For the year and a half that it has been open, the East Atlanta Varsity Barbell Club — a gym labels itself the “weightlifting island of misfit toys” — has been outfitted with cheeky, provocative signs.
The signs have jabbed at other strength training programs such as CrossFit, promoted the gym’s slogans (“Lift weights, get high, smash capitalism”) and drawn attention to causes it supports, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
And always, the gym has advertised its controversial membership policy: no police or active military allowed. That rule has appeared on signs with varying wording, including “MAKE COPS ILLEGAL AGAIN” and “THIS IS A COP-FREE ZONE.”
But surprisingly, at a time in the country rife with tension over police conduct, the ban had never drawn much outside condemnation — until this week, when owner Jim Chambers updated the gym’s outside sign with a simplified set of rules that included an expletive describing “cops.”
A military veteran reported the sign to NBC affiliate 11 Alive News, which aired a story on Tuesday, according to the station. Chambers said he took down the controversial sign before the television crew arrived. Nevertheless, he has received “hundreds” of death threats since the airing, he told The Washington Post.
On Thursday, Chambers said USA Weightlifting suspended the gym’s membership.
“I don’t apologize for the language,” Chambers said, explaining that his gym members are diverse and include people who have had “bad experiences with cops.”
Veterans aren’t excluded from the gym, but Chambers considers active duty military members as part of a “sadistic and destructive force,” he said.
When business is thriving, some 30 to 40 people come through the gym doors on a weekly basis. It exists as a co-op, Chambers said, where members can donate money to work out there, volunteer to work the counter or even exercise free if they can’t afford the “fancy gyms.”
“Without talking to the man, this appears to be hate for law enforcement and for what reason? Are you doing something illegal?” Vincent Champion, director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers southeastern chapter, told 11 Alive News.
Another local gym, East Atlanta Village Fitness, whose unfortunately similar name drew enough calls and questions…