Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Hundreds of people are set to gather at the property of a billionaire to peacefully protest what they see as his bullying, dismissive attitude.
Zuckerberg, one of the world’s richest men, spent $100 million to buy 700 acres of land on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, per the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. At the time, Forbes Magazine described the estate as a “secluded” property for Zuckerberg’s family.
But according to local news reports, the estate isn’t quite as secluded as one might think. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that locals have attempted to use an old trail that passes through the property, only to be harassed and intimidated by security. Some have even filed police complaints.
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So in June 2016, Zuckerberg constructed a six-foot wall along part of his property, despite protests from locals, who called in a “monstrosity” and not neighborly, per The Garden Island, a local newspaper.
Now, more than six months later, around 200 locals are expected to march in protest along the wall this Saturday, per Business Insider.
But why did it take so long for a protest to form?
That’s because the protest isn’t just about an architectural squabble. It also has to do with the fact that although Zuckerberg owns control over the land, he is not the only one with rights to it. In particular, several parcels of land, totaling less than eight acres of the 700, belong in part to families who inherited the land through the Kuleana Act, a 167-year-old Hawaiian law.
The law allowed native families to legally own the land where they lived, and when those owners died without a will, the rights were supposed to pass on to the person’s heir. As ownership was passed down from generation to generation, Zuckerberg was able to buy a controlling interest in the land. However, the Kuleana Act still allows descendants of the original owners who still own their shares to access their land parcels, making it difficult for Zuckerberg’s security team to deny people entrance, per the Hololulu Star-Advertiser.
And so in mid-January, Zuckerberg filed eight lawsuits seeking to force the remaining owners to sell the land using a legal process known as “quiet title,” in which a state court determines ownership of a disputed piece of land, per Hawaii News Now. “Quiet title” has commonly been used to force defendants to be evicted from properties, per NOLO.com.
Additionally, Zuckerberg’s lawyers are using another legal tactic called “adverse possession” that allows a trespasser to actually gain ownership of land if they occupy it for a long enough time without the legal owner protesting. Zuckerberg’s lawsuits claim he legitimately bought the territory from people who used “adverse possession” rules to claim ownership in the first place.
While a common legal principle in the U.S., “adverse possession” has been criticized in Hawaii as a discriminatory practice used to take ancestral land away from native Hawaiians by plantation farmers and ranchers who bullied their way into using the land for an extended period of time, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg’s lawsuits ignited a firestorm of criticism, so much so that he took to his own social media page to defend himself and later said he was reconsidering the suits.
However, the protest will still proceed, according to its organizer, Joe Hart. The wall still impedes some of the Kuleana land owners from accessing their property.
“People are furious down here with him,” Hart, a local farmer told Business Insider. “We just want to bring this issue to light. He’s made his money stealing everyone’s information, which we’ve let him do, but to come down here and start suing everyone, that’s not going to fly down here.”