A gym in New Jersey has drawn national attention for reopening in bold defiance of Governor Phil Murphy’s coronavirus lockdown orders.
On Monday morning, a crowd gathered outside Atilis Gym in Bellmawr in support of owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, waving American flags and brandishing signs with messages such as “STAY POOR VOTE DEMOCRAT” and “My freedom doesn’t end where your fear begins.”
Describing the group as “very pro-law enforcement,” Fox News’ Pete Hegseth was live on the scene, calling the act of civil disobedience a “showdown” between Smith and Gov. Murphy.
“We’re ready for whatever consequences come our way,” Smith told Hegseth. “We’re standing up for what we believe to be right.”
Doors of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr now open to cheers, in defiance of state orders. pic.twitter.com/BtuMVpg5hP
— Katherine Scott (@KScott6abc) May 18, 2020
As members began to pour into the gym—which is currently limiting its capacity to just 44 people at a time to allow for social distancing—local police stood by.
Several hours after the doors opened, a Bellmawr police officer approached the crowd. The officer addressed the crowd, saying that, “formally, you are all in violation of the executive order. On that note… have a good day, everybody be safe.”
— Atilis Gym Bellmawr (@TheAtilisGym) May 18, 2020
For their part, Smith and Trumbetti have enacted stringent policies to prevent the spread of coronavirus while operating their business, including requiring members to submit medical questionnaires and have their temperatures taken at the door, as well as spacing out and frequently disinfecting equipment.
“40 people were max in there, so a lot less people in there than there normally are. Just the need to clean equipment down, spacing, masks on,” member Jon Centeno told 6ABC.
Trumbetti and Smith told CBS3 that they’re not even making any money reopening ahead of the governor’s timetable and that members’ automatic payments will remain frozen until the state legally reopens.
Last week, co-owner Frank Trumbetti discussed the decision to reopen in a video posted on Facebook. He says his own mother is hospitalized with coronavirus, so he takes the situation very seriously.
Trumbetti called for a peaceful reopening of the entire state, not just his gym. “We truly believe that if we don’t do this in the end, we will have zero rights and no say in what happens,” he said.
The reopening hasn’t gone without its consequences, however.
During a press conference last week, Murphy said of the gym: “They’re out of compliance and that’s not going to be tolerated.”
On Monday, Murphy had a warning for those who continue to show up at the gym.
“If you show up at that gym again tomorrow, there’s going to be a different reality than showing today. These just aren’t words, we’ve gotta enforce this,” the governor said. “But I also don’t want to start World War III and I’m not worried about that right now, to be honest with you, because people have overwhelmingly done the right thing.”
Bellmawr police returned later on Monday to charge Smith and Trumbetti on a summons with disorderly conduct offenses.
James Mermigis, the gym owners’ attorney, told The Washington Post that the pair have a court date early next month at which they intend to defend their actions.
Smith could face up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail, Mermigis said, but is “more concerned about his constitutional rights.”
“I do agree in certain situations we do need an executive to have that power to contain things and to do things that are in the best interests of the residents of the state that they govern,” Mermigis said of Murphy’s order. “I’m not going to dispute that. But in certain situations, such as this, we do believe that his powers have gone too far and for too long.”
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