A small parcel of land in central Oahu is the site of another standoff between a group claiming ownership of the land based on Native Hawaiian ancestral rights, and a company holding the modern land title.
The unidentified group took over a 5-acre lot in an Oahu agricultural subdivision in September, and proclaimed themselves the rightful owners by “heirdom.”
They proceeded to lock out the property’s registered owner along with a company that was leasing the land, confiscating equipment, crops and business records, and blocking attempts by the landowner and lessee to reenter or inspect the property.
The justifications put forward by the occupying group are a mishmash of unsupported beliefs about Hawaii land titles, lingering historical resentments of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom, rejection of the existing government and its laws as “fake,” beliefs about “allodial” land rights adopted from so-called “sovereign citizen” groups on the anti-government fringe, elements of the “straw man” conspiracy theory, and a healthy dose of plain old magical thinking.
These theories have no basis in law and have never been validated in court, but continue to spread among a segment of the community, encouraged by different sovereignty groups claiming they represent a reemerging Hawaiian nation.
And although this and similar land occupations have mostly remained peaceful, they are fueled by a volatile mix of false beliefs and aspirations of sovereignty that could easily take a more dangerous turn.
A pair of lawsuits by the current legal owner, Guyland LLC, wholly owned by California real estate investor Guy Fong, are seeking to eject the group, referring to them as “squatters” who, the company says, “remain in unlawful hostile possession … without having any right, title, interest, or permission to remain there.”
Guyland’s attorney, Fred Arensmeyer, did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
The pace of the court cases was slowed by difficulty in identifying those participating in the takeover of the property, court records show. Initially, none would show identification, requiring the lawsuits to initially name only “Doe Defendants” and “Squatter Defendants.” As the names of some participants became known and were added to the list of defendants, all returned to court using different names and claiming they had not been properly served under their new names.
Despite these and other problems, Circuit Judge James McWhinnie granted Guyland’s motion for summary judgment following a hearing on May 4, clearing the way for a final approval of writ of possession, allowing those occupying the land to be removed by police or sheriffs if necessary. Guyland is also likely to return to court to seek monetary damages caused by the extended occupation.
Once those proposed documents have been served on the defendants, they will have five days to object to the form of the orders before McWhinnie can sign the final documents authorizing eviction.
Real estate records show Guyland bought the 203 acres located above Waipahu, along with two smaller parcels, in May 2018 for $8 million, and began developing the 38-lot Ekaha Lands agricultural subdivision.
A declaration of restrictive covenants for the ag subdivision was filed with the Bureau of Conveyances in November 2020.
The 5-acre parcel taken over by squatters is identified as Lot 19 in the subdivision, and borders the 136-acre site of the Hawaii Country Club golf course, which was purchased in 2014 by the Wa Li Legacy Trust, with Guy Fong also signing that deed as trustee of the Wa Li trust, real estate records show.
Lot 19 was leased in July 2020 to Aloha Pacific Green, identified in court documents as “the designated grower for thirty-nine medical marijuana card holders,” although no company by that name appears to be registered to do business in Hawaii, according to the state’s business registration database.
Guyland’s lawsuits allege the takeover began when unidentified temporary employees of APG “remained on the property without permission, occupied the property, excluded APG and (Guyland), invited other squatters onto the property, and refused to leave.”
“Upwards of twenty squatters have … forcibly occupied Lot 19 on a regular basis, and have erected unpermitted structures and equipment, stolen irrigation water, stolen APG’s medical marijuana registry, caused unlawful pollution to the premises, and engaged in other illegal conduct and activities upon the premises,” according to Guyland’s lawsuit filed in First Circuit Court in Honolulu in December.
Squatters Claim ‘Inherent Lawful Authority’
On Oct. 25, a notice was posted at the gate to the property by the “House of Heirs,” claiming to represent heirs of the original awardee of the royal land grant.
The warning, addressed “to whom it may concern,” provided “First and Final Notice 7 Days to Vacate,” and claimed the House of Heirs held “inherent lawful authority” to seize “all personal possessions and/or belongings,” and impose “rental fees or property disposal fees” for anything left on the premises.
The notice proclaimed: “We, the Heirs of Namauu, by the power of God vested in We, in the name of Ko Hawaii Pae Aina; the Country of Hawaii. Heir of N. Namauu Superior/Allodial Title holder of Ho’ae’ae By Royal Patent 4490, Owner of Land Commission Award 10474:9 in which your tmk is included upon, am serving and informing you of our inherent lawful authority.”
Oddly, the notice includes a graphic design known as the symbol of the mythical lost Pacific continent of Mu, where a superior white race supposedly lived until it disappeared under the waves, as popularized by a 1926 book of pseudoscience by British occult writer James Churchward.
Soon after the notice to vacate was posted, letters were sent to the Honolulu Police Department’s main headquarters in Honolulu, and the District 2 station in Wahiawa, repeating the ownership claim, now described as a “Reclamation of inheritance by Allodial Title.”
“You are hereby notified of the inherent lawful authority to be present on said property without formal approval from individuals and representatives,” the letter says. It was again signed only by the House of Heirs.
Just a week after those letters were mailed to HPD, Guyland was contacted by Keola Wayne Kaleimamahu on behalf of the House of Heirs, according to the company’s lawsuit.
Kaleimamahu thus became the first named defendant in Guyland’s lawsuits, along with “Squatter Defendants 1-50” and “Does 1-50.”
The Myth Of Perpetual Title
This and similar land seizures in other parts of the state have been fueled by the mistaken belief that a Royal Patent or Land Commission award from the mid-19th century mahele-era includes the right to ownership of land by the original owner and descendants “in perpetuity.” The Great Mahele occurred in 1848 when Kamehameha III distributed land in a land division that launched private ownership in Hawaii.
The Lot 19 group, for example, says its “superior title” to the land rests on two of its members. Travis Mokiao and Kaiulani Mokiao, who have claimed in court filings to be “lineal descendants and heirs to the land in question, and both … hold an undivided interest in the land in question through genealogical tie.”
The problem with this now-and-forever view of land title is that the distribution during and after the mahele also came with the right to dispose of land by sale or gift, or to leave the property to chosen heirs, whether or not they happened to be related by blood.
Title to the property would remain “in the family’s name” only if it was never sold or transferred outside the family at any point in the past century and a half. As a result, claiming to be a descendant is very different from being a legal heir with right of inheritance.
The bottom line is that being related to the original owner is not enough to establish any ownership interest at all. That depends on the specific history of the land, and how its title was passed down over the years, which can be accomplished through a title search, because title to all land in Hawaii is traced in public records back to the time of the mahele.
Despite its lack of success as a legal theory, “heirdom” continues to hold a dangerous appeal, especially to Hawaiians who feel shut out or dispossessed by the current economic and social/political structure.
Enter The Hawaiian Army
Several members of a fringe sovereignty group known as Occupied Forces Hawaii Army have been involved in this land takeover almost from the beginning, but the OFH Army officially entered the Lot 19 land occupation in January when two members, identified as Corporals Moleka Hicks and A. Kekela, were directed to provide security for the squatters.
Typewritten “orders,” dated Jan. 3 and signed by OFHA’s Commander Sam Lilikoi, were shared on social media and later filed in court.
The two OFHA uniformed members were directed to “quarter in place” on the site and “to protect human life and dignity of those prisoners of war documented as taking shelter on site.”
This reference to “prisoners of war” requires a bit of context. Lilikoi and OFHA inhabit an “alternative universe,” along with some other sovereignty advocates, based on the core belief that the “country of Hawaii” and the United States are at war, and Hawaii has existed since 1893 as a territory subjected to hostile occupation by the U.S., which they refer to as a belligerent military force.
OFHA, according to Lilikoi, is a regular army corps whose soldiers are lawful military combatants serving the “country of Hawaii” under Lilikoi’s noncombat command, with a primary mission of engaging in civil affairs during the occupation. In his world view, OFHA and its members are uniformed members of a belligerent force and, as such, claim to be “protected persons” under the international laws of war.
Lilikoi says OFHA operates in accordance with U.S. Army field manuals concerning the laws of war as they apply to occupied territories. The Army manuals routinely appear as props in Lilikoi’s video presentations posted online, presumably in an attempt to provide a thin veneer of legitimacy to an otherwise off-the-wall view of the world.
OFHA issues its own combination identification card and driver’s licenses, and some of its members claim to have successfully flown through Hawaii airports by displaying these official-looking documents, counter to federal airport security requirements. Other anecdotal reports in social media suggest some members have stopped using State of Hawaii driver’s licenses and license plates in favor of those issued by OFHA.
The squatters have incorporated the OFHA’s “occupation” argument into their own land right theory.
FBI agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force-Pacific visited the site in March, while investigating death threats against several public officials by a man they allege is linked to OFHA.
As agents stood outside a metal gate closing off the entrance to the property, one of the group explained their basic understanding of the law: “Land can only be transferred through genealogy, especially when they are in a state of war, that’s international law, humanitarian law, yeah?”
Authorities have also been told that Lot 19 is “a military jurisdiction” and that if law enforcement agents persist, they can and will be held accountable in a military court.
Lilikoi, whose real name is Eric C.A. Nelson, pleaded guilty in 1993 to six Class A felonies for carrying out a string of armed robberies from supermarkets and stores around Oahu. News accounts at the time dubbed him the “bicycle bandit” after witnesses reported seeing him fleeing on a bicycle. Nelson was sentenced to serve six concurrent 20-year terms.
“That was a long time ago,” Lilikoi said in a video statement concerning his past criminal record.
“Sometimes our past makes us who we are now. I’m going to be thankful for my past.”
He has not been convicted of any crimes since being released from prison, according to court records.
The squatters and their OFHA supporters have gone to court twice seeking temporary restraining orders to block Guyland from harassing them.
The first TRO attempt came after Guyland’s agent and property manager, Tom Berg, visited the site with a representative of the lessee on Oct. 4. Both were refused entry. Police were apparently called, but they declined to take sides in the dispute.
Berg is a former member of the Honolulu City Council. He won a special election in 2010 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of council chair Todd Apo. He was handily defeated in his 2012 bid for reelection by Kymberly Pine, who went on to serve two terms on the council.
Kaiulani Pieper-Mokiao, who described herself as “superior title holder … through heirship,” applied for a temporary restraining order the week after Berg’s visit, saying she felt threatened and was fearful for her family’s safety, after Berg, the landowner’s agent, “tresspassed (sic) onto my property” and tried to cite her for trespassing on what she referred to as “my own property.”
“He threatened to have me and my spouse arrested even after he was informed I was the superior title holder,” Mokiao wrote in support of the TRO.
The requested TRO was quickly denied by the court.
A second incident on March 28 led to another TRO application, this time by A. Kekela, one of the OFHA members Sam Lilikoi had dispatched to the property, now using the name Ikaikanuiaumi Akekela, and his girlfriend.
According to the TRO application filed in court, Berg was seen dropping “a suspicious box over the front gate of the property.” Kekela called Moleka Hicks for support and the two confronted Berg, telling him to remove the box, described in the application as “his suspicious item.”
They then followed Berg as he walked toward the golf course “to ensure that he would no longer harass or be a threat to myself, my neighbors and my family,” according to the TRO application.
As they reached the golf course boundary, Berg pulled out a black handgun and pointed back at Kekela and Hicks while he left the area.
“We are the victims of harassment and threats of gun violence by Tom Berg who is acting with violent intentions on behalf of the interest of his employer and /or affiliate Guyland LLC,” Kekela said in his TRO application. “Tom Berg does not have the right to invade our constitutional rights to privacy while we are on our property.”
Berg says their tale is “fabricated.” In a recent telephone interview, he said he went to the site to deliver a box of court documents, and after the group refused to accept them, was followed and harassed, taunted by several people, including being called a “f—ing haole” as he walked across a 30-acre property toward the golf course.
A hearing on the TRO was held in the Ewa district court on May 5. As part of his own testimony, Berg showed a video of the incident that apparently supported his claim to have been harassed and threatened.
Court records show that after viewing the video, and hearing testimony from both sides, the judge ordered the temporary restraining order dissolved and, further, ordered the two complainants to pay $2,500 to cover Berg’s attorney fees and court costs.
No payment had been made as of Thursday, and Berg’s attorney is now taking additional legal action to collect.