“We are not going to back down”

New Jersey gym owners were arrested Monday after they repeatedly challenged Governor Phil Murphy’s coronavirus restrictions on businesses, becoming a meeting point for advocates of small businesses devastated by the pandemic.

Bellmawr New Jersey Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith, 33, and Frank Trumbetti, 51, were arrested around 5:30 am ET Monday morning after they refused to leave the gym and the Police closed their businesses, their attorney, James Mermigis, said in an interview with CNBC.

Smith and Trumbetti were charged with fourth-degree contempt, obstruction, and violation of an act of disaster control, according to a statement from the Camden County Acting Attorney’s Office, Jill S. Mayer.

The arrest marks an escalation of the confrontation between the state of New Jersey and the two gym owners, who have constantly tested the limits and at times completely defied the governor’s order to close many nonessential businesses to curb the spread of the coronavirus. .

Murphy ordered the closing of gyms and other businesses on March 21 as the virus quickly spread throughout the state, especially in the northern region near New York City. Since then, it has allowed many companies to resume operations with some restrictions, including outdoor training classes and indoor individual training in gyms. However, standard gym operations remain prohibited without an announced return date.

“After Atilis Gym refused to comply with multiple criminal citations and Superior Court orders, including a contempt order issued by the court on Friday, today police entered the facility to ensure the gymnasium closed and reduce risks for public health, “said a spokesman for New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “As the attorney general previously said, the state wishes it had not come to this, but the gym refused to even comply with a contempt order.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 179,812 people in New Jersey and has killed at least 15,800 people, according to the state health department.

Throughout the public health crisis, Atilis Gym owners have captured national attention with their defiance of restrictions, appearing on talk shows, including “Fox and Friends” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“They have so many followers now, nationally, so a lot of people come from the state and the country just to hang out and say they were there,” Mermigis, the lawyer, said in an interview. “A lot of people have followed these guys since they were at Tucker Carlson in mid-May.”

Smith and Trumbetti reopened their gym for the first time on May 18, Mermigis said, defying the governor’s order and surrounded by supporters with American flags chanting “USA,” according to a video posted on Twitter at the time.

A judge previously ruled that owners could reopen part of the gym, which also houses a retail operation that sells vitamins, protein powders and other products, Mermigis said. He added that while the store’s retail segment was deemed to be able to reopen, they were prohibited from resuming indoor training operations. From June 16 to July 4, the owners moved equipment outdoors and organized outdoor exercise classes, Mermigis said.

After the gym moved its training sessions indoors, a judge last week ruled that Smith and Trumbetti were in contempt of court, paving the way for stronger state action. Mermigis maintains that the governor’s order and the way it was enforced is “unconstitutional” and that the judge’s case against the two owners was “weak.” He added that they are appealing the ruling.

In a video posted on the gym’s Facebook page, one of the owners, Smith, said that he and Trumbetti were sleeping inside the gym to prevent police from closing the business.

“Frank and I spent the night here last night and we are prepared to stay inside the building no matter what,” Smith said in the video. “We are not going to back down under any circumstances.”

In a video posted Monday on the gym’s Facebook page, at least one police vehicle is seen in front of the gym and officers are shown arresting Smith.

“Welcome to America 2020, where feeding your family and upholding your constitutional rights is illegal,” the publication says, adding that Murphy is “finally flexing his little tyrant muscles.”