A lawyer who gained national attention with his advocacy against privatizing Florida beaches is now working to keep those same beaches closed during the coronavirus pandemic — by wearing a Grim Reaper costume and warning beachgoers about the necessity of social distancing.
"I felt like something needed to be done, because they're moving very quickly to open beaches prematurely," Daniel Uhlfelder, a Santa Rosa Beach-based lawyer, told NBC News. "Wearing a Grim Reaper costume seems like a good way to send a signal that this is too fast and that we need to think seriously before we take that step."
Uhlfelder has spent the past several weeks advocating to close Florida beaches, and the Grim Reaper costume, which he will start wearing to beaches on May 1, is only the most eye-catching of those efforts. Last month, he sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seeking an injunction for a statewide closure of beaches and urging him to issue a stay-at-home order. DeSantis, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, mandated a 30-day stay-at-home order earlier this month, but he gave a green light to reopen beaches Friday, the same day the state reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases.
"I'm just trying to take all the steps to ensure our safety and trying to get creative about it," Uhlfelder said. "I've sued the governor. We're in court with him. It looks like they're rushing to do this, and it's just too soon."
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This isn't the first time Uhlfelder has made a splash on social media. Last year, he and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got into a Twitter spat stemming from a debate as to whether the beach in front of Huckabee's property in Walton County should be considered private or public. Huckabee filed a complaint with the Florida Bar accusing Uhlfelder of "vile and unprofessional attacks" and "repeatedly posting disparaging information" about him. Uhlfelder called his complaint "false" and said that within a month of the complaint, he went from having 400 Twitter followers to more than 100,000. In the months since, he has continued to build a following for his searing posts.
Following the incident, Uhlfelder also launched Make My Day PAC, which he says is "dedicated to fighting bad actors" and "pushing back against the silencing of Americans." Uhlfelder added that he will use "the COVID Grim Reaper" tour to raise money to support Democrats running for office, including Phil Ehr and Christy Smith, who are running for Congress in Florida and California, respectively.
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Uhlfelder has already had somewhat of a trial run with his Grim Reaper campaign. Last month, he traveled to Florida beaches wearing a paintball costume while he preached the necessity of maintaining social distance. A woman promptly told him that he was "scaring people," he said.
"I said, 'OK, that's good.' If people are scared, then they'll leave," Uhlfelder said. "I want to go back to normal as soon as possible, too, but opening our beaches too early is not the way to do this."