July 5, 2022

Gym owner’s conspiracy theory further smudges N.J. politics | Editorial

It’s not unusual for established politicians and bankable celebrities to pull rank when they’ve been…

It’s not unusual for established politicians and bankable celebrities to pull rank when they’ve been pulled over by police. The driver typically utters the question, “Do you know who I AM?,” or some variation, to the officer.

When you don’t have an elected officeholder’s’ special license plate or a cadre of paparazzi, it’s harder to intimidate law enforcement by flaunting your importance to society. Now, it seems, just having that 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol once talked about gives enough motivation to try.

Take Ian Smith, the one-time national darling of Fox News when he defied Gov. Phil Murphy’s pandemic lockdown orders at the gym he co-owns in Bellmawr. In case you’ve forgotten about him, he’s running for Congress this year, seeking the Republican nomination in New Jersey’s Third District.

And, that’s what Smith told the Cinnaminson Township cops who ended up charging him with drunken driving on March 27. Just-available video shows Smith asking, while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, “You know I’m a congressional candidate for this district, right?”

It’s noteworthy that he didn’t say “I used to be a celebrity gym owner.” But, it’s also scary.


Smith’s point in making a point of his candidacy quite likely is this : Charge me with DWI, and I’ll make it sound like a political conspiracy, so back off.

Fortunately, the arresting officer didn’t, despite having to endure with some lip from Smith, an imposing figure even without the backtalk.

“You didn’t get paid to do this?” Smith asks the officer on the ride to the police station. “I didn’t get paid to do what?” the officer responds. “I’m doing my job. I don’t know what you mean. Get paid to do what?”

That’s when Smith first mentioned his candidacy. “You know that I’m a congressional candidate in this district, right, and that there’s a (inaudible) on me.”

Smith contends that he passed a field sobriety test, which is his right, one he’ll likely assert when he appears in court later this week. He also refused to take a Breathalyzer test at the police station. That’s also Smith’s right, but refusal can lead to charges on its own. A campaign spokesman said that Smith wouldn’t take the test because of his “distrust in government and the way he had been treated during COVID.” His Atilis Gym racked up more than $120,000 in fines for remaining open during the lockdown, but it has since reopened.

Smith’s dislike of emergency orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as an assault on the freedom of small businesses certainly has thousands of supporters and counts as a legitimate political viewpoint. In part, that’s why he’s running for Congress. And, Smith has been candid and apologetic about his prior drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter convictions in connection with killing a 19-year old Galloway Township resident.

What’s sad here is seeing New Jersey, and New Jersey Republicans in particular, starting to plunge into personal conspiracy theory to escape consequences and portray themselves as political martyrs. A number of GOP officeholders in our state have refused to decry some of the dangerously kooky paranoias of former President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., but silence is not always complicity.

Smith’s current case bears some similarity to the 2012 vehicle stop of Assemblyman Paul Moriarty of Washington Township, which also resulted in a DWI charge. He was a Democrat, the last time we looked. But, Moriarty had been the township’s mayor, with some reason to think that the cop who stopped him had a beef against him. Dashcam footage famously showed that the cop had lied on part of the police report, which got charges against Moriarty dropped, but the officer’s motivation was never proven. He was acquitted on misconduct charges.

So, Smith’s response to his vehicle stop may be the first Garden State instance of totally unsupported campaign outrage about unidentified sinister forces. In any case, it’s not a good look for governance, rule of law or the election process in New Jersey.

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