First, they arrested the owners of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey. Then they barricaded the doors to the establishment. The state has been fining the owners for non-compliance with various COVID-19 orders since last spring, with fines reaching into the millions.
Now, state officials have seized the gym’s legal defense fund.
In a Thursday Twitter post, co-owner Ian Smith wrote that New Jersey Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy “and his cronies” had taken the gym’s “legal defense money ($173,613.60) in the middle of our appeals process — effectively and intentionally interfering with our right to council. [sic]”
“If you think that’s gonna make us stand down, you’re delusional,” he added.
Moments ago @GovMurphy and his cronies seized 100% of @TheAtilisGym legal defense money ($173,613.60) in the middle of our appeals process – effectively and intentionally interfering with our right to council. If you think that’s gonna make us stand down, you’re delusional.
— Ian Smith (@iansmithfitness) January 13, 2021
A similar message, albeit with different figures, was posted on the gym’s Facebook page.
“Governor Phil Murphy seized 100% of our assets today — $165k, all of which came from donations and apparel sales. This is done in the middle of ongoing litigation defending ourselves against these fines, our 80 charges, the revocation of our business license, and the unconstitutional health department shutdown,” Atilis Gym’s post stated.
“This was never about protection, it was always about control.”
In a video, Smith vowed to fight on so that “no governor or no government official will ever wield these powers again.”
In a statement to Fox News, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office characterized Smith’s version of events as “not accurate” — while admitting it was basically accurate.
“The State has not seized their bank account funds,” the spokesman said. “However, the State has obtained judgments against the owners, and intends to collect on them. The total due and owing as a result of court-entered judgments to date is $134,463.08.”
In a follow-up email, according to Fox, the spokesman confirmed that the rest of the account balance had been “frozen as a result of a bank levy having been issued due to the State’s collection efforts.”
“Again, we can confirm that we’re seeking to collect on the judgement that has been entered into –$134,463.08,” he added. “Whether that affects the entire balance of the gym’s funds is a question to ask the bank.”
Smith told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that any future donations to the gym would be immediately converted into cash.
“We put out a call for help to the many people who have supported us from the beginning and the many people who have learned about our story along the way,” Smith said.
“As simple as I can put it, this is interference with our right to counsel,” Smith told Carlson.
“It is a clear, and it is a blatant violation of our constitutional rights and our ability to defend ourselves in a court of law.”
According to Patch.com, the gym hasn’t charged its members since April 1.
Smith’s battle with New Jersey officials dates back to the beginning of Gov. Murphy’s stay-at-home order, which prevented gyms from operating. Atilis Gym, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, kept its doors open and became a cause célèbre among conservatives for defying the lockdown.
On July 27, Smith and co-owner Frank Trumbetti were arrested for defying a court order to shut their doors. After the authorities boarded the gym up, they kicked in the doors five days after their arrest:
Just happened: Owners of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, closed by the state in dispute over pandemic regulations, kick in the front door to re-open pic.twitter.com/Lqx2H4gCFB
— jim walsh (@jimwalsh_cp) August 1, 2020
GOP Senate candidate Rik Mehta designated the gym as a “political venue,” a workaround that theoretically kept it from being shut down until the election.
Whatever the case, state and local authorities haven’t attempted a shutdown like the July one, although the rules in New Jersey have changed now and gyms are allowed to remain open — so long as members and staff adhere to COVID-19 protocols, which includes mask-wearing. Smith and Trumbetti refuse to enforce any mask mandate.
The gym faces $15,000 in fines for every day it remains open and isn’t in compliance with the protocols.
“Once we get in front of a judge who respects the Constitution and understands the arguments appropriately, these fines will all come back and they will pay for their overstepping,” Smith told Fox Business.
He maintains that not a single case of COVID-19 has been traced back to the gym.
In December, he told Fox News that “we just passed the 83,000 visit mark with not a single case of COVID tracked back to the facility.”
“We can pretty much guarantee Governor Murphy has had contract tracers for us,” Trumbetti told The Western Journal in a phone interview. “We’ve had people who’ve had it, but it didn’t come from us.”
Whether or not that’s true, state and local authorities either haven’t found an outbreak or haven’t found a way to publicize it. The latter seems unlikely; the state doesn’t play nice when it comes to the Atilis Gym, as witnessed by the fact that New Jersey is now in possession of the majority of the gym’s defense fund and have a freeze on the rest.
For his part, Murphy isn’t addressing the Atilis case personally. He has bigger concerns — such as defending the state in a controversy over prioritizing smokers in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We cannot lose sight of a critical medical fact that this is a respiratory virus. Smoking like other chronic and medical conditions put someone at a higher risk. In this, we are in agreement with the CDC guidance,” Murphy told NJ.com in article published Friday.
But in a Twitter post the same day, he called it a “false narrative” that the state was doing anything wrong by prioritizing smokers.
I must push back on the false narrative that we’re vaccinating smokers while not vaccinating another group.
We have a limited supply of vaccines from the federal government – roughly 100,000 additional doses coming in per week.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 15, 2021
Rest assured, the state hasn’t forgotten about Smith and Trumbetti. It can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Its forces will remain arrayed against Atilis Gym at the same time it moves smokers to the front of the vaccine line. All in the name of health, of course.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.