Police officers patrol through downtown Dallas on horseback on May 1
As lockdowns began across America due to the arrival of the Chinese coronavirus on American shores, Texans did what Texans do best: they emptied the shelves of every firearm store in the state.
Urban progressives and their vaunted expert classes across the country were quick to mock, making liberal use of the ‘Firing a Gun at the Sun’ meme to get their jabs in at their perceived cultural inferiors. But now it appears those same firearms, and the millions more owned by the people of Texas are going to be the Professional Managerial Class’s undoing. Texans want to reopen their businesses, and are turning to amateur armed guards in order to do it.
A piece in the New York Times chronicled the development earlier this week , focusing on a tattoo shop in Shepherd, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston. When Jamie Williams’s industry was passed over for the first wave of permitted business re-openings by Gov. Greg Abbott, she called one of what can only be described as Texas’s traveling economic militias. One of these groups, who had been criss-crossing Texas engaging in armed stand-offs with police and local officials, set up an armed perimeter while Jamie opened her shop. Within a few hours, patrons arrived, as many as 10 at the day’s peak.
The confrontations at businesses like Jamie’s and now folk-hero Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther highlight a fundamental problem faced by government officials both right and left. On the left, petty authoritarians have to balance their desire to impose maximal lockdowns in devotion to neo-pagan scientism, while still championing the lawless policies of zero-dollar bail and opposition to incarceration of any sort. On the right, governors like Greg Abbott have to protect their general posture of economic freedom and small government while mollifying the moderate suburban swing voters in their state who get their news from left-leaning news outlets.
These twin challenges have come to a head in a state like Texas, where a decentralized system of local control has led to vastly different levels of lockdown and enforcement, all while Gov. Abbott tries to balance his national media profile with the desires of his Republican base and his intense support among Texas businesses.
In 2018 when Sen. Ted Cruz eked out a victory against the steadfast cultural appropriator and wine-mom heartthrob Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, most members of the national conservative media cheered briefly and moved on. However, an unseen consequence of the Betomania outbreak was the total wipeout of Republicans and right-leaning non-partisans in Texas local government. One casualty was the County Judgeship of Harris County, which contains and more importantly governs the City of Houston and over four million Texans. The moderate Republican who used to hold that seat, Ed Emmett, was swept out and replaced by a 29-year-old named Lina Hidalgo who makes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez look like an elder statesman. Her reign, as well as the reign of local executives in Texas’s largest cities has led to showdowns like those that catapulted Dallas’s Shelley Luther to fame last week. Her case eventually ended with Abbott defending her against the enforcement of his own guidance as Governor, a perfect example of the bind governors used to gilding themselves in the rhetoric of freedom now find themselves in.
But Shelley wasn’t the first hair salon owner to defy what she saw as untenable restrictions on her stylists’ ability to make a living. The reason haircuts will be legal at all in Texas this week was actually the doing of two state representatives who placed the Governor in a quandary: either open faster, or risk undermining his authority as the state’s chief executive. State Representatives Briscoe Cain and Steve Toth made news on May 5 for getting so-called ‘illegal haircuts’ at Tune Up: The Manly Salon in Houston. Cain, who achieved national renown for telling Beto that ‘My AR is ready for you’ after the then presidential candidate called for the seizure of legally owned AR-15, did so as part of a broader appeal to have Gov. Abbott rescind his business shutdown orders and allow people to make a living.The challenge to his legitimacy worked: that very same day Abbott announced that restrictions on hair salons would be lifted much earlier than expected, vindicating the legislators’ civil disobedience.
In many ways the armed guards outside of an assortment of bars, tattoo shops, and other verboten businesses have the same goal. C.J. Grisham, of Open Carry Texas, one of the militias that has been demonstrating outside of ‘illicit’ businesses, said as much to The Spectator :
‘Government will only restrict our freedoms as long as they think they can get away with it. We make our stand outside of small businesses to show them that enough is enough, we will not comply.’
Grisham and his group have advocated for stronger Second Amendment protections in Texas for several years now. They see their fight for gun rights intimately intertwined with their fight to protect the liberty of Texans to engage in commerce. While none of the altercations have resulted in violence, even as several militia-men were arrested at an event in Odessa, that may not stay the case for long.
When Grisham and dozens more activists return to Odessa in a few weeks on June 6 , they have said they will not be arrested. According to Grisham, either the business they are guarding will be allowed to peacefully operate, or they will ‘respond to violence from the government with violence’ in order to protect their constitutional liberties.
In doing so, they’ll present local officials and Gov. Abbott with the same choice the legislators did: either exercise the authority you claim you have and face the consequences, or back off and let Texans live.