A man was arrested and indignant boss Frank Trumbetti, of Atilis Gym in New Jersey, insisted he was “…prepared to deal with whatever consequences come our way,” after receiving a summons from Bellmawr Police, whose officers dispersed rowdy crowds as they ordered the facility to close for the second day in a row.
A mob of around 200 people, some of whom waved the flag of the United States and banners in support of President Donald Trump, had gathered outside the gym to applaud members walking in to work out on Monday, but their support turned to fury after officers arrested a man while he was inside after the gym opened again the following day.
Women could be heard screaming as protestors told officers their actions were “bullsh*t”, “against the constitution” and the acts of a “communist country” while the man was put in the back of a police car for an unspecified crime.
Summons were issued to all members who made use of the gym as part of punishments overseen by State Governor Phil Murphy, who had warned of a “different reality” for anyone who breached lockdown guidelines to enter a space that has been closed for two months.
Co-owner Ian Smith said he was “sorry” that members had been sanctioned, but Trumbetti insisted that the gym would open again on Wednesday, pointing out that his mother, who was is dying after contracting COVID-19, would “kick my ass if I didn’t finish this.”
“We haven’t broken any laws,” he said, admitting that his determination to open the gym had left him unable to spend the final days of her life with his mother, who was taken off life support last week.
“I’m OK with everything that’s going on. I expected more than this. These officers have a job to do. I firmly believe that everything we are doing is constitutional and is our right. An executive order isn’t a law anyway.”
Smith and Trumbetti could face up to six months in county jail and be fined up to $1,000 after breaching lockdown rules for small businesses in New Jersey, where leaders have voiced concerns that the public are suffering from “quarantine fatigue” in a state where there have been more than 10,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
“I’m not worried about jail,” Trumbetti told NJ.com after he was initially issued with a disorderly person’s offense alongside his business partner.
“It is what it is. Ian and I made a conscious decision to actually fight for the cause for everybody.”
Hundreds of donors had contributed almost $23,000 towards the gym and its members’ potential legal battle by Tuesday evening.
“These aren’t just words,” the State Governor had warned.
“We’ve got to enforce this. But I also don’t want to start World War III.”
Trumbetti said the arrested fitness fan had been “cuffed” after refusing to give his name to officers, but he formed a united front with Smith to thank officers, telling them that they would meet again on Wednesday.
The pair have regularly appeared on local news to talk about the struggles small businesses are facing during the lockdown, arguing that their strict instructions to members would minimize the risk of the virus spreading.
Among the gym guidelines, members must have their temperatures taken on entry and are restricted to taped-off areas, with only 20 percent of capacity taken up at any one time.
Speaking on the first day of the stand-off, an officer told the crowd: “We are and were only here for everybody’s safety. We planned for the worst and hoped for the best.”
One scornful protestor told him that the executive order “means nothing” while he explained that the crowd was in breach of the ruling, and there were wild scenes of celebration as he wished everyone a good day, with many onlookers chanting “USA”.
Smith accused the government of hypocrisy over personal freedoms and businesses that were allowed to remain open because they were deemed essential services, such as liquor stores and lottery ticket sellers.
“We have witnessed government overreach in far too many areas to ignore,” he said.
“The rights of free people have been suspended, disrespected and infringed all over the country. There is no danger present to justify these power grabs.
“Big corporations have been able to maintain business operations. If politicians can get haircuts, go to the gym and travel freely, then responsible and free citizens can do all of those things as well.
“It is possible to resume our lives and protect public health at the same time.”
In a tearful address last week, Trumbetti said they were involved in a “fight for our rights” to “peacefully reopen the state” and said the government had failed people and businesses.
“We truly believe that if we don’t do this, in the end we will have zero rights and no say in what happens.
“My mother had to be everything for me. Trust me when I say that I take this more seriously than almost anybody you know.
“It’s not about our gym. This is about our constitutional rights.”
While support flooded in on the gym’s Facebook page, footage and reports of the altercations received a mixed response.
“Why are you all giving this guy free publicity?” asked one critic, suggesting the reopening had been a “publicity stunt and money grab.”
“I bet he’s disappointed that there wasn’t a big confrontation.”
Similar scenes have been observed at dozens of other protests against lockdown across the country, where governors are attempting to balance public safety concerns with mounting pressure to reopen the economy.