Enforcement and punishment were a key component of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s arsenal against the COVID-19 pandemic. Murphy and his sidekick, Lt. Col. Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, along with Attorney General Gurbir Grewal were among the chief enforcers across the state.
Here’s a look back at the top 10 most ridiculous pandemic enforcement operations conducted by the Murphy administration during the 2020 pandemic. You can see a more complete list here.
Perhaps the most ridiculous EO violation was a violation that went unpunished. Art Gallagher of More Monmouth Musings caught the governor himself dining indoors at his friend’s restaurant. It wasn’t the first time the Governor didn’t do as he said and extended himself preferential treatment not afforded to the residents. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t just Phil Murphy making his own rules. Politicians across America were caught breaking the rules they imposed upon their subjects.
When shore lawmakers Greg McGuckin, John Catalano, and James Holzapfel had enough with people doing things like praying and eating dinner together, they did what any elected official would do. They proposed a bill to fine New Jerseyans for violating the governor’s orders. Perhaps the worst assault on the residents of New Jersey is the subject of our number two most ridiculous executive order violation. This bill, if it ever saw the light of day, according to McGuckin, who is up for election in just 10 days, would have fined Jersey residents a whopping $15,000 for violating Murphy’s Law during the pandemic. That’s a whole lot of late unemployment checks to cover that bill.
Imagine the horror after a Jersey Shore bar had the audacity to serve drinks when Governor Phil Murphy said they need to shut their doors, stay home, go bankrupt, lose their house and go out of business. One Wildwood bar tested Murphy’s reach and found the hard way that executive powers can mean the permanent loss of your liquor license.
The famous barbershop and salon sweeps across New Jersey where Gestapo like raids were conducted against the atrocious act of getting a haircut. Had New Jerseyans not had haircuts during the governor’s year-long haircuts, we’d all come out on the other side looking like ZZ-top. The history books probably are not going to look kindly back on the Murphy barbershop raids.
Police were out in force under Murphy’s Laws to charge anyone standing less than six feet apart from each other and this was especially true during the pandemic at bars and restaurants. Each week, Murphy and Callahan would slam dunk their latest catches and warn others not to get out of line.
About mid way through the pandemic, Governor Murphy realized he could weaponize the ABC which regulates activities at New Jersey bars and restaurants by holding their liquor licenses hostage for violating COVID-19 violations. Tables 5 feet apart? More than 2 people drinking together at a bar? Yes, businesses were threatened with their licenses over such infractions and many even faced temporary suspensions.
One of the most absurd instances of Murphy’s lockdown rage was against the Atilis Gym in Belmar. Atilis Gym to this day claims not a single person caught COVID-19 as the business stayed open through the entire lockdown. The ordeal culminated with a police raid on the business, arrests, and their doors being boarded up. The owners broke in the very next day, but to this day are paying the price dearly. They had their bank accounts seized, their license revoked, and are now facing jail time.
When the Mayor of Jackson Township Michael Reina and the township council signed on with Greg McGuckin’s (see above) ridiculous plan to fine New Jerseyans $15,000 things were officially out of hand. Reina, a former Democrat who ran with a Jon Corzine-funded ticket to get into office eventually became a Republican, but not a very good one, after supporting the pro-Murphy’s law fine bill. Reina later thanked the Governor for all he had done during the pandemic.
In April of 2020, Governor Murphy’s state police targeted and charged anti-Phil Murphy protesters for executive order violations. In May of 2020, Governor Murphy ignored all COVID-19 executive orders and allowed the George Floyd protests and riots to proceed unimpeded by law enforcement.
The highlight of Phil Murphy’s pandemic was each time the governor raised the stakes against businesses who defied him. First, it was Atilis Gym, then it was a small diner in Lacey Township. Governor Murphy employed the local sheriff, Michael Mastronardy to raid the business early in the morning and charge the owner for violating the indoor dining ban.
We can only hope future historians will look back on the absurdity of it all just as we look back on the absurdity of 1920s prohibition. It seems every 100 years, Americans need a wake-up call to realize the government has overstepped its boundaries when it comes to freedom and civil rights.