For more than a decade, the protest movement over the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab was largely characterized by smiling elderly Okinawans holding sit-ins.
The most provocative action of these Western-friendly protesters was perhaps temporarily blocking a gate or tying colored ribbons on the chain-link fences surrounding the seaside Marine Corps base.
But 2014 brought a new development: Local politicians who spoke against the construction of a controversial runway at Oura Bay on the northern part of the island were swept into power. And when those politicians were unable to fulfill campaign promises to put the brakes on the project — their demands largely ignored by Tokyo’s central government — the protests took a more desperate and vitriolic turn.
Buoyed in numbers by foreigners and non-islanders, the protesters began to verbally attack American families and their children. They egged the cars of Americans and locals who work on base and tried to intimidate reporters and Japanese security guards. They phoned in bomb threats.
On Tuesday, after the arrest of a 35-year-old protester for allegedly assaulting two Japanese police officers, protesters blocked the main gate at Camp Schwab, where the new runway is to be built. Young Marines entering and exiting the base on foot and by car were forced to wade through about 100 shouting protesters who held signs calling them murderers.