OWOSSO, Mich. — Armed members of the Michigan Home Guard stood outside Karl Manke’s barber shop, ready to blockade the door if police arrived. They were determined to help Manke, 77, reopen his shop Monday, in defiance of state orders, and dozens joined them, wearing Trump sweatshirts and Trump cowboy hats and waving Trump flags.
They gathered not because they desperately needed haircuts but to rail against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approach to fighting the coronavirus outbreak in Michigan, one of the nation’s worst hot spots. They were channeling President Trump’s support of such protests, but some also were taking aim at the state’s Republicans, who they say have not done enough to “liberate” the state from safety measures that have ground life to a halt.
Michelle Gregoire, a 29-year-old school bus driver from Battle Creek who is running as a Republican for a seat in the state House, waved a yellow “Don’t tread on me” flag at passing traffic. She derided Whitmer as “a tyrant.” But she also urged Republicans “to get in line and get it together.”
The protest and others like it — including two last month that included demonstrators with swastikas, Confederate flags and some with long guns inside the capitol — have alarmed lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But after Trump appeared to urge the militia members on, tweeting that they are “very good people” who “want their lives back again,” they have forced Michigan’s Republican lawmakers to strike a delicate balance, managing a deadly virus while also being careful not to contradict Trump or alienate their conservative supporters.