Anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate marches on Maui are an unusual amalgamation of Trump supporters and New Age liberals who say that vaccine mandates infringe on medical freedom of choice. The marches and rallies have become increasingly frequent, and now a group of residents are campaigning to recall Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino.
At an Oct. 16 rally on Kaʻahumanu Ave, Paul Romero, owner of Crossfit Makena, was speaking to police about permits when MauiTimes asked if he was one of the organizers of the event. “No, I’m a patriot,” he replied. Initially concerned with the imposition the mandates put on small businesses, Romero said that, “looking out for our keiki” had become his biggest concern. “As we just heard from some world experts that are here, vaccinating kids is categorically completely wrong, illegal, and unjust, and it should have no business in our society or in our community,” he said.
A group of men, some in “Make America Great Again” hats, waved American flags as they chanted “Brain Dead Biden!” and “Let’s go Brandon!” a viral dog whistle that is code for “Fuck Joe Biden.” Members of the New Age camp held signs touting less offensive slogans, including “Fear is the disease, love is the cure” and “I tested positive for freedom flu.”
A band of Maui Police Department officers forced rally organizer Bruce Douglas to remove his vehicle, which had been made into a makeshift stage carrying Hawaiʻi band Sons of Yeshua, from the premises. Sergeant James Terry said that Douglas had applied for a permit for the event two days prior and that his request for a stage had been denied.
Officer Terry told MauiTimes that other than the illegal impromptu stage, “a lot of the protesters are just fine. But then you’ve got the Proud Boys and the Trumpers and some of them are inciting violence, and that is illegal,” he said.
Two dozen activists lined up along South Kihei Road, armed with recall Victorino signs, American and Hawaiian flags, and clipboards on Oct. 27, a week after the petition was launched by organizer Sheila Walker. Walker said she was confident that her initiative would garner the 21,586 in-person signatures (representing 20 percent of voters registered in Maui County) required to recall the mayor.
If Walker were to acquire the signatures needed within 30 days, by Nov. 20, Mayor Victorino would have five days to resign or a recall election (requiring participation from 50 percent of the county’s registered voters) would be held. Maui County’s managing director, Sandy Baz, would then stand in as mayor until November 2022—the next general election. Though Baz has supported Mayor Victorino’s implementation of vaccine mandates, Walker said she expects Baz would “be a little more neutral.”
“But it doesn’t matter, this just buys us more time—because next November they’re gonna be [voted] out anyway,” she said. Walker further said that the recall effort was “not about vaccines at all. It’s about government overreach.”
In an email to Maui Times, Baz said he would stay Victorino’s course “because regardless of who serves as mayor, that person really has very little control. Nearly all mandates and public health rules are implemented under the authority of the CDC and the Office of the Governor. Not much can be changed at the County level.”
Another woman at the recall rally, who had paraded a speaker on wheels blaring the newly mega-popular rap song “Let’s go Brandon” at the Oct. 16 anti-mandate march, yelled “Victorino has to go, he is as woke as Joe Biden!” to passing cars on South Kihei Road.
In rhetoric reminiscent of Trump supporters’ call to criminally charge Hillary Clinton, demonstrator Aaron Cannon, the self-proclaimed “president of Maui for Trump”, said he believed that Mayor Victorino “needs to be recalled, if not criminally charged,” for the COVID-19 restrictions he imposed.
Stopping just short of inciting violence, (but perhaps crossing over into terroristic threatening against a public servant—a crime punishable under section 707-716 of the Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes), Cannon said, “We will push back without violence, but it will get to the point where people will be very angrily pushing right to that level, to where he won’t be able to sleep in his home, he won’t be able to walk in public. We will push back on him so hard that he will have no choice but to listen to the people.”
Despite an uptick in vocalized opposition to mandates, Hawaiʻi residents are predominantly pro-vaccination. Nearly 60 percent of Hawaiʻi residents are fully vaccinated and 78 percent of adults had received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the time of the Kihei recall rally. Maui County has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, with 64 percent of adults having received an initial dose.
Teri Gorman, Maui County’s communication advisor, said that though there had been no widespread polling to assess public support of the mandates themselves, (the county does not do political polling) the mayor’s office had received “a large number of emails and the phone calls from people in the community who are saying, ‘we support you Mayor, you’ve tried to do the right thing.’”
Mayor Victorino said that outside of the political and medical sphere, he had consulted community groups and small business owners, as well as the Maui Restaurant Hui and Maui Chamber of Commerce before asking the governor to approve rule changes.
Gorman added that the mayor’s office has prioritized “staying in touch with medical experts in the hospital and trying to find that good balance between physical, mental and economic health” in the community. “There’s no book on how to do this,” she said.