On Friday, Ted Cruz flew to Dallas for a haircut. He hadn’t been looking particularly shaggy, but as hair salons have become the latest front in the culture war, Cruz—never one to miss an opportunity to declare which side he’s on—invited photographers to join him before he donned a face mask and a leopard-print smock for his visit to Salon à la Mode.
The Dallas salon has become pivotal in the stay-at-home-order debates after its owner, Shelley Luther, was arrested on Tuesday and sentenced to seven days in jail on a contempt of court charge. That stemmed from her refusal to apologize and close down her store until the second phase of Governor Greg Abbott’s public safety plan, which was scheduled to go into effect on May 18 so long as infections didn’t continued to spike. Abbott himself declared the punishment for defying his own order unjust, and retroactively barred local officials from imposing jail time for violating it. He then went on to allow hair salons to reopen ten days earlier than he’d previously announced, on May 8. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, meanwhile, volunteered as tribute to serve the time himself, provided he could do so from his own house (Texas jails and prisons are pretty unsafe right now). Then Cruz flew in for a haircut—and Luther landed a big payday, raising more than $500,000 from a GoFundMe campaign that called her “an American hero.”
If all of this feels like a particularly effective PR stunt, well, that certainly seems accurate: the GoFundMe campaign—run by a group calling themselves “Woke Patriots”—was created on April 23, one day before Luther reopened her salon. “We researched her and her cause,” campaign organizer Rick Hire wrote on the page, “and decided that we would approach her and offer to support her as our first patriot cause. She accepted our offer.”
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Luther argued at a court hearing that she needed to open the salon for financial reasons. “I have hairstylists that are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids,” she said. “So, sir, if you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.” Paying bills and keeping families fed are understandable concerns, but by the time Luther made her argument, the situation—for her, at least—wasn’t quite so dire: two days earlier, she had been approved for a government loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan that can be forgiven in full if at least 75 percent of the money is used to pay employee salaries. (The rest can go toward expenses like rent and utilities, and still qualify for loan forgiveness.) And now, of course—while Luther is able to cut all the hair she wants under the new order from Abbott—she’s also $500,000 richer.
Her neighbors, though, haven’t been so lucky. The music store Fiddle & Bow, which shares a courtyard with Salon à la Mode, has been dealing with armed supporters of Luther’s outside of her salon, waving Gadsden flags and carrying semiautomatic rifles and handguns. “You cannot get into my shop without walking through the crowd of demonstrating people,” owner Rob Case told the Dallas Observer. “I’m not so much intimidated by the weapons—I’ve been around them my whole life. I’m really intimidated by the lack of social distancing. It’s not safe out there.”
Luther told the Observer that she believes demonstrators would leave if she asked them to, but doing so would be “hypocritical” and violate the very principles that led her to reopen. Meanwhile, Case says that while he relates to Luther as a fellow business owner, he’s concerned about reopening while customers would have to pass through a crowd of people to come in. “I don’t want my customers to all fall ill and make me sick and have my elderly family members drop dead because of it,” he said.
Shelley Luther’s out of jail. The governor changed his order shortly after she protested in court. She’s got more than half a million bucks in crowdfunded cash coming in. She’s got a government loan coming her way that she won’t have to repay if she follows the rules. She got to cut Ted Cruz’s hair, and a lot of people are calling her a hero. The pandemic may still be spreading across Texas—more than seven thousand people tested positive since Abbott began easing public safety measures a week ago—but all of this has worked out pretty well for the owner of Salon à la Mode.