Who is hotter: Wonder Woman or Super Girl? Is Aquaman really as lame as people say? These are the questions I thought I might ask Phoenix Jones, Seattle’s self-proclaimed superhero. I felt like taking him seriously would be difficult. After all what sane person walks the streets at night in a rubber suit, looking for bad guys?
I stood outside of Beth’s Café waiting for Jones to arrive. I looked up on top of the building, wondering if he might rappell down a wall. I peeked around an alley corner to see if he might suddenly appear. Eventually I saw Jones and his wife, Purple Reign, walking down the street like normal people, only they were wearing superhero costumes.
He wore a backup suit on this night as the police had confiscated his main suit after an arrest. The charges were later dropped. That suit, worth about $7,000, consisted of a bullet-proof vest, stab plates, and a utility belt lined with many items including a taser, mace, zip ties and a billy club. The arrest caused Jones to lose his day job working with kids with autism under his real name, Ben Fodor. Jones, 23, hopes to get his old job back since he was never actually convicted of the crime.
Jones also spends time outside of the mask inside of a mixed martial arts fighting cage. Recently he knocked out an opponent in less than a minute. He goes by the name “Fear the Flattop” in the MMA, based on the haircut he sports underneath of the mask.
Jones said he has extensive crime fighting skills. “Besides the MMA, I have three black belts. I’ve also been in kickboxing fights. I’ve had slight hand-to-hand combat training from a Marine I know and some slight weapons disarming training. I’m also CPR certified.”
Jones mentors a crew of about 14 people who make up the Rain City Superhero Movement. They walk around local neighborhoods and patrol for crime, wearing masks to protect their identities. They all have protective body armor to keep them safe from weapons. In just two years of patrolling, Jones claims that he has been shot once and stabbed twice already.
They are all well trained on the local city laws as far as making citizen’s arrests and probable cause. When they patrol, a videographer captures all situations on tape. When the crew witnesses a crime, they immediately call 911, then decide if the criminal needs to be arrested or detained.
When we finally sit down at our table, I ask the couple how they feel about putting themselves into dangerous situations when they have two young kids at home. “I probably see more crime dressed up in my civilian clothes than I do dressed up in costume,” Reign said. “I feel like being dressed up in a costume is safer. We have the protective gear, the team, and video cameras.”
Still, this crew seeks out danger somewhat. “Cops get shot on duty,” Jones countered. “Fireman get killed fighting fires. And if every one of those guys were like ‘Well, I have kids,’ and they never went to work then we wouldn’t have 90% of the freedom that we do have.”
So far, Jones claims to have made 37 detainments and two citizen’s arrests. “Yet I’m considered a weirdo because I wear a costume,” Jones said. The costume has more effect than just looks. It has protective armor. Both criminals and the police are learning that Jones and his crew signify protecting citizens.
Jones has been featured on 60 Minutes and in the local media, but it’s not fame that he’s after. “If you run around in a suit like this and tell people you don’t want attention, you’re lying,” Jones said. “I don’t want attention to the dude under the suit. What I want attention to is the idea that a guy in a rubber suit can walk up on crime happening in the first place. Where did someone already fail? Some system is totally flawed.”
Jones seems much more intelligent and articulate than he might get credit for. A team of lawyers taught Jones the laws he needs to know in order to do citizen patrols. However his voice lowered when talking about the local police. “They’re not my favorite people,” Jones said. “When I first started patrolling, I really liked the police. It’s just the interactions I’ve had with them has caused me to lose respect.” When he talked about his confiscated gear, he said that the police “stole it.”
Jones claimed that often his interactions with the police are long delays on police arrivals, sometimes none at all, to the crime scenes. “One time we called the police when crack smoking had gone down, and when the police arrived, they told everyone to go home,” Jones said. “That’s because they don’t always take it serious enough.”
Later that night, I stood on a corner in Belltown waiting to meet up with Jones and his crew. Three police officers stood across the street. They never moved from their position once in the ten minutes I waited.
Eventually six masked men in costumes picked me up and said they were waiting for Jones. They had names like Ghost, Pitch Black, Dogface, and Midnight Jack. This was Dogface’s first patrol but Midnight Jack leads his own crew, Emerald City Protectors.
None of these guys had rubber suits like Phoenix Jones wears. Ninja masks and bermuda hats were employed. Dogface wore a mask with a cartoon rabid dog on it covering his nose-to-neck area. One guy had a Mexican wrestler’s mask. To be honest, they looked like they were dressed up for Halloween. Except underneath their clothes they wore bullet-proof vests.
Jones arrived with Purple Reign and his videographer, Ryan. Jones lead the crew with confidence, giving instructions on where and how to patrol. Since I didn’t have body armor, two members were assigned to be my body guards.
We started walking into the bar scene to see if any drunks were causing a stir. It felt liberating and fun to be looking for criminals. People came up to give Jones and his crew thanks for their work. One even stopped his car, got out and came over to shake Jones’ hand.
We couldn’t walk more than a minute without someone wanting a photo with Jones. He politely complied however he wanted to keep moving. It got annoying to me having to stop so much. “Yeah, it can get frustrating,” said a member of Jones’ crew. “It happens a lot more now than it used to.”
It was a rather tame night, so Jones ordered the crew to relocate closer to Pike Place Market. We split up, and during our travel, we met three men presumably in their early 20s. They insisted on photos and Jones complied. They were so excited about meeting Jones that they walked with us as we crossed the street to keep telling him how proud they were of him.
Just then, two guys presumably in their late 20s and seemingly intoxicated, passed us. One of the men piped up. “Hey, the comic store is that way freak!” Jones shrugged it off and said nothing. “Comic-Con is that way!” One of the men walking with us yelled “Yo, fuck you! Don’t make fun of Phoenix man!” By the time Jones turned around again, the two men were yelling obscenities at each other. Out of nowhere, the initial mouthy guy sucker punched the guy who had defended Jones.
Jones instantly jumped into the middle of them and tried to calm down the victim. The yelling continued and the guy who threw the punch began to walk away. Jones asked the victim if he would like the puncher to be detained, but Jones would only do it if the victim agreed to press charges. The victim said no, he would not. Jones asked the question repeatedly, but kept getting the same answer.
The man who threw the punch kept walking and eventually disappeared, which bothered Jones the rest of the night. “That’s what happens. People get assaulted and won’t press charges,” he said angrily. “Then that person just goes along and assaults someone else, never getting caught. It drives me crazy.”
The Rain City Superhero Movement recently came upon a stabbing victim. Jones and his crew chased after the alleged criminal, eventually catching him several blocks away. They detained the suspect until the police arrived and arrested him.
“I think the fact that we do it for free is what makes it so special,” Jones said. Being a part of Jones’ crew isn’t easy. “I have strict rules so they know what will and will not occur,” Jones said. “They all have either a military or martial arts background. Every one of them has had a two hour sit-down with me where I explain the rules. They’ve all gone to my lawyer’s office. I’ve done a background check on all of them. They get taught the rules of citizen’s arrest and probable cause. They have to go on three guest patrols. Then they take a ten question test and they are ready for the street.”
According to Jones, he’s turned down tens of thousands of dollars in UFC contracts, T.V. offers, and even a strange porn offer. “This isn’t about money. I can’t be bought, bullied, or negotiated with,” Jones said. “Phoenix Jones is all about integrity.” Jones said the only way he would sell merchandise is if a certain amount could go directly to charity.
As for the future of Phoenix Jones, he says that training another member to the point that one day he can pass the mantle and say “You are Phoenix Jones now” would be ideal. “I need someone who is just morally staunch. I need someone who can say ‘I have self-control and I’m un-corruptible.’ And when I find that person, I’ll be able to step aside.”
Jones said that when people see him on the street, it’s like a public service announcement. “I’m not insane. I don’t think I have super hero powers. I don’t think I can fly. It’s not about that. It’s about crime being out of control in the city and it’s not all right with me.”
Looking back, I feel bad for not taking Jones seriously. I’ve learned that he’s intelligent, skilled, has good intentions and is making a positive impact on the community. Seattle is slowly becoming a safer place to live because of Jones. His crew is out assisting the police in arresting criminals, and I’m only reading about what they do.
I think most people have the same reaction I did about Jones at first. If his crew continues to succeed, I think the general public will eventually look at him as a hero. Just like I eventually did.