Ian Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey, appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday and slammed the government shutdown orders he claimed unfairly targeted small businesses like his and violated his constitutional rights.
CPAC panel moderator Kerry Picket, a Washington Examiner reporter, asked Smith whether he felt Democratic Gov. Philip Murphy indeed violated his constitutional rights as an American and business owner — pointing specifically to the Taking Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
“First of all, the entire thing from start to finish has been trampling on numerous parts of the Constitution,” said Smith, who owns the Camden-area gym with Frank Trumbetti.
“The taking clause is one of them [and] you’re guaranteed in the constitution the right to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness, and if there is an instance where the government must come in and suspend that then you should be justly compensated,” he said.
Smith said small businesses across the country were compelled to shut down without due process of law.
He added that many of those orders also came without “clear or substantive science put forth.”
“If that information was presented, we would have shut down,” he said. “I think that we all as Americans care about each other and want to do the right thing.”
However, he said businesses like WalMart are beneficiaries of a “massive double standard” in which small businesses like his and Trumbetti’s are put through draconian shutdown orders while the big box stores and chain restaurants are left more unscathed.
“We were told to sit by and stand by and wait while the people up on Capitol Hill played politics,” Smith added, going on to say that the aid businesses ended up receiving was negligible, compared to the “pork” and other concerns of the politicians.
He added that Atilis was one of many businesses exempted from most aid because they had not been in business for a full calendar year.
“It’s a gross violation of the constitution,” he said, adding that, additionally, the auto industry and other major concerns were bailed out in the past but small businesses remain under the thumb of government executives like Murphy.
When it came to New Jersey itself, Smith said he and Trumbetti put together a multipoint safety code after researching the coronavirus and proper mitigation, to be both compliant and to do what they thought the government intended in the way of public safety.
“We wanted to go beyond what the state and point out the absurdity and double standard, but that wasnt enough for Governor Murphy because it went against the narrative he was pushing,” he added.
Recently, Smith went to Trenton to personally serve Murphy with a Recall Petition in hopes of forcing an April recall election of the Monmouth County Democrat.
In closing the panel, Smith commented on some of the great lengths he has had to go to in order to continue exercising his rights as a business owner in the face of continued enforcement from Murphy, Camden County and the State of New Jersey.
He noted that when officials boarded up and locked his doors for operating in defiance of ordinances, he took the doors off the hinges and his staff took shifts staying in the building 24 hours a day while it was essentially an open-air gym.
Additionally, prior to the reelection of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in 2020, Republican challenger Rik Mehta assisted Smith by declaring the gym a “campaign office location” and therefore, at least temporarily, blocking enforcement of shutdown orders against standard businesses.
“It’s sad that that’s what it’s come to,” he said of the measures he’s taken.
“New Jersey stripped our business license … so we don’t charge memebers and will not do so until we win our legal battle.”
In January, Smith announced Murphy “and his cronies” had seized “100%” of their legal defense funds, an amount he said totaled $173,613.60.
“This is in the middle of an appeals process and ongoing litigation in the matter of the fines and several other matters regarding the state, including a lawsuit against Governor Murphy and [State Health Commissioner] Judith Persichilli,” he explained at the time.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s office told Fox News in an email afterward that Smith’s information “is not accurate.”
“The State has not seized their bank account funds,” the spokesman said. “However, the State has obtained judgments against the owners, and intends to collect on them. The total due and owing as a result of court-entered judgments to date is $134,463.08.”
Smith has insisted that no cases of COVID-19 have been traced to Atilis Gym, which has become a symbol of American business owners’ frustrations with restrictions during the monthslong pandemic.
On July 27, Smith and Trumbetti were arrested after defying a court order allowing authorities to shut the gym down. Five days later, the pair posted video of themselves kicking down wooden barricades used to block the gym entrance.
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