Michigan has been one of the hardest hit states in the country during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued strict stay-at-home orders — but not all residents are happy about them. People who disagree with the forced shutdown of many businesses and public spaces have made their displeasure known with ongoing protests at the State House. And, in the case of a barber shop in the town of Owosso, an armed militia is on guard outside to prevent the police from coming inside and shutting it down.
"If we have enough people to block entry and people are willing to be arrested, then we'll do that,” Michigan Home Guard militia member Daniel Brewser told WILX. “If not then we'll let him be arrested and we'll organize another protest at the jailhouse with full battle rattle."
The owner of the shop, 77-year-old Karl Manke, opened his doors to customers earlier this month in defiance of state orders. As a result, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office has deemed the barbershop “an imminent danger to the public,” according to NBC 25 News. Manke received two police citations already, but overwhelming crowds wearing Trump shirts, hats, and carrying Trump flags have bombarded the space in front of his storefront after he chose to open doors once again.
Members of the Michigan Home Guard —“Michigan’s biggest and most active militia,” according to their website — and dozens of other supporters have been standing outside the shop in order to help Manke stay open. According to reports, the militia members appear to be armed and prepared to take on police.
Despite the fact that 72 percent of Michigan residents agree with Gov. Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic, the opposition has had a massive impact, especially after President Trump tweeted that the re-open protesters are “very good people” who “want their lives back again.” As of Wednesday, there were over 48,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 4,600 deaths in the state.
"If you can walk down the aisles at Walmart it would seem to me you could walk down the aisles at a church," Manke's attorney, David Kallman, told WILX. "You could walk down the aisles in Karl's barbershop and practice the same physical distancing, hand washing, all the things we've been hearing on and on right?"
Shiawassee County Sheriff Brian Begole posted on Facebook on Monday saying his office does not have enough deputies to enforce the governor's executive orders and will not be prioritizing it. In addition to concerns over allowing protestors to remain active in the wake of rising case numbers, Jamil Smith pointed out in Rolling Stone how disproportionately white the armed protesters in Michigan are — while the people dying from the virus have been disproportionately Black and brown.
“If we are to believe that folks like these armed Michigan demonstrators really dislike the closures of small businesses, where is their anger over the sloppy government restitution program that has failed in its stated goal of helping those businesses?” Smith asks. “Where is their ire for lawmakers like Kemp, Trump, and the Republicans in Michigan who sought to thwart Whitmer’s orders, likely sacrificing lives to save their political skins?”
Smith also noted that Whitmer "didn't blink" in the face of these aggressive lockdown protests, and that there was "no reason to." "She extended her coronavirus orders because there's something more frightening than angry men with guns," he wrote on Twitter.