- The Washington Times
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The latest iteration of protests swirling around the Michigan capital Wednesday was aptly named Operation Haircut.

Amid widespread and often unpopular economic lockdowns, barbers and hairstylists stepped forward as improbable Minutemen in a swelling rebellion against government restrictions.

In Michigan, 77-year-old barber Karl Manke is the public face of the resistance to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ongoing economic shutdown to deal with COVID-19. On Wednesday, he got plenty of company wielding scissors, clippers and combs in civil disobedient revolt.

Among those joining him in the Lansing hair-cutting hair demonstration was Texas hair salon owner Shelley Luther, who was briefly jailed for defying her state’s stay-at-home orders.

Other barbers and hairstylists are also railing against the extended lockdowns imposed and now being extended primarily by Democratic governors.

“I’ve been tempted to reopen, but those people who have been defiant have been made examples of,” said Alcides Franceschini, owner of the Consider It Done barbershop in south Philadelphia. “I have been in business since September 2000, almost 20 years, and I don’t want them to take away my license.”

Some barbers who never bothered to obtain state licenses now find themselves in a superior position, according to Mr. Franceschini.

“They are flying under the radar; they’re not on the books, so no one thinks to check on them,” he told The Washington Times. “You can drive by, you can see them in there cutting hair, but they never get checked because they aren’t in the system.”

It was that sort of underground salon operation that contributed to Ms. Luther’s decision to defy local Texas authorities and reopen her salon, she said. An open, regulated business can perform services in a more sanitary way during the pandemic than black market haircutters, she said.

Mr. Franceschini’s fears about losing his license are hardly fabricated. Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, did just that to Mr. Manke in an unannounced administrative hearing last week.

A state agency essentially “made a complaint to itself, and then ruled in its own favor and summarily dismissed Karl’s license without any hearing,” said David Kallman, Mr. Manke’s attorney.

County law enforcement officials declined to enforce Ms. Whitmer’s orders at Mr. Manke’s Owosso barbershop, and late Monday a state appeals court declined to grant the attorney general’s appeal of a county ruling against a state-imposed restraining order against Mr. Manke’s business.

He remained closed because his license was suspended.

The Republican-run legislature in Lansing also sued Ms. Whitmer in the Court of Claims, which has statewide jurisdiction. The governor gained a victory there late Tuesday when a judge ruled her actions are likely constitutional, which prompted the attorney general to ask the court to throw out the suit entirely.

While Operation Haircut happened without major incident Wednesday, state troopers demanded copies of the driver’s licenses of the two dozen hair cutters, dog groomers, masseuses and other business owners who were working at the state Capitol, according to Matthew Seely, a spokesman for the Michigan Conservative Coalition that helped organize the protest.

Mr. Manke set up shop atop the Capitol steps, where customers, including two state lawmakers, waited patiently in social distanced lines.

An estimated 2,000 people attended the demonstration, which was a smaller turnout than at previous protests. The attendance Wednesday could have been hurt by massive flooding across the middle of the state.

“It’s a very peaceful, orderly demonstration,” Mr. Seely said. “We assume they wanted the copies because they are going to try to strip all of them of their working licenses. It’s heartbreaking, really. It’s like a police state, it’s ridiculous.”

Still, protests by barbers and salon owners have drawn sharp criticism from pro-lockdown pundits.

A Philadelphia Inquirer report on Mr. Franceschini and his comrades called the demand for a haircut during the pandemic “idiotic.”

Fumed CNN anchor Don Lemon: “These people who want to get their hair cut — who the hell do they think they are?”

Ms. Luther, Mr. Manke and Mr. Franceschini say they are defending their livelihood and the livelihood of their employees, who they said prefer working to applying for unemployment benefits.

Mr. Seely distinguished the barbers’ demonstration from the heavily armed protesters who have garnered much of the media attention.

“Some of those bozos with the AR-15s showed up again today and we approached them and asked them to sort of go to the side of the steps and they did, which we appreciate,” Mr. Seely said.

Ms. Whitmer has threatened to prolong the lockdown because of protests, which Mr. Seely called vindictive because the state’s overall number of coronavirus cases and deaths have declined in the past two weeks.

Getting back to cutting hair, however, comes with a level of risk.

A barber in Kingston, New York, about 90 miles north of New York City, tested positive for COVID-19 last week after defying stay-at-home rules and cutting hair privately, according to health officials in Ulster County who are trying to track down the unidentified man’s customers.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.