Hawaii's army of Karens

The state of Hawaii is still under one of the more severe lockdowns because of the novel coronavirus, with strict restrictions on visitors coming to visit the islands. Anyone flying (or sailing) to the Aloha State’s golden shores is supposed to remain in self-quarantine for two weeks before they can hit the beaches or otherwise go out and about with the natives. But taking a look at the beaches on any given day, you get the impression that not everyone is down with the program. Plenty of people are hitting the shops or soaking up the sun, frequently without any face masks or social distancing protocols in sight. So how are the authorities supposed to deal with all of these scofflaws?


Not to worry. As the Associated Press reports this weekend, there’s a whole crew of people, led by one former local reporter who is currently locked down at home, scouring social media, public webcams and image libraries to identify those violating the quarantine order. And the type of “reporting” going on has nothing to do with the local news. This army of Karens is reporting suspected violators to the police and that’s translating into arrests.

Former longtime television reporter Angela Keen knows how to track people down.

During the coronavirus pandemic, she’s putting her skills to use finding tourists who defy Hawaii’s mandatory two-week quarantine on arriving travelers.

When members of her Facebook group spot tourists posting about their beach trips on social media, Keen zeroes in on photos for clues like license plate numbers she can run down and distinctive furnishings she can match up with vacation rental listings.

Armed with a violator’s name, she scours the internet for information, from criminal records to previous addresses.

Keen’s social media group goes by the name of the Army of Snitches. No, wait… (*checks notes*) They’re called Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers. Kapu is apparently a Hawaiian word for “rules.” And according to their fearless leader, they’ve already been responsible for at least 35 arrests on Oahu and the big island alone. Other members on some of the smaller islands have reportedly turned in more visitors who were then arrested.


Ms. Keen wants everyone to know that she’s fully socially woke. She makes sure to tell the members of her group not to “profile people because they look like outsiders.” Really? How precisely does one go about doing that? Hawaii’s economy basically exists because of tourism, with people flocking there from all over the world. Further, a significant percentage of the population consists of people who moved there from elsewhere. How are they supposed to know who is a resident and who is visiting?

That’s where these Karens get particularly clever. When Keen finds someone “suspicious” looking cropping up in an Instagram photo, she checks to see if any vehicle license plates are visible. Presumably, if it’s a rental, they might be tourists. If the pictures are from the inside of a hotel room or other potential rental property, she uses image matching software to try to determine if they are staying in temporary quarters and where the police can find them.

The group sounds as if their activities border on obsession. In the interview, Keen describes how one dangerous scofflaw nearly got away. But she and her posse were able to track him to the airport and direct the police to stop him just as he was preparing to leave.

Keen’s group has learned some lessons from violators who got away — or nearly did, including a tourist from California whose social media posts showed him on the beach, at the popular volcanic crater Diamond Head and riding a city bus.

“I tracked him for 14 days,” Keen said. Members didn’t call him out on his posts to ensure he wouldn’t know they were on to him, and they passed along the information they got to investigators.

When Keen saw him post that he was leaving, she texted an investigator, fearing it would be too late. Authorities, however, got to Honolulu’s airport in minutes, she said.

He was arrested an hour before his flight to Los Angeles. He posted $2,000 bail and caught a later flight, officials said.


Holy cow. She spent two weeks of her life tracking this guy’s social media accounts, right down to the moment of his planned departure. One has to wonder how much good it did for the public health situation to watch him for two weeks as he interacted with the public, only stopping when he was on his way out and would no longer risk infecting anyone else.

Look, I get the concern that Hawaii has over the virus. The people there are rather densely packed into popular tourist resort areas and there’s a constant stream of visitors coming and going. But for vacationers planning to visit the islands, how many of us could afford to arrive and sit in our hotel rooms for two weeks before getting to start any actual vacation activities? If that’s the case, why not just ban all tourists from coming? Or, perhaps more to the point, shouldn’t more tourists be voting with their wallets and going elsewhere rather than submitting to these restrictions?

At any rate, I suppose we should offer our congratulations to this army of Karens. They’re managing to get tourists arrested while the police are too overwhelmed to find all of the perpetrators. Perhaps the government is even offering a reward for this sort of help. Snitches get… riches?

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