KAPA‘A — Black Lives Matter counter-protesters — one dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb and another as a Boogaloo Boi wearing an aloha shirt and mask of President Donald Trump — infiltrated a pro-Trump rally in Kapa‘a Friday afternoon and briefly baffled several hundred people who drove by on Kuhio Highway.
Although political theater and satire is far from unknown on Kaua‘i, the incident momentarily concerned county officials who weren’t immediately certain if the KKK and Trump figures were intended as serious participants in the pro-Trump demonstration.
While it appeared that the entire sequence of events was well within the bounds of First Amendment-protected political speech, there was an apparent, near-physical confrontation.
On Saturday still and video images of the incident were provided to The Kauai Police Department and the office of Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami but as of press time there was no response.
The incident caused a stir on social media Saturday and Sunday after Lani Alo, an engineering student at California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, posted a series of two videos and several still images she took.
Alo, who lives in Kapa‘a and is attending Cal Poly remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, said Sunday she went to the event as a Black Lives Matter supporter. She and Jessica Lindman, another Kapa‘a resident, provided firsthand accounts of the episode.
Alo said she arrived at the site — a space at the side of the highway where Trump supporters have erected a large campaign sign — about 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. The sign has been repeatedly vandalized, and supporters of the president have taken to holding weekly mini-rallies there.
She said she was not aware of the presence of the two counter-protesters before they appeared on the side of the road occupied by the Trump group. The visual impact of what appeared to be a Klan member and someone impersonating the president was immediate, Alo said.
“It almost got physical, but not quite,” Alo said. Two video clips she posted on Facebook showed what appeared to be a brief scuffle between Trump supporters and the counter-protester dressed as a Klan member. He appeared in the still and video images to be Black.
Neither counter-protester was identified.
“Some people driving by took it seriously,” Alo said. “They didn’t have the time to realize what was going on. I’m not sure what they thought. I think it just made the Trump people look even worse.
“It was a little upsetting to see someone dressed like that here on such a small island. I’m not sure what his intentions were. I’d like to ask him. There was a lot of high tension and argument, for maybe about 20 minutes. Then (the two counter-protesters) went to their car and left.”
The Garden Island tried to contact Jim Rosa, a key pro-Trump supporter on the island and organizer of a recent car caravan. Rosa did not respond to calls and texts. He is a prominent Kapa‘a gun dealer.
Lindman said she had just run her truck through a carwash near the protest site when she saw a scuffle break out between the infiltrators and the Trump supporters.
“I had the same idea, that it could be counter-protests,” Lindman said. “Some of the Trump supporters were not in support of the counter-protesters, but they didn’t stop them, nor did it appear they took any further action.”
Mina Morita, a prominent community member and former state government official, took to Facebook on Saturday to lament the level of political discourse that the Friday dust-up represented in her view.
“It is a sad day for Kaua‘i when this is the best our president can inspire in a small community,” Morita said in a Facebook post. “Whether these two protesters were provocateurs or not, there is no resounding, unambiguous denunciation of white supremacy” by the apparent supporters of the president.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public-relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.