Benjamin Fodor, who goes by the name Phoenix Jones, has emerged as the poster child of the estimated 300 or 400 nationwide Real Life Superheroes, a movement that involves fantastically costumed citizens patrolling to stop crime or doing ad hoc social work. But Fodor, arrested early Sunday morning, has at times been controversial as a...
Phoenix Jones, the self-appointed crime-fighting citizen superhero of Seattle, walked out of a downtown courtroom in costume with his trademark black and gold rubber suit beneath a collared shirt.
He declared to a dozen waiting journalists that he would continue his nocturnal patrols despite his arrest for a crime intervention gone wrong early Sunday morning..
Then, with a dramatic flourish, Jones whipped off his hood, revealing his 23-year-old face and a high-rise flattop.
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“I am also Ben Fodor,” he said. “I also am a father. I also am a brother. I’m just like everyone else. The only difference is that I decided to make a difference and stop crime in my neighborhood and my area.”
Benjamin Fodor, out on bail pending his arrest for assault, was not charged Thursday. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes’ staff said they were still interviewing witnesses and will look at a video of the incident before deciding whether to file charges.
Fodor has said he did nothing wrong by pepper-spraying a group of late-night partygoers at 2:30 a.m. Sunday in Pioneer Square because he sought to break up a fight. At least one witness corroborates his account.
But Fodor’s arrest underscores increasing frustration among police and even some fellow “superheroes” about his yearlong stint as “Real Life Superhero” Phoenix Jones.
He has emerged as the poster child of the estimated 300 or 400 nationwide Real Life Superheroes, a movement that involves fantastically costumed citizens patrolling to stop crime or doing ad hoc social work.
Within the Real Life Superhero movement, Fodor has at times been controversial as a grandstanding media magnet who too quickly uses his Taser and pepper spray.
“I felt it was a long time coming, and sadly,” said a man who, by day, is a Seattle-area consultant, by night, a Real Life Superhero calling himself Mr. Ravenblade. “I don’t have anything against [Fodor], but he’s done a lot of things that are against the core guidelines of the community and superhero status.”
Matt Hartman, Fodor’s attorney, said outside of court Thursday that his client’s Phoenix Jones persona “stands for all that is right and good.”
Phoenix Jones’ publicist, a Los Angeles photographer named Peter Tangen, said Fodor wants to inspire people “to not be bystanders” if they witness crime.
A growing movement
The Real Life Superhero movement often invokes Kitty Genovese, a New York City woman murdered in 1964 as her cries of help were unanswered by bystanders. Comic-book lore, including the 2010 movie “Kick-Ass,” is a touchstone.
Superheroes patrol dozens of cities, from Salt Lake City to St. Petersburg, Fla. Tea Krulos, a Milwaukee journalist writing a book on the movement, said he has met about 75 in person and that their backgrounds range from a dishwasher in a Tennessee Waffle House to corporate salarymen with families.
“I’ve been working on this two years, and don’t see it dying down,” Krulos said. For every one that tries superhero work and then drops out, “there’s two more showing up.”
Fodor, who began showing up last year, was not available for an interview. But in a profile this summer in GQ magazine, Fodor said he was inspired when his young stepson was injured by broken glass after a car break-in.
“I got tired of people doing things that are morally questionable,” he told GQ. “Everyone’s afraid. It just takes one person to say, ‘I’m not afraid.’ And I guess I’m that guy.”
Fodor said he once lived in a Texas orphanage, was adopted by a Seattle family at age 9, and now works with autistic children. He also is an amateur mixed martial artist, with an 11-0 record. His driver’s license lists his address in Lynnwood, and he doesn’t have a felony history.
He sometimes patrols with a group calling itself the Rain City Superheroes, and often with a camera in tow. The Real Life Superheroes — and Phoenix Jones in particular — have become a cult phenomenon in Europe, and several are represented by Jones’ publicist.
Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson said officers have been aware of the group for more than a year. “This is Seattle. If people want to dress up in costumes and walk around in the middle of the night, they’re free to do that,” Jamieson said.
“These guys aren’t a problem until they’re a problem, and that’s where we have concerns. They don’t have the training, the equipment or the legal authority” to intervene.
“Saved from a beat-down”
About midnight Saturday, Fabio Heuring, 27, was on a sidewalk outside Pioneer Square’s Trinity Bar, fearing he was about to get beaten up by three men after an altercation in the bar spilled outside.
Just then, Phoenix Jones appeared out of nowhere and squirted the trio with pepper spray, Heuring said. Police later responded, logging the incident as a questionable use of pepper spray. But Heuring said Fodor was a hero.
“He really saved us from a potential beat-down,” said Heuring, of Auburn.
Two hours later, Phoenix Jones — with a cameraman and Krulos, the Milwaukee journalist, in tow — raced to what he described as another fight in progress, with a large group under the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and began pepper spraying.
Krulos said he clearly saw a man thrown to the ground and kicked. But police, who arrived 13 minutes after Fodor called 911, said the group complained of being randomly pepper sprayed as they were “dancing and frolicking” in the street.
“This is the danger,” Jamieson said. “You’ve got to be able to defend your actions … . I just don’t understand the mentality that you have to rush into it, without knowing all the facts, and physically insert yourself into that situation where you could get hurt and other people get hurt.”
After the arrest was reported, Real Life Superheroes weighed in online, and many weren’t kind.
On the Facebook page of a group called the New York Initiative, a group of about a dozen citizen crime-fighters in the Brooklyn neighborhood, “Short Cut” wrote, “you do NOT fight fire with fire. You are supposed to cool things down. Do NOT go into a situation screaming and spraying pepper spray with your emotions controlling your actions.”
On the comment board of reallifesuperheroes.org, “Knight-Hood,” who says he has patrolled St. Petersburg, Fla., for more than a decade without serious incident, wrote, “I am surprised it has taken the Seattle police this long to find an excuse to arrest him.”
Even before the arrest, Fodor was controversial for what are seen as tall tales of crime fighting. In June, the Seattle Weekly reported that Fodor did not provide medical records to back up claims that he’d been shot, and quoted a Lynnwood police spokeswoman debunking Fodor’s claim that he’d stopped a car theft.
“He tells a ton of lies, makes up stories, and embellishes and exaggerates what he does,” Dark Guardian, co-administrator of reallifesuperheroes.org, told the Weekly.
Tangen, Fodor’s spokesman, said earlier this week the outing of Fodor’s real identity “puts his family at risk for retribution.”
But on Thursday, Fodor said he planned to resume patrols, as early as that day, and invited anyone to join him.
“I have to look toward the future and see what I can do to help the city,” he said.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org