Dancing with Jim Reaper: We spoke with the spooky specter about the man beneath the cloak

On May 30, just hours before Rhode Island enters Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plans, Rhode Islanders Against Excessive Quarantine will hold a rally outside the State House protesting the shutdown. In anticipation of the event, Motif spoke with Jim Reaper, the cloaked specter often found circling these protest events, holding a sign that reads “Soon.”

Motif: Why did you start attending these protest rallies dressed as the Grim Reaper?

Jim Reaper: At the rallies, a lot of people weren’t wearing masks. They were very close together. Sharing a microphone. They were welcoming death. And a light bulb goes off. Wouldn’t it be funny if I showed up there as the Grim Reaper? One of my friends, Mike Knives, who fabricates really cool stuff, made a cloak for me in a day. Then I made a sign and just started showing up.

Motif: How did people react to you?

Jim Reaper: People were very confused, which was kind of what I was looking for. I wanted to spark something in their brain. Some people were confused. Some people were angry. Some people tried to get in my face. That cloak is huge and it makes me look bigger than I am. So one guy made fat jokes. People tried to get pictures with me. Some people really did get in my face. Photos from the rallies show one guy was pointing at me. One guy was coming at me.

I took people with me to document it. People who were sizeable. Because I was completely outnumbered. I can take a punch, but you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve been getting weird physical threats on my Facebook page. 

Motif: What do you touch in people that makes them so angry?

Jim Reaper: We all have viewpoints. I play devil’s advocate. Everyone’s livelihood is getting attacked. We’re all getting hurt. Some of the things I’m doing does seem to mock their revolution. But I’m not trying to mock them, just point out the hypocrisy and the ignorance.

It touches a nerve because everybody is at their peak of emotion. We’re all getting frustrated with the situation. Nobody likes this. So I think when you say, “Hey, what you’re doing is hurting us,” and make them maybe rethink what they’re doing, I think it sparks a knee jerk reaction.

I’d probably get along with these people on a personal level, but it becomes a political issue. And it’s not even about politics, but I think people line up [along party lines].

Motif: What do you think about the state’s reopening plan?

Jim Reaper: We might be moving too fast. Fifty percent capacity [at restaurants] seems a bit much. It seems a little aggressive, but I’m not a disease expert. I don’t blindly follow, but I trust that whatever regulations they’re putting in are working. Our numbers are low. Do I feel like my rights are being taken back a little? Of course. But I’m not going to go crazy about it.

Motif: You seem to promote mask wearing on social media.

Jim Reaper: My girlfriend is a nurse so I take a lot of leads from her about what’s considered safe. I share information about people who are making masks. I try to promote those people to get people to put masks on. My finger is on the pulse of small businesses, and my next shift is going to be promoting small businesses that really need to start getting back into shape. 

Motif: Are you planning to attend the May 30 rally?

Jim Reaper: I’m going to the one on the 30th. I don’t know what will happen. I’ve been to two or three of them. I’d guess there were 75 people at the first one I went to, and the second one I went to had maybe 35 people. The Facebook group Rhode Islanders Against Excessive Quarantine has about 6,000 people in it, which is a small percentage of the state. Then the number of people who are showing up and protesting is even smaller. It’s such a minimal amount of people who are opposed to this, but 100 people defying orders could potentially affect thousands. Protest from home. Stay home. Phase 2 is very aggressive. And it’s right around the corner. They’re getting what they want, just not as the pace they want. It’s the whole Veruca Salt thing. They’re stamping their feet. Their arguments boil down to, “I’m inconvenienced.” Be a community. Adapt and everything will be fine eventually.