Michigan Barbers Unite Against Gov Whitmer, Offer Free Haircuts in Defiance


The bloom has fallen off the Whitmer rose, but the thorn remains.

Once considered a top pick in the Kentucky Derby of distaff politicians jostling for the second spot on the Biden presidential ticket, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is lucky to survive a day that doesn’t involve a strident protest against her lockdown order.

While the governor has decided to take some reopening measures — particularly in the northern part of the state, which hasn’t been hit as hard — that still hasn’t quelled a lot of the anger. That’s especially true around a service which remains a thorny issue pretty much everywhere in America: haircuts.

Well, if you wanted a free haircut and happened to be in the vicinity of the state capitol in Lansing on Wednesday, you could have gotten rid of two months of coronavirus shagginess — and it didn’t cost you a dime, which is convenient when you consider Whitmerism’s effect on Michigan’s economy.

According to The Associated Press, barbers cut hair gratis on the lawn of the Michigan State Capitol in protest of Whitmer’s lockdown as part of what they termed “Operation Haircut” — “a defiant demonstration that reflects how salons have become a symbol for small businesses that are eager to reopen two months after the pandemic began.”

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The event was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, the same group behind an in-car protest against Whitmer’s lockdown order back in April.

“Barbershops, salons and spas stand at the forefront of small businesses that want to open again despite the risks of their services, which require employees to be in close contact with customers — similar to medical or dental care,” the AP reported Tuesday.

“The coronavirus has contributed to more than 5,000 confirmed deaths in Michigan, the fourth-highest toll in the country. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s closure of nonessential businesses is among the nation’s toughest and is in effect at least through May 28.”

As for that death toll, the AP doesn’t bother to note is that, for a relatively large state, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases are based around Detroit and (to a much smaller extent) Grand Rapids. Even Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located, has accounted for just 60 of those more than 5,000 confirmed deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

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The rest of the state is primarily clear — which presents a significant issue when one considers how stringent the lockdown is.

And, while barbers have been at the forefront of the reopen campaign across the country, that’s been particularly true in Michigan, where 77-year-old Karl Manke’s decision to open up his Owosso barbershop has become a flashpoint for those on both sides of the lockdown issue.

“We all have the same spirit and the same soul for freedom,” the barber said this week.

“One of the things I want to emphasize, Michigan, all of you business owners, you beauticians, you barbers, massage therapists — all of you. Open up your shops! Stand up and show up!”

Manke has since had his license suspended by Michigan officials, something that’ll no doubt increase conservatives’ faith in occupational licensing. However, Shiawassee County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart denied a request from Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to force a restraining order on Manke prohibiting him from opening his barbershop.

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“Operation Haircut” seems to have gone off without any sturm und drang, a rarity given the adversarial relationship between Michigan authorities and the anti-lockdown protesters. That doesn’t mean there weren’t tone deaf-tastic tweets like this one from the Michigan State Police’s official Twitter account:

Apparently, though, this left reporters used to febrile descriptions of the goings-on in Lansing at a loss, so NPR’s Abigail Censky decided to step into the void and describe an event about as dangerous as a mass flea bath inside the Tower of London during the black death — in NPR’s typical soporific, low-key fashion, of course.

“The Capitol lawn was turned into a barber shop. At least a dozen barbers and stylists, highlighting the damage to their shuttered businesses, set up card tables and generators to power the clippers, and people lined up,” she reported.

“There were no temperature checks, few people wearing masks, and little to no social distancing. Seven hairdressers were ticketed by Michigan State Police for disorderly conduct for refusing to stop.”

The picture NPR used to adorn the article, by the by, included plenty of people — if certainly far short of a vast majority — wearing masks and some degree of social distancing.

“It’s one of the places you still have a relationship with the provider,” Sreeny Cherukuri told NPR. He hadn’t gotten his hair cut in three months.

“I don’t really know the name of the guy who works at the gas station, but I do know the names of the ladies who cut my hair, so I think that’s why it’s a touch point.”

To provide the pro-lockdown viewpoint, NPR brought in Nefertiti Harris for a quote. She “owns Textures by Nefertiti, a salon that caters to Detroit’s black community which has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.”

“Are they really chomping at the bit to get their hair cut? I mean, are those protests really about that? I question that. I don’t even think it’s about a haircut at all. … When you have lost so many loved ones to this disease you think twice,” Harris said.

Lansing is 90 miles away from Detroit and no one getting their hair cut on Wednesday had anything to do with whatever racial inequalities may exist in COVID-19 infection rates or outcomes, but thanks for slathering on those extra few layers of guilt, I guess.

Most of Michigan can almost certainly reopen for haircuts and other services that require some degree of close contact. A select few urban areas cannot.

That’s an unpopular reality among Democrats there, particularly since their base is agglomerated in those areas, so the entire state remains shuttered under one of the most restrictive lockdown orders in the nation.

If “Operation Haircut” is so enraging to liberals, I’d proffer a very simple way to have avoided it: Reopen the parts of the state that can be opened, allow haircuts to go forward and go from there. Don’t take away the occupational licenses of those who refuse to play ball. Don’t condescend to those who want to see the state reopened. Don’t pretend coronavirus requires the entire state to follow the Detroit metro area’s rules.

Since that won’t happen, I can only hope that authorities are prepared for another “Operation Haircut.” As for Gov. Whitmer, meanwhile, you wonder just how much sharper the thorn can get.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture