Trump to the presidency.
John Webster, once a Republican, is a retired government relations executive for IBM and KPMG.