People following state and national news are probably aware that Hawaii resident and local political candidate Nick Ochs was arrested for participating in the fatal, right-wing riot last Wednesday in Washington D.C.
They might also know that authorities swiftly apprehended Ochs in Honolulu. Ochs’ arrest was in fact national news with the New York Daily News reporting, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii said Nick Ochs was arrested for ‘Unlawful Entry into the United States Capitol Building.’”
But what is less well known is that Ochs’ prominent role in the national right-wing movement didn’t happen overnight and reflects more about local politics than many in Hawaii would want to acknowledge. In fact, Ochs has been inauspiciously making moves in Hawaii for the past few years.
He is the founder of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, the far-right, all-male group whose website describes the organization as “Western Chauvinists” and “The World’s Greatest Fraternal Organization.”
Additionally, Ochs’ chapter of the Proud Boys hosted the ultra-conservative group, Turning Point USA, at UH Manoa, a group that’s made national headlines for racist practices and potentially illegal campaign activity.
Ochs was also removed from campus by members of the Honolulu Police Department for getting hostile and intimidating in a professor’s office.
Based on Ochs’s time at UH Manoa and even his role in the Wednesday riots, some in Hawaii might be tempted to write him off as a problem “imported” from the mainland, not someone whose politics might reflect larger trends in Hawaii.
Certainly, UH administrators dismissed his disturbing pattern of behavior, including hosting and showcasing racist and misogynistic groups, under the guise of “freedom of speech.” In retrospect, the unfortunate trivialization of Ochs and his right-wing conservatism can clearly be seen as a serious mistake.
In fact, Ochs’s brand of conservativism has been gaining traction in Hawaii since the 2016 election, and we learned last week that this brand of conservatism is, in fact, violent and sometimes deadly.
But the larger meaning of Ochs’s role in Hawaii politics also requires exploration.
Though few noted it at the time, more people in Hawaii voted for presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2020 than in 2016. In 2016, Trump received 128,847 votes, or 30% of the total vote. In 2020, he received 196,864 votes, or 34.3% of the total vote.
Additionally, when Ochs ran for the state House of Representatives in District 22, he was formally endorsed by Hawaii’s Republican Party.
He also received sizeable donations from big names in state politics, such as Warner Kimo Sutton, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2014; Gigi Jones, who has served in various political appointments; the Oahu League of Republican Women and Tradewind Charters Hawaii.
Thus, within a few years, Ochs evolved into a credible, local, political candidate with considerable support from Hawaii’s Republican Party.
We argue that not only did Ochs become a viable political candidate in Hawaii, but his ability to do so also demonstrates a larger uptick in conservative politics in Hawaii.
Again, not only did more Hawaii residents vote for Donald Trump in our most recent election, they also produced a surprise at the local level.
Conservative mayoral candidate Rick Blangiardi (who admitted to voting for Trump in 2016) beat not only long-time local politician and former member of Congress, Colleen Hanabusa, but also up-and-comer Keith Amemiya. Amemiya’s loss was particularly stunning, given his impressive list of endorsements from powerful institutions including the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Works.
Blangiardi won, arguably, by using Donald Trump-style rhetoric to appeal to voters, positioning himself as an outsider, a non-career politician and a successful business owner.
We fear that Ochs’ involvement with the Wednesday riots signals a growing conservative movement in Hawaii.
We hope that new Democratic leadership will be outspoken about growing conservatism at the state and national levels. For example, newly elected state congressman Adrian Tam — who, incidentally, beat Ochs in the District 22 race — led the charge condemning Ochs’ role in the Wednesday riots with an official letter calling for those involved with the attack on the U.S. Capitol be placed on the no-fly list.
The letter was signed by 17 state legislators, including Reps. Adrian Tam, Della Au Belatti, Cedric Asuega Gates, Greggor Iligan, Matthew S. LoPresti, Lisa Marten, Takashi Ohno, Richard H.K. Onishi, Amy A. Perruso, Jackson D. Sayama, Chris Todd, James Kunane Tokioka and Tina M.L. Wilderberger, as well as Sens. Stanley Chang, Sharon Y. Moriwaki, Lorraine R. Inouye and Joy A. San Buenaventura.
Let’s hope this is the start of a clear, progressive response to the political challenges facing the state of Hawaii.