A few hours after workouts began Monday morning at New Jersey's Atilis Gym — which is making national headlines for its early reopening in defiance of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's coronavirus shutdown order — police showed up outside the Bellmawr business.
What happened next?
The large group of people outside the gym were angry and hostile, likely believing the officers showed up to shut down the gym, hand out tickets, or even make arrests. Amid the mostly unintelligible hollering, a few phrases rang out clearly:
- "You have the right to refuse unconstitutional orders!"
- "You swore an oath to protect our rights!"
Soon enough the crowd quieted down enough so that one of the officers was able to address them.
"We are and we're only here for everybody's safety today," the officer began. "We planned for the worst, hoped for the best, and it seems like that's what we have out here today. Formally, you are all in violation of the executive order."
Then came the officer's surprising follow-up statement: "On that note, have a good day. Everybody be safe."
As police turned and walked away, the crowd immediately erupted in the kind of cheering you'd expect after a Philadelphia Eagles' game-winning touchdown — and then a hefty "USA! USA! USA!" chant soon followed:
What appeared to be the gym's owners, he told the crowd that "this is a beautiful thing" and that "this is for everybody — everybody can open up their businesses. If we can do it, anybody can do it, it's that simple ... this is our right."
A reporter asked one of the owners if he had any sense the officer might react the way he did, and the owner replied, "We were prepared for anything, and that was not what we were expecting."
However, police later served a summons for disorderly conduct, WTXF-TV reported, adding that a June court date is scheduled.
The station added that over the weekend the Camden County Prosecutor's Office issued a reminder that nonessential businesses were to remain closed under Murphy's order and that "anyone who patronizes a business that is open in violation of an executive order could face criminal charges in the form of a disorderly persons offense for which you could be fined up to $1,000 for each offense and spend up to six months in jail."
Here's a longer version of the police officer speaking outside the gym:
What's the background?
Co-owner Frank Trumbetti appeared on a video posted to the gym's Facebook page last week, explaining he and co-owner Ian Smith are reopening early "to fight for our rights. The government has failed at protecting our rights and [is] failing at protecting our health."
Trumbetti said that they're "proposing an organized peaceful reopening of the state, not just our business. 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 added that they're taking the coronavirus seriously, and that his mother contracted COVID-19 while in the hospital for another illness and that his wife is an emergency room pediatric nurse.
"We would like to get all the support we can all day long," Trumbetti said on the clip of the Monday reopen, adding that members would be allowed to enter according to "safe distancing guidelines," exercise, and then "stick around all day as a sign of solidarity for our rights as citizens of this great country."
A large crowd of several hundred began forming outside the gym early Monday morning, with some of them carrying American and Trump 2020 flags.
The owners said signs are posted outside telling members to adhere to social distancing,
WPVI-TV said, adding that capacity is limited to 44 members at a time and that bottles of disinfectant are available to wipe down equipment, which has been spread apart.
'Enough is enough'
Co-owner Ian Smith appeared on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" last week and said Murphy's shutdown order is a "gross violation" of the constitutional rights of New Jersey residents.
"Enough is enough," Smith said. "We've gotten to the point where I've watched so many businesses around me collapse. I've watched people lose their jobs, and there's no progress moving forward. So we're ready to take action ourselves, and we have thought long and we thought hard about it. And all of our actions come from the heart, with not our best interests in mind, but what we feel is the greater good for ourselves, our community, and the state and nation at whole."
Murphy was asked about Atilis Gym the day after Carlson interviewed Smith, and PhillyVoice reported that the governor replied, "He's out of compliance, and that's not going to be tolerated."
Smith insisted that he and Trumbetti are "prepared for any and all consequences. Our actions on Monday are going to be grounded in the ideals of civil disobedience. What we intend to showcase is that we reject the premise of essential versus nonessential businesses. Anything that Walmart can do with hundreds, if not thousands, of people passing through the stores every day touching everything in sight, a small business — whether it be a restaurant, a gym, a hair salon, or anything else — can replicate those things."
This story has been updated.