JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Beachgoers in Jacksonville Beach were greeted by an unusual site Friday: an attorney dressed as a grim reaper and clutching a plastic scythe, sharing grave concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
It’s nothing new for Daniel Uhlfelder, who has taken his macabre show on the road throughout Florida for months. His journey has taken him from the Panhandle to South Florida. But, he said, Jacksonville is a source of concern as it faces a surge in cases and the upcoming Republican National Convention.
The Santa Rosa Beach-based lawyer and Democrat said his goal is to get Floridians to take the virus seriously.
“I hope people hear this warning,” said Uhlfelder, noting that people can do their part by wearing face coverings and avoiding crowds in confined spaces. “I hope we cancel this ridiculous convention.”
Uhlfelder began touring the state in March as COVID-19 first started to spread in Florida. Fast forward to Friday, he said, the numbers are worse than he expected. In his eyes, Gov. Ron DeSantis could do more by issuing a statewide mask mandate and ramping up access to testing.
He said he chose to pay Jacksonville a visit because it was one of the first places to reopen beaches. That Jacksonville plans to welcome thousands of visitors for next month’s convention also played a role.
“Our government has failed us,” Uhlfelder said. “Our government has failed us on every front.”
Unsurprisingly, Uhfelder’s morbid brand of advocacy wasn’t well received by everyone who crossed paths with him in Jacksonville Beach. One beachgoer flung obscenities at the attorney and told him to remove his mask and costume. Others just disagreed with his antics.
GRIM REAPER IN JAX BEACH: Florida attorney @DWUhlfelderLaw dressed as the reaper lurked in Jacksonville Beach today, warning people of the dangers of crowds and COVID-19. Some took his message to heart, while others accused him of fear mongering. More on @wjxt4. pic.twitter.com/jWer1IY2f9— Vic Micolucci WJXT (@WJXTvic) July 3, 2020
“Obviously it’s not the flu, but I don’t think it’s much more severe than the flu,” one woman said.
To which Uhlfelder replied: “You do have that right to believe that, but I disagree.”
Critics skeptical of his motives questioned why he goes out to the beach in the open air and wondered why he chose that getup.
“Coming out here dressed as the grim reaper saying, ‘You’re dead for being out here,’ I think that’s a little much,” said James Rivera, a Marine Corps veteran, said. “Let’s not give everything up because we’re sick. As crazy as that sounds, it’s a bit too much.”
For his part, Uhfelder said he enjoys the beaches but said he sees people flock to the beach and then gather at neighboring businesses, restaurants and hotels.
“I hope that one day I don’t do this myself,” he said. “There’s mixed emotions. It’s a free country. I think this is necessary.”
Critics of Uhfelder’s say there is hypocrisy in his message after the lawyer posted a picture of himself at a crowded event for a Black Lives Matter protest in which he did not attend dressed at the Grim Reaper.
The photo, uploaded to Twitter in June, shows dozens of people not complying with social distancing guidelines in Defuniak Springs, Florida. Several people in the photo are also seen not wearing masks.