The embattled New Jersey gym that had its business license revoked earlier this month after repeatedly defying Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's COVID-19 shutdown order has made what appears to be a nifty strategic move in response.
Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith, co-owners of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, have partnered with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta to turn the gym into an official campaign rally location, Fox News reported.
"We took a stand for our constitutional rights and for the rights of all small business owners throughout the country," Smith told "Fox & Friends Weekend" Sunday. "And 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."
What are the details?
The cable network said since state officials can't interfere with a political campaign, that should prevent Murphy & Co. from shutting down Atilis Gym. Mehta is looking to unseat Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, Fox News said.
But Trumbetti told the network the gym's new status may not prevent local officials from trying to shut down the gym again.
"We hope it gives us a reprieve until Nov. 3," he noted to Fox News. "Everyone who comes in here will be a volunteer for the Mehta campaign, and we'll be here to exercise our rights."
Smith added to the network that Atilis members are "excited" to be a part of Mehta's campaign since he backs small businesses that have been fighting to stay alive since the shutdown began.
"We're really tired of this one-sided control that the governor has," Mehta told Fox News. "We've asked many times … where's the science? ... We flattened the curve, and they keep moving the goalpost."
"You want to hurt small businesses? You're crushing the American dream," he added to the network. "And if you look at the unemployment rates in New Jersey, they're the highest that they've ever been. … Gov. Murphy turned this into a political chess game. And so what we said is 'checkmate, governor.'"
What's the background?
Despite Murphy's order, Atilis Gym first reopened in May — after which Smith and Trumbetti have been issued nine pairs of citations, have had their business forcibly closed and boarded by the government, and even have been arrested.
The New Jersey attorney general's office recommended daily fines of $10,000 and imprisonment for the co-owners to "coerce" them to comply with Murphy's order.
"Atilis Gym's brazen conduct is abhorrent to an organized judicial system, jeopardizes the public health and the safety of New Jerseyans, and must not be tolerated," the state's AG office said, NJ.com reported. "It is clear that additional sanctions and relief are necessary to coerce Atilis Gym's compliance with the court's order."
But governmental threats haven't stopped them. In fact, after they were released from jail, Smith and Trumbetti once again made headlines when they kicked down the front doors of their business, which had been boarded up by the government.