Superheroes are real. One of the first people to take superheroes out of science fiction and into Seattle was Phoenix Jones. Dressed in a bulletproof black and yellow chest plate with a matching mask, gloves and shin guards, Jones looks like he stepped right out of a comic book. However unlike most fictional crime-fighters, his identity is well-known. A prominent mixed martial arts fighter, Jones—whose real name is Ben Fodor— is active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He often documents his nighttime vigils on social media, and has intervened in a variety of crimes around Capitol Hill, including street harassment, fist fights, and car-jackings.
The Youtube videos of his actions—and ensuing fame—inspired a wide array of citizens to suit up and join his patrols. In Capitol Hill alone, over a dozen individuals donned capes, masks and/or costumes to roam the city with Jones in a group called the Rain City Superhero Movement. The costumed activists reasoned that wearing flamboyant outfits—like full-body spandex or ninja suits—made it easier for police to quickly distinguish between the “good guys” and “bad guys.”
This attracted attention from a range of national media outlets like GQ Magazine, Good Morning America and ESPN. While some coverage was positive, other reports criticized the activists for potentially escalating already volatile situations by brandishing pepper spray and tasers instead of simply alerting the authorities.
In fact, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has had a complicated relationship with Jones and the superhero movement. At first Jones was arrested multiple times, but recently the police have been taking a more hands-off approach. However in a 2015 documentary about Jones called Phoenix Rising, SPD Spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb emphasized, “We do not endorse or authorize his actions in any way.”
Jones officially disbanded the Rain City Superhero Movement on May 29, 2014, citing personality conflicts and integrity issues. However he continues to conduct solo patrols.
Despite the lack of official approval, a second superhero group called the Emerald City Heroes Organization was created in 2015 by two men named El Caballero and Dragon. According to their website, they “prevent crime before it happens” by “de-escalating violence, homeless outreach, first aid and assistance to the impaired.”
Seattle Central College’s security team has never officially interacted with any self-proclaimed superheroes, but security guard Noah Norfleet knows Jones personally and said, “He’s a good dude. He has a wife and kids, and he’s not arrogant like other guys.”
Phoenix Jones was unavailable for comment on this article.
By Alexandra Sachnoff