Expressing amazement that a federal judge in Hawaii could block President Donald Trump's discriminatory travel ban, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemingly let slip his opinion that Hawaii is “an island in the Pacific” that shouldn't block the powers of Washington, D.C.
“So this is a huge matter,” Sessions said Wednesday in an online broadcast of an interview with right-wing shock-jock Mark Levin. “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”
The gaffe comes as controversy rages in South Korea over Trump's mistaken assertion, made earlier this month in a Wall Street Journal interview, that “Korea actually used to be a part of China.”
However, while the U.S. head of state's slip-up was likely made out of ignorance, others see a darker motive behind the attorney general's remark. Hawaiian Senator Mazie Hirono accused the former Alabama senator of resorting to “dog whistle politics,” which means the use of coded speech to convey a veiled racist message that would resonate with Sessions' far-right base.
The 70-year-old Southern conservative has long contended with accusations of bigotry and white supremacist racism. Even before joining Trump's administration, Sessions surrounded himself with figures now seen as representing the hard-right wing of the White House, such as senior aide Stephen Miller and former Breitbart editor and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
It has been speculated that the travel ban blocked by the federal judge in Hawaii, Judge Derrick Watson, was conceived by Sessions' right-wing nationalist faction within the White House.
“Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” Justice Department spokesperson Ian D. Prior defensively remarked in an email to The Huffington Post on Thursday.
The U.S. government forcefully annexed Hawaii in 1898 after the archipelago nation had been transformed into a de facto colony by Christian missionaries, sugar barons and ranchers from the United States.
Since then, the Indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian islands have faced a consistent violation by U.S. authorities of their right to practice their language, culture, and sovereignty through what historian Huanani-Kay Trask called “an arbitrary deprivation of our nationality, an arbitrary deprivation of our lands, and a denial of our rights to self-determination as a people, including aboriginal rights to our natural resources.”
In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act, granting the island statehood. The move was approved by 94.3 percent of eligible voters on the U.S. territory, which was populated by a mix of natives, European settlers, and descendants of Asian migrant laborers.
Heavily urbanized, militarized and, as a result, heavily polluted, Hawaii remains a top tourist attraction. The Hawai'i Tourism Authority reported a record total of 8,679,564 visitors in 2015. However, a movement for Hawaiian independence and sovereignty has long been upheld by the archipelago's marginalized Indigenous people.