Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti, who co-own Atilis Gym in New Jersey, have partnered with a U.S. Senate candidate to declare their gym an official campaign rally location in another bid to evade forced closure amid the pandemic.
Smith, Trumbetti, and Republican Rick Mehta, who is challenging Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), appeared Sunday on Fox News to announce their plan to keep Atilis open, at least through Nov. 3. Smith and Trumbetti have been fighting Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus regulations for months in an effort to save their business.
“We took a stand for our constitutional rights and for the rights of all small business owners throughout the country,” Smith said, according to Fox News. “It wasn’t intended to become political. We were trying to offer a solution to a problem where the government was failing, and it turned political. And that was because of Gov. Murphy’s actions. So now we made it political just as much as he has.”
“We hope it gives us a reprieve until November 3rd,” Trumbetti said. “Everyone who comes in here will be a volunteer for the Mehta campaign, and we’ll be here to exercise our rights.”
Atilis Gym reopened in May against strict lockdown orders issued by Murphy about two months prior. Smith and Trumbetti unlocked their doors and spaced out workout equipment to give at least six feet of space, as well as capped attendance at 20% capacity.
The protective measures did not protect them from the state, however. Since reopening, Smith and Trumbetti have faced multiple citations and fines, been arrested, and had their business license revoked by local elected officials.
Mehta has joined the pair to potentially keep Atilis open for a few more months, though the men know Murphy may crack down on the gym again, regardless. The stunt also helps spread Mehta’s campaign message that he stands with small business owners amid the pandemic and state lockdowns that are stretching into the fifth consecutive month.
“We’re really tired of this one-sided control that the governor has,” Mehta told Fox News. “We’ve asked many times, ‘Hey, where’s the science?’ Look today, you see the transmission rates in New Jersey some of the lowest it’s ever been. We’ve flattened the curve and they keep moving the goalpost.”
“You want to hurt small businesses? You’re crushing the American dream,” Mehta continued. “And if you look at the unemployment rates in New Jersey, they’re the highest that they’ve ever been. So it’s time for us to put policy over politics. Gov. Murphy turned this into a political chess game, and so what we said is ‘checkmate, governor.’”
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy fined Smith and Trumbetti roughly $135,000 last week, $125,000 for violating a court order earlier in the month and about $10,500 more to reimburse the state for legal costs.
On July 27, Smith called Murphy a tyrant during an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“I’m not afraid of tyrants,” Smith said. “No American should be because we outnumber them greatly and the only thing that they run off of is fear, which is why you see what you see with the media, where they’re pumping fear into the coronavirus, when they should be pumping solutions. They don’t do that. They don’t ever offer any solutions. It’s ‘wear a mask, shut up, and wait for a vaccine.’ That’s not public health and I won’t subscribe to it.”