BELLMAWR, N.J. — The owners of Atilis gym in New Jersey reopened on Saturday by kicking down the plywood barricades authorities used to block their entrance amid coronavirus restrictions.
Co-owner Ian Smith posted a video of himself and his business partner, Frank Trumbetti, kicking the barriers and entering as a crowd cheers their decision. The dramatic display indicated that the months-long standoff between Gov. Phil Murphy and the gym owners wasn’t finished, Fox News reported.
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I hate the fact that it has to come to this. Governor Murphy can portray us in whatever villainous way he wants, but our hands are forced here and that’s his fault. We are over 4 months into an economic shutdown that was supposed to be 14 days. It is time to end this and resume life in a safe and responsible manner. Small business is not solely responsible for the spread of the virus yet we are targeted as such and unfairly treated. You will not trample one our rights and you will not destroy our lives. We will not back down. Ever. Please share this to show what lengths we have to go to just to make a living for our families.
A post shared by Ian Smith (@iansmithfitness) on Aug 1, 2020 at 5:43am PDT
“You will not trample one [sic] our rights and you will not destroy our lives,” Smith’s text read in a message for Gov. Murphy. “We will not back down. Ever. Please share this to show what lengths we have to go to just to make a living for our families.”
The gym owners’ story has become a symbol of American businessowners’ frustration with authorities blocking their livelihoods during the pandemic. Some, like Trumbetti and Smith, have been arrested or fined for attempting to reopen despite shutdowns in their respective jurisdictions, Fox reported.
Smith and Trumbetti were arrested on Monday after they defied a court order allowing authorities to shut down their business, Law Officer reported. They were brought to the Bellmawr Police Department, booked and released.
On Friday Smith had posted a video of himself announcing his decision to knock down the wooden barriers. New Jersey authorities, he said, erected those barriers after he and others removed the doors from their hinges in order to prevent the state from once again changing the locks.
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We didn’t pick this fight. This fight came to us. Frank and I made a promise to each other that we would see this thing all the way through – no matter what. We have not broken any laws, yet we are being treated like criminals. Tyrants use force to exercise their will – threat of imprisonment, financial ruin, and more. And a tyrant is what we have in office. No science, no data, only conclusive statements with no proof. We presented a plan, a sensible one and opened responsibly – and you decided to make it personal, so now here we are. You will not tread on my rights, you will not ruin everything we’ve worked our whole lives for, and you will be held responsible for your trespasses. #lionsnotsheep
A post shared by Ian Smith (@iansmithfitness) on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:34am PDT
“Tyrants use force to exercise their will – threat of imprisonment, financial ruin, and more,” Smith wrote on Instagram.
“And a tyrant is what we have in office. No science, no data, only conclusive statements with no proof. We presented a plan, a sensible one and opened responsibly – and you decided to make it personal, so now here we are. You will not tread on my rights, you will not ruin everything we’ve worked our whole lives for, and you will be held responsible for your trespasses. #lionsnotsheep”
The Attorney General’s office previously said it blocked the reopening “to abate the public health risks.” According to the Courier Post, an agency spokesperson said, “The state wishes it had not come to this, but the gym refused to comply even with a contempt order.”
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A post shared by The Atilis Gym Bellmawr (@atilisgymbellmawr) on Jun 25, 2020 at 9:12am PDT
The business owners got creative when trying to remain open. Part of their resistance included switching from an LLC to a Private Membership Association (PMA). They say it allows them to avoid pandemic regulations. They’ve also nicknamed their gym the “Anti-Murphy Autonomous Zone” (A.M.A.Z), playing off the protest “CHOP” zone opened in Seattle this summer. An Instagram post shows people using gym equipment outdoors with a sign that reads: “This is A.M.A.Z. Anti-Murphy Autonomous Zone.”
Smith has vowed to reopen the gym and said his business went above and beyond in taking precautions to ensure the virus didn’t spread. But New Jersey’s Health Department has argued that indoor settings like Smith’s and Trumbetti’s gym posed a unique health risk. However, Smith has told news organizations their members are monitored and they’ve yet to have a positive COVID test.
“We can operate our business safely, responsibly,” he said. “We have shown that to be true. We haven’t had a single case of COVID reported and we have everybody’s records here,” he added. “So, we’re not backing down from this one.”
James Mermigis, who is the attorney representing Smith, remained adamant that Murphy’s order to have gyms still shutdown is “unconstitutional” when activities like gymnastics and martial arts have re-opened at certain capacity limits, Law Officer reported.
“I do believe the governor is overreaching and I do believe this has gone too far,” he said.
An order from Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli read: “Indoor gyms and fitness centers present particularly high-risk settings for the spread of COVID-19, in part because customers of these facilities engage in physical activities that increase the customers’ respiratory activity, which in turn can increase the amount of respiratory droplets or aerosols in a confined setting.”
Murphy’s office and the Bellmawr Police Department did not immediately respond to Fox News’ requests for comment.