Karl Manke, a barber in Owosso, Michigan, has not been shy about his defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) stay-at-home order.
Attracting the support of the official sheriff and unofficial local militia, he has flung wide the doors of his business weeks before Whitmer’s stay-at-home order expires at the end of May.
And on Monday, he also got legal backing for his position.
Shiawassee County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart denied the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ request for a temporary restraining order to shut down Manke’s business. Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general, had filed the request on the health department’s behalf.
“The Court wanted to provide Mr. Manke with an opportunity for a hearing on the request for an injunction, despite the clear public health dangers that continued operation of his business creates,” Ryan Jarvi, Nessel’s press secretary, told TPM of Stewart’s ruling.
Now, the attorney general and state health department must wait for Manke to have his day in court, all the while concerned that his business will spread both the disease and the notion that ignoring Whitmer’s stay-at-home order has few consequences. “The State is seeking to schedule a hearing as soon as possible,” Jarvi added.
Manke, meanwhile, has become a cause célèbre among those in the state chafing under Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders.
Giving a full-fledged press conference Monday outside his barbershop after the judge’s decision, he said that leaving his business shuttered until Whitmer’s order expired would “knock him to his knees.”
“I’ve always worked,” Manke said. “I never looked for handouts; I don’t know what they are.”
“I thought I was gonna swing in the wind alone,” he added. “You would not believe the support I got,” he said as his words were drowned out by cheers of “we love you, Karl!” and supportive honking from nearby cars.
Manke’s lawyer, Dave Kallman, said that the barber was defying Whitmer’s executive order because he believes it is illegal.
“Since the legislature refused to extend the declaration of emergency back on April 30, that emergency ended, according to state law,” Kallman said to raucous applause.
That’s the same argument being made by the Republican-controlled state legislature, both chambers of which sued Whitmer in the Michigan state Court of Claims for extending her emergency declaration via executive order after they allowed it to expire.
The legislature, citing the Emergency Management Act of 1976, argues that her orders are null and void without lawmakers’ approval. Whitmer, citing another state law, maintains that she can legally go it alone.
Whitmer addressed Manke’s defiance during her Monday press briefing.
“These executive orders are not a suggestion, they’re not optional, they’re not helpful hints,” she said. “This is an order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is a deadly virus, so that we can save lives. And I expect all Michiganders to comply with the law, unless and until a court decides to the contrary.”
Manke isn’t alone in his decision to ignore Whitmer’s orders.
On Monday, Shiawassee County Sheriff Brian BeGole posted a letter to Facebook declaring his refusal to enforce the stay-at-home order.
“With limited resources, staffing and facilities, our priority focus will be on enforcing duly passed laws for the protection of Shiawassee County citizens,” he wrote. “I have decided, within my authority, that our office cannot and will not divert our primary resources and efforts towards enforcement of Governor Whitmer’s executive orders.”
Manke is also getting muscle from non-official avenues.
Members of the Michigan militia, a well-armed paramilitary organization, posted themselves outside of the barbershop over the weekend and vowed to protect Manke from arrest.
“Yesterday six troopers came in to enforce the governor’s order or to issue a cease or desist order so we are here to make sure he doesn’t get arrested,” militia member Daniel Brewer told local outlet Mid-Michigan Now. “We’re willing to stand in front of that door and block the entrance so the police will have no entry there today.”