A New Jersey gym that reopened this week in defiance of the state’s ongoing stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic has been shut down by the state health department, officials said Thursday.
The Atilis Gym in Bellmawr opened its doors on Monday, insisting that the state shutdown of non-essential businesses is unconstitutional. The gym remained open for three days, attracting crowds of supporters and American-flag-toting protesters in its parking lot, before the New Jersey Department of Health issued a closure order on Wednesday night, a Camden County spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast.
The closure order was posted outside the gym by county officials on Thursday morning, one day after the facility’s sewer system backed up. The plumbing problems forced the gym to close on Wednesday and members to evacuate, according to Fox29.
“Alright guys, so we arrived at the gym this morning to Governor Murphy’s dirty tricks, playing with his power in the health department,” one of the owners, Ian Smith, said in a Thursday morning Instagram story. “For right now, the gym will be closed. We have a full cleaning crew inside, once again, going above and beyond.”
Smith, who has received national attention for violating Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order, claimed in his Instagram story that the gym plans to file a lawsuit against the governor “first thing this morning.” “Dirty politicians playing dirty tricks,” he added.
Indoor gyms and fitness centers in New Jersey are still considered “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 number of respiratory droplets or aerosols in a confined setting,” the health department said in the closure order.
To date, 10,747 people have died and more 150,399 have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Garden State, prompting Murphy to delay loosening virus-restrictions.
The Health Department said that while the gym claims it’s taking sufficient safety measures—including monitoring the temperatures of patrons and requiring face masks—those steps are not enough to prevent the spread of the virus at an indoor gym. The closure order adds that the risk of the virus “is still too great to allow relaxation of the current mitigation measures that are in place.”
Members of the public, along with the gym’s owners and patrons, are now prohibited from entering the facility and failure to comply may result in criminal or civil sanctions. Gym co-owner Frank Trumbetti told NJ.com that staff was shocked on Thursday when they arrived to orange sticks outside the gym from the Camden County Health Department.
“They did it overnight like cowards,” Trumbetti said, claiming that the decision was made without an inspection of the gym itself. “We’re opening up tomorrow morning no matter what.”
Over the last three days, the Atilis Gym has positioned itself as leading a “resistance” against the order the owners claim to be unconstitutional, allowing a limited number of members into the facility.
The Monday opening was even featured live on Fox and Friends, where the gym’s owners were filmed opening the doors to a crowd of Trump supporters with signs reading: “Stay Poor Vote Democrat” and “My Freedom Doesn’t End Where Your Fear Begins.”
“The governor can say the state is closed, but if we the people say the state is open, then ultimately there’s not a lot you can do if every business steps out,” Fox News host Pete Hegseth said Monday from the gym, surrounded by protesters. “That’s pretty much the definition of responsible civil disobedience.”
The gym’s violation of the lockdown order prompted police to issue owners and patrons summons and fines that cost up to $1,000 per person throughout the week. A GoFundMe has since been set up to help the owners pay for at least three citations, and over $56,827 has been raised since Thursday morning.
But as the Atilis Gym gained national notoriety, so did its owners. Smith, 33, is now facing backlash over a 2007 drunk driving incident in which he killed a 19-year-old boy. In 2007, the then-Stockton University student pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter after drinking about a dozen beers, running a stop sign, and killing Kevin Ade, according to records. Smith was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for the tragic incident.
The gym owner addressed the incident in an Instagram video on Wednesday, stating that he has heard that news has been circulating about “a tragedy in the past that I was the cause of.” Stating that he had been drinking in his dorm room that night and didn’t realize he had alcohol still in his system the next morning, Smith said he has taken “full responsibility” for the incident and believes anyone who is angry about his behavior is “completely justified.”
“My actions caused the death of a young man and broke the hearts of an entire community, and that’s something they’ll never ever fully recover from,” he said, noting that his current endeavor is “bigger” than him. “There’s nothing I can do except try to live a good life and give back and promote as much love and positivity in the world as I can.”