HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - You've probably seen the logo for "Defend Hawaii," a streetwear company, on T-shirts or on vehicles. It's the two words sandwiching an AR-15 assault rifle. The company's owner says it can be misinterpreted as perhaps being anti-American or anti-haole, but he maintains it's to protect the Hawaii way of life.
At least two of the company's early T-shirt designs were controversial. "There was the bandanna on Kamehameha's face, and the statue of Kamehameha the Great holding an AR-15, an assault rifle," said state Rep. Kaniela Ing (D-Kihei, Wailea, Makena), who was a student when he wrote blog post about how he was offended by the designs.
Kenneth Conklin, a retired professor and Hawaiian sovereignty opponent, also was offended by the shirts. "Particularly the one with Kamehameha holding the assault rifle in his outstretched hand. There's been no protest at all that I could come across from Hawaiian sovereignty activists."
Conklin said those activists did protest an ad campaign, in which the statue of Kamehameha the Great is seen holding a champagne glass to promote tourism.
As for the image of Kamehameha with the rifle, Defend Hawaii said, "Those designs are two years old and never used again." The company said those designs were discontinued when a new owner took over.
Defend Hawaii's origins actually can be traced back to a company called "Defend Brooklyn." The idea was copied by other places, including Denver and Buffalo, as well as Hawaii. "And you have to wonder what they're defending Hawaii against and why are they using rifles to do it," said Conklin.
On its Web site, Defend Hawaii says its AR-15 assault rifle logo is "often questioned, but is the strongest symbolized statement for the word DEFEND. It's not to provoke violence, but to figuratively suggest protection by the highest means."
The company's designs have also been toned down. There's no longer a bandanna on the face of the Alii warrior. And the company has even made a "Defend Pauahi" T-shirt, with the image of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
"I'm not afraid to wear something if it means something," said Ing. "But if somebody asks about it, I want to be able to explain it. With this brand I'm not too sure I could do that."
Several stores statewide sell Defend Hawaii T-shirts and other products. And one retailer said it's the best-selling brand at their store.