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Fast Eddie's Last Stand
  • July 18, 2013 : 23:07
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The next day I drive up the volcanic range that bisects the island and toward the protest march in Hale’iwa. I pass the silly Dole Plantation tourist trap where the fruit company grows pineapple only for show. After a century of dominance on the islands, pineapples are now grown cheaper and more efficiently in Costa Rica. I drive past land that used to be sugarcane as far as the eye can see. But sugarcane is produced cheaper and more efficiently in Brazil these days. Pineapple and sugarcane fields, now deserted, are the ghosts of agribusinesses that once ruled virtually every part of Hawaiian life. The barons used the islands as personal piggy banks, caring little for the ecosystem or the local population. And just as I drop down the other volcanic side, the North Shore splayed before me, I see a street sign that reads Adopt a highway, Litter control next two miles: Monsanto Company.

Monsanto was drawn to Hawaii for some of the same reasons that attracted the pineapple and sugar interests, namely its nutritious volcanic soil and its perfect, perpetually 75-degree weather. The islands are like a giant greenhouse. On the mainland most crops have one growing season, maybe two. In Hawaii they can have up to four, which suits Monsanto’s purposes. More harvest cycles mean more seeds, and large tracts of land have been opened on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Molokai to meet the seed demands of the world’s farmers. These demands have made the seed industry Hawaii’s largest agricultural sector. Worth more than $240 million, it is responsible for a third of Hawaii’s agricultural income. While valuable to Hawaii’s fragile, tourism-heavy economy, the income does little to settle the apprehensions of men like Eddie Rothman.

And Rothman is not alone, not by far. When I exit the main road toward Hale’iwa, hundreds of protesters have already grouped together near the 7-Eleven at the south end of town, or the “bottom” as it is called. It’s a motley bunch: moms pushing strollers, old people with canes, chunky white transplants in awful denim shorts, surfers, Japanese tourists, dreadlocked hippies banging on ukuleles, girls in bikinis, tough mokes. Moke is Hawaiian slang for an aggressive “braddah” who wears “da rubba slippas” and punches haoles. Haole is Hawaiian slang for “white man.” Everyone has a sign with some variation on the demand that Monsanto leave Hawaii. Pit bulls roam freely. A man wearing a V for Vendetta mask tells a man with a head as big as a Fiat, “Look at those clouds, brah. I hope they don’t chemtrail us.” It is a widely held belief here that Monsanto dumps heavy metals into the clouds in order to control the weather. As expected, Monsanto denies the protesters’ claims, of chemtrailing and otherwise.

Across the parking lot a giant pickup truck draped in Hawaiian flags is surrounded by men wearing red Da Hui T-shirts. There is Kala Alexander, a surfer and actor who became famous as the unlikely star of a series of YouTube videos featuring the beatdowns he gave surfers who showed disrespect in the waves. Those videos are a relic of his past. Alexander’s most recent activist star turn is as a concerned citizen speaking out against the encroachments of the biotech companies in a documentary about GMOs and Hawaii.

Rothman stands with the protesters, arms folded across his chest like a sentinel, and lets the others do the talking. As I approach, he says, “You gotta meet the guys who started the march,” and walks me over to two men busily directing the proceedings. “These are the real people. These are the ones changing shit.”

One of them is Dustin Barca, a professional surfer and also an MMA fighter from Kauai. He is handsome, with severely cauliflowered ears. “Five years ago I started studying, reading, watching the movies about GMOs,” he says. “I wanted to get my facts straight before acting. I learned how damaging they are to the people and to the land. It is poison. And so now I want to build awareness. I want to educate the local people on what is happening. I’m not interested in saving the world. I’m interested in saving my island.”

Rarely is a word spoken here today that isn’t rooted in fierce localism. Walter Ritte, standing next to Barca, nods his head in approval. Ritte, older and slight with a full gray beard, is from Molokai and is a legend among Hawaiian activists. His involvement in the GMO debate is tied to the University of Hawaii’s genetic experiments with taro, a traditional Hawaiian root. “Taro is a family member for Hawaiians,” he told me. “It is our firstborn. If they’re going to mess with our firstborn then they’re going to mess with us. This whole GMO issue is so complicated, and I like to make it simple. Basically GMOs package us, they own us. And I would like to tell them—the companies—if you hurt our culture and you hurt our land, you’re in for trouble.”

In days past, Da Hui would have brought the trouble immediately and violently on the interlopers, but today its members have signs and slogans and bullhorns. They are joined in solidarity with farmers and other citizens, joined not by surfing but by living in and loving Hawaii. The march begins, and the energized crowd chants, “Thanks for visiting. Now go home like the rest of the tourists!” People fill the Kamehameha Highway, smiling, chanting and trading horror stories about the evils of GMOs and “Mon-Satan.” I hear many stories about a Monsanto property on Oahu called the Kunia research farm. People say fish DNA is put into strawberries there and 70 different kinds of chemicals are used on the crops. They say Monsanto is destroying Hawaii’s native species by making Frankencrops that cross-pollinate with everything. They say the farm is killing all the bees and changing the weather, and that it isn’t from here. They say the farm does not belong here.

There was a time when Rothman was the interloper, the unknown quantity on the North Shore. Although many people assume he is Hawaiian, he was born Jewish in Philadelphia. “I don’t know nothing about Jew stuff, but once this lady on the North Shore made me some Jew food and it was good,” he tells me. He has said that his mother physically abused him as a boy. Eventually she left, and his father moved to Long Beach, California with him. “My father would fucking beat the shit out of me because I was little, and that made him mad.” Eventually Eddie’d had enough. When he was 14 years old he stole enough money out of his father’s wallet for a one-way ticket to Honolulu. He had surfed in California and had seen the surf-ploitation films featuring Hawaii, with its perfect giant waves, palm trees, white sand and easy smiles.

He landed in Honolulu knowing no one. He knew only that something felt almost right. He stayed in Honolulu for a few years, flying to southern California to pick up marijuana and bring it back to Hawaii. He briefly went to school in Long Beach. “I went to school a couple of times, but the school told me if I didn’t show up, they would pass me.” He eventually moved permanently to the North Shore. It had everything he needed: surf, sun, a market for his marijuana. And as a 16-year-old he would get by selling it and stealing cars.

One bright day he was in the bushes at the Sunset, one of the North Shore’s famous wave breaks, breaking into cars, when he ran into a pack of Hawaiian locals who were doing the same thing. How did they come to accept this unlikely out­sider? “I don’t talk good,” says Rothman. “I have bad speech like them, so it was easy, and everything went from there. I sounded like them, and they just accepted that I was like them.” He was tenacious, so they flew him around the islands to crack heads for such offenses as not paying debts within an appropriate time. When I suggest that the tough Hawaiians had adopted him, he bristles. “They didn’t adopt shit. I proved myself every fucking day. I proved myself with these.” Again, he holds up a fist. A scarred, tooth-nicked fist. On the North Shore, not speaking well goes only so far.

Of all the enemies Rothman has faced over the years, Monsanto is by far the biggest and most elusive. Bloomberg reports that the company did $5.47 billion in revenue in this year’s second quarter alone. It, along with the other seed companies, owns or leases 25,000 acres on the islands.

Before arriving in Hawaii, Monsanto had perfected its craft. Company scientists were among the first to genetically modify a plant cell in their laboratories, and they knew they had struck gold. Traditional seeds cannot be patented, since they occur naturally. Genetically modified seed, on the other hand, can be, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court. The company realized it could make a higher-yielding, more-rugged product through science, and it could better monetize that product by applying patent law. And Monsanto protects these patents fiercely, suing any farmer who dares replant instead of purchasing. The company argues that it has spent billions of dollars perfecting these seeds and it only makes sense to recoup investment costs. The Supreme Court agrees. In May, the Court ruled that farmers are not allowed to replant Monsanto seed but must repurchase yearly. To many farmers, Roundup’s near silver-bullet-like effectiveness is worth the cost. Still, Rothman takes issue with this, seeing it as a form of extortion. Just as offensive to him is how close Monsanto is to his home. How it looms in his backyard. “That farm is fucking evil,” he adds to the chorus, near the end of the march.

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read more: News, politics, business, issue july 2013

11 comments

  • Right Foot Forward
    Right Foot Forward
    And if you had any doubt, here's the court record for Fast Eddie's offsider, Kala Alexander ...5PC90-0-000002 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA JOHN ALEXANDER /Robbery 2/ Jail /$2000 bond5PC93-0-000020 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA JOHN ALEXANDER /Assault 2nd 3rd/ Extortion 1st, 2nd & 3rd/ Jail /$4500 restitution5CC93-0-000346 LINDA DEROHAN ET AL V REBECCA WILLIAMS ET AL [ET AL means 'amongst others'] Looks like an Estate/Inheritance issue [He's non-criminal here]5CC93-0-000346 LINDA DEROHAN ET AL V REBECCA WILLIAMS ET AL /Same5DA96-0-000072 KALA JOHN ALEXANDER VS NICOLE CARTER /Temp restraining order [Don't know what's happening here. Has he been ***** whipped?]5DA96-0-000090 OWEN CARTER VS KALA JOHN ALEXANDER /Temp restraining order5FC98-0-000212 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Family abuse /Arraignment/ Contempt /$1250 bond5FC92-0-000096 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Family abuse / Jail5FC99-0-000078 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Criminal contempt /Bail summons5DA00-1-000082 NICOLE ALEXANDER V KALA ALEXANDER /Petition for temp restraining order5DA00-1-000106 NICOLE ALEXANDER V KALA JOHN ALEXANDER /As above (?) maybe to remove it1FC00-1-002883 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA JOHN ALEXANDER /Harrassment /Protection order/ About $3000 bail1FC01-1-001112 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Harrassment /Protection order5FC01-1-000063 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Abuse family /Protection order5PC01-1-000202 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA J. ALEXANDER /Terror threat /Harrassment /Jail5PC01-1-000205 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Terror threat 2nd /Harrassment /$975 fine5PCCO-1-000206 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Terror threat /Harrassment /Jail /$975 fine5PC01-1-000207 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Criminal property damage1FC01-1-003009 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Family abuse /$5000 bail1FC01-1-003010 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Family abuse1FC02-1-001005 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Family abuse1FC02-1-001426 STATE OF HAWAII V KALA ALEXANDER /Family abuse1RC03-1-001490 STERMAN REALTY ET AL VS KALA ALEXANDER /Summary possession Tenant damages5DV03-1-000145 NICOLE ALEXANDER V KALA ALEXANDER /Divorce, child support etc. [At least theres a happy ending]
  • hectorthecorrector
    hectorthecorrector
    monsanto is terrible and should be erradicatedbut what about quiksilver, billabong, hurley, volcomthey aren't doing any favors either
  • fred
    fred
    You have got to be kidding. quiksilver, billabong, hurley, volcom are paying the bills for Mr Edward Rothman's family and Kala Alexander.
  • aina
    aina
    Great story. If Fast Eddie can turn around then so can the rest of the world.
  • Right Foot Forward
    Right Foot Forward
    Wow, some irony here. Hats off to the author for the faux-dramatic intro cunningly crafted to publicise his upcoming book. Presumably he got paid for the privilege too.But what of the article? Anyone who's followed the court records in Hawaii will be well familiar with the allegations and convictions linking Mr Rothman and his 'Wolfpak' to drug running on the islands. They've controlled the trade for decades -- a cancer that has emaciated the proud Hawaiian islands. Speak to any local about the drug scourge and the impact Fast Eddie has had on it. Goes all the way back to the 80s.Example: http://www.wabaseball.com.au/w...So a guy who's been embedded in the drug trade for decades rallying against the impact of Monsanto's poison on the islands? Ah, the irony is as bitter as the dab of high-grade coke on the tip of a dealer's tongue. Turns out there's a bigger dealer ripping at the fabric of "your" town now Fast Ed.I'm not saying this isn't a massive issue. To the contrary -- and congrats on Playboy for airing it. And the historical context was fantastic. But Eddie Rothman as the poster boy for this camnpaign??? C'mon guys, cheap angle. And it really discredits the great work that people on the islands are doing with this campaign to make a convicted drug dealer and standover man the face of this fight.[... Awesome axe-weilding image notwithstanding. Wowers, what photo editor could resist that metaphor?]
  • Darren McKinney
    Darren McKinney
    The “bad feeling” that foul-mouthed Hawaiian thug Eddie Rothman gets about Monsanto’s state-of-the-art bio-science facilities near his home seems as thoughtful and well-founded as the bad feeling that backward Muslim radicals get about little girls going to school [“Fast Eddie’s Last Stand,” July-August]. The only difference is that the barbarians who throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls in Pakistan are inspired by insecure and increasingly irrelevant imams, whereas the Hawaiian Luddites who use the f-word in every sentence are being manipulated by well-financed personal injury lawyers and the organic food industry in advance of lawsuits now being prepared. After all, there’s no better place than paradise when it comes to cultivating crops of ignorant and impressionable jurors ripe for future harvest.
  • noshoreperson
    noshoreperson
    So stupid celebrating violence. What a stupid embarrassing article. Fast Eddie is an old thug.
  • Cindy Trautmeyer
    Cindy Trautmeyer
    The more the GMO corporations suppress the consumer demanded labeling, the more irrational the people will get. They refuse to educate the public about the benefits of GMO technology and base their marketing purely on lobbying politicians. That is more than short sighted as labeling will come sooner or later. But the later it comes, the more resentment will have built up and biotech will be put to history. No, consumers don't read studies but react with fear to the unknown. And there's a wide open playing field for scaremongers and rumors. Once promising biotech is being sacrificed on the altar of corporatism. Sponsored scientists are being pitted against political activists. Lobbied politicians deal with confused voters and refuse to regulate. Academic freedom is being lost at the increasingly GMO sponsored universities and the legal staff at our governmental institutions are exchanging jobs with GMO lawyers. All that doesn't make GMO gourmet food, but causes gag reflexes.
  • tequilaman
    tequilaman
    Please elaborate on your pointing out that Quicksilver et all, arent doing any favors either......
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I think the author needs to read the Plant Patent Act of 1930. We've been patenting seed since long before there were GMOs.
  • FastViber
    FastViber
    F it then. Le the Hawaiian Nation adopt gambling and of course legalize marijuana. Sad to see the islands go down like this. There truly is and seems to be the end of paradise. BVB - The Last of the Golden Generation. Amen.
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