Living in the Protest Bubble

Given my interactions with various protesters I have wondered just what information is exchanged in the camp privately among those who have been living there. I wonder how that information has shaped their views and driven the core of the Kia’i movement.

Tents of the protest camp at the base of Mauna Kea
Tents of the protest camp at the base of Mauna Kea

My worry is that the camp is serving as an environment where a more extreme stance in this controversy can be created and thrive.

The recipe for this is simple… Take a number of people that already share the same views, isolate them together, and bring in speakers and teachers that amplify the message. The result of this process is well understood in human psychology.

One of the common statements from those in the camp, one repeated over and over, is to come on up and live in the camp, only then you will understand.

Short of spending extensive amounts of time in the camp, how do we really know what is going on there? We cannot truly understand, but we can get a good idea by talking with those who have. Quite a few of us have been unwilling to totally cede the various social media spaces to the protest and have continued to engage. The various names that feature in the protest on both sides are well known at this point.

Among the protesters we encounter online are those who have lived in the protest camp for extensive periods of time. By engaging these particular people it is possible to get a view into what those in the camp believe, what drives them to endure the harsh weather and dedicate themselves to the cause.

This recurring worry again arose in my thoughts last week when one of those folks came to a pro-TMT page. My guess is that the camp is a bit boring and throwing virtual grenades in pro-TMT Facebook group is a way to pass the time. No surprise that Mr. Adams postings were full of the usual myths we hear all the time.

I admit I deliberately provoked him a little, by pointing out the myths and inaccuracies in his postings. This worked, while his responses ranged from heated to more than a little insulting, they were also lengthy and revealed much about what what he was thinking…

Coates Cobb Adams IV Andrew Cooper, btw if you haven’t been listening to the Kia’i radio station we had (which they kept jamming. Another FACT) you would hear a different story. And if you could view ALL of the live stream that was being done there that didn’t get stopped. And videos deleted another FACT. You would also hear a different story. Once again. Unless you’re actually there. You don’t know anything. They kept deleting any social media post with good information. My friends made a great video showing a ton of uncovered documents with the source. And it kept getting deleted from youtube. That’s another FACT! So maybe you don’t know as many FACTS as you may think.

Coates Cobb Adams IV in a Facebook comment January 2, 2020

While somewhat more extreme than most conversations, this is in line with sentiments that I encounter regularly. Accusations of government misdeeds and ever more oppression of the protest are common. Considering the protest has been allowed to continue with almost no governmental interference, with services provided by Hawaii County and the state for safety and sanitation, these accusations just conflict with reality.

The junction of Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road
The junction of Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Access Road

While the comment quoted here from Mr. Adams is particularly revealing, it highlights a theme that was apparent in the whole conversation. It reveals a sense of embattled paranoia out of touch with any sense of reality. The idea that anyone would go out of their way to jam the illegal radio station that served the camp is humorously absurd.

Mr Adams made the insinuation several times that there is a coordinated campaign to suppress and delete postings on social media that show the FACTS! Some shadowy ‘they’, an enemy that is never identified, but this enemy exhibits a coordination and sophistication notably absent from state and county efforts to deal with the protest.

Those facts seem to revolve around the many conspiracy theories that surround the TMT controversy. Theories of payoffs to government officials, of continuous lying by those government officials, of shadowy organizations acting against the protest, of military involvement on the mauna. Never mind that there is no good evidence of any of this, those who want to believe will believe, and the echo chamber they created continues to feed these beliefs.

I suspect that Mr. Adams is an extreme case, that his level of paranoia is unusual. But I also fear that he is a decent data point into the minds of those who have spent months living on the mauna. They have immersed themselves in an environment where extremism is free to grow unchecked, where there are daily lectures from some of the more polarizing figures in the Hawaiian rights movement.

Based on social media postings from sources within the camp it is likely that many protesters think the same way to varying degrees. They have come to feel that they are fighting some evil corporate/government oppressive entity. When you consider this viewpoint the language and terms in used in videos and social media posts from the protest begin to make more sense.

The effect of this? The conditions of the ongoing protest, particularly in the camp, has almost certainly greatly grown the numbers of hard core protesters, those to whom no negotiations or compromise are possible. It is apparent that any sort of solution is an increasingly distant possibility.

The state’s designated representative Mayor Harry Kim has pursued a traditional process of hoʻoponopono or reconciliation. In the face of the anti-government mindset we have seen demonstrated by protesters any negotiations or reconciliation may be doomed to failure from the outset.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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