New Jersey is a really weird state, I can say as an expert after living here for about a year. Some areas are very regular and obedient to guidelines put in place by local mayors and Governor Phil Murphy who is like Cuomo but slightly better. Then you have the other part of Jersey, the part that got a ton of attention when one gym repeatedly denied Governor Murphy’s order to close down in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. That gym, Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, is clinging to its 15 minutes of fame like a starved bear clings to salmon in a stream. Not only are the owners of Atilis still shirking Murphy’s orders to close but according to the New York Post, they’ve now racked up $1.2 million in fines for doing so.
Atilis is a franchise with multiple locations across Jersey and even boasts celebrity clientele such as J Wow and Snooki of Jersey Shore fame. But the Atilis in Bellmawr seems to be extra special. To its owners, Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith, it’s not just a bodybuilding gym that they own and make money from—it’s the headquarters of a war against coronavirus restrictions and Gov. Murphy, who they refer to on their website as Tyrant Murphy. They are making some sort of convoluted stand for freedom as they claimed in a video shared to TMZ, “Free men don’t ask permission.”
Now, I have never and will never step foot in a bodybuilding gym ever in my life because those gyms are breeding grounds for assholes, but I understand the value of a local gym to a community. They serve a function, exercise is therapeutic yadda yadda, let’s all lift weights. But sometimes a gym can also function as a cultish space led by trainers and owners. Atilis Bellmawr may not be at full cultlike status just yet, but judging by the fact that a GoFundMe for the gym raised more than three times its set goal of $100,000, it is one catchy slogan away.
Also, the owners of Atilis Bellmawr claim that not a single person who has visited their gym has been infected with the coronavirus, a stat they could not possibly know for sure. But they see their cause as just, as the defenders of freedom and small businesses across the state of New Jersey. In response to the mounting citations Murphy has thrown at the gym, Ian Smith told the Post, “You are putting people out of business for good. You are making them reliant on big government. You are taking away their civil liberties under the guise of pretending like you care about public health.” Atilis Bellmawr also refuses to enforce mask use in their gym, because civil liberties. This sudden devotion to the imaginary constitutional right to live life without a face covering is not unique to Bellmawr or gyms in general and has really exposed a specific group of folks who shirk science as if doctors recommending masks are simply doing so to promote a partisan political agenda. On the other hand, if the “big government” that Smith loathes had proper protections in place for small businesses, people would not find themselves desperate and looking for help at the extreme end of the political spectrum.
Since March over 17,000 people have died as a result of covid-19 in the state of New Jersey. But at least the gymgoers of Bellmawr have a place to throw some weight around.