The owners of a New Jersey gym that famously defied Gov. Phil Murphy’s order to remain closed amid the coronavirus, only to be arrested, say they are reopening as a campaign headquarters for a GOP candidate.
“We took a stand for our constitutional rights and for the rights of all small business owners throughout the country,’’ Ian Smith, co-owner of the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, told “Fox & Friends Weekend’’ on Sunday of the establishment’s repeated attempts to stay open for business in violation of state virus restrictions.
“And it wasn’t intended to become political,” Smith said of the gym’s defiance. “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.”
The gym will serve as a campaign headquarters and rally spot for Republican US Senate candidate Rik Mehta, a pharmacist who is challenging Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the owners said.
Gym co-owner Frank Trumbetti, asked whether the pair thought the state might try to mess with them this time around, responded, “We believe they can’t. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to.
“We hope it gives us a reprieve until Nov. 3,” he said of potential government interference at the gym. “Everyone who comes in here will be a volunteer for the Mehta campaign, and we’ll be here to exercise our rights.”
“And we’re not requiring masks, either,” Trumbetti added defiantly.
The state requires masks at establishments indoors if social-distancing is not an option.
The governor’s office Sunday referred questions about the gym to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which did not respond to a Post request for comment.
Fewer than two weeks ago, figures showed that New Jersey ranked the worst in the country in terms of COVID-19 deaths per million residents, with 15,966 fatalities from the virus. But with its infection and mortality rate dropping, some residents and business owners still hampered by health restrictions are calling for the regulations to be loosened.
“We’re really tired of this one-sided control that the governor has,” Mehta told Fox. “We’ve asked many times … Where’s the science? … We flattened the curve, and they keep moving the goalpost.”