After a two-year campaign of robbery across several states and three countries, authorities in the US and the Bahamas are getting ready to throw the book at Colton Harris-Moore, also known as the “Barefoot Bandit.”
Thousands of people online, however, just want to give him a round of applause.
More than 85,000 people have joined various Facebook pages and online fan groups in support of Mr. Harris-Moore, who was arrested Sunday in the Bahamas after a high-speed boat chase. While some have decried Harris-Moore’s robberies, he has also become the latest in a long line of American celebrity criminals.
Harris-Moore’s exploits stealing cars, boats, and planes from the wealthy are a big part of his appeal to his fans. “Stick it to the man,” reads one comment on the Facebook page “Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit.”
“He made them all look like a fool,” another wrote at the “Colton Harris-Moore Fan Club” on the social networking site.
Many more fans have gravitated to Harris-Moore simply because of his audacity. “[He] was living life the way a lot of people wish,” one commenter on the “Barefoot Bandit” page wrote. “It’s about time someone live free and fly,” wrote another.
Since his capture, a number of people have written sadly about not being able to live vicariously through Harris-Moore anymore.
Criminals have been achieving cult status for about as long as they have been committing crimes. Beyond the legend of Robin Hood, famous robbers like Jesse James and John Dillinger won fans simply by taking the wealthy and powerful down a notch.
The proliferation of television shows and websites make it easy for criminals to earn fame (or notoriety), says James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University. But that publicity is still rooted in the same kind of voyeurism that made Dillinger and his cohorts into crime superstars.
“It’s just the idea that he’s been so elusive, and the unusual things he’s done,” Mr. Fox says. “And there’s an element that it’s out of the ordinary. Most people’s lives are pretty ordinary, and this kind of thing can be entertaining, for some people.”
Harris-Moore has been evading capture since 2008, when he escaped from a group home in Washington State after pleading guilty to three counts of burglary. Since then, he has embarked on a more high-powered crime spree, allegedly stealing cars, boats, and at least five airplanes, including one he allegedly flew to the Bahamas and crash-landed earlier this year despite lacking flight training.
Harris-Moore will appear in court in the Bahamas later this week, and his lawyer told news outlets today that he hopes to bring Harris-Moore to the US via extradition. But despite his capture, Harris-Moore is not done as a celebrity mischief-maker.
Bob Friel, a reporter who profiled Harris-Moore in Outside magazine and was one of the first journalists at the scene of his capture, is writing a book about the evasive 19-year-old and sold movie rights to 20th Century Fox in the spring.
“It’s like the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can,” Mr. Fox said. “People are just fascinated by those who can commit crimes and outsmart the cops.”