portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

actions & protests | political theory

"Barefoot Bandit" vs. anarchists, PLEASE help me understand

I'm sorry if the title of this post is confusing, there isn't an actual existing conflict between anarchists and the Barefoot Bandit (aka Colton Harris-Moore) that I know of anyway. What I'm talking about is drastically different public perceptions of the two parties in question, and why they exist.
This following section is for those who don't know the history of our "bandit" and his recent arrest. If you know this already, skip this part.


Back-story: the Barefoot Bandit, or Colton Harris-Moore, who is originally from our neighbor state to the north, Washington (the Puget Sound area) was recently captured in the Bahamas.

From some corporate news: "The 6-foot-5-inch Harris-Moore had been on the run since escaping from a Washington state halfway house in 2008. He is accused of breaking into dozens of homes and committing burglaries across Washington, as well as in British Columbia and Idaho.

He is also suspected of stealing at least five planes including the aircraft he allegedly lifted in Indiana and flew more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to the Bahamas, despite a lack of formal flight training. [apparently he taught himself how to fly using flight manuals and that flight-simulator computer game!]

Some of his alleged actions appeared intended to taunt police: In February, someone who broke into a grocery store in Washington's San Juan Islands drew cartoonish, chalk-outline feet all over the floor.

Through it all, his ranks of supporters grew. Some of his more than 60,000 Facebook fans posted disappointed messages Sunday, while others promoted T-shirts and tote bags with the words "Free Colton!" and "Let Colton Fly!"

... Witnesses on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera recognized the 19-year-old dubbed the "Barefoot Bandit" and called police, who captured him after a high-speed boat chase, Bahamas Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said at a celebratory news conference in Nassau, the capital.

Greenslade said shots were fired during the water chase but he did not say who fired them. He also said Harris-Moore was carrying a handgun that he tried to throw away.

Another senior police official, however, said police fired to disable the motor on the suspect's stolen boat, and that Harris-Moore threw his gun in the water..."

END BACK-STORY, now back to my question.

So... why do people love this guy so much? Specifically, why do so many random folks like this guy and mistrust or downright dislike anarchists, especially those anarchists that participate in Black Bloc actions? Why is Colton a "folk-hero" while masked anarchists continue to be "hooligans, insane hoodlums, thugs" etc.?

Obviously there are plenty of authoritarian type folks who don't like either Colton OR masked-up anarchists. But I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about those average folks who span the spectrum of sort-of-lefty to basically-conservative who find Colton's actions to be admirable.

I'm also not saying that I dislike Colton, in fact I find his actions to have been in some cases very inspiring myself. I'm just confused about the situation.

Let's review some facts in this case:

One of Colton Harris' favorite activities was breaking into individuals homes and stealing their stuff.
Granted that was often just a blanket and some food, but he did in fact also use peoples credit cards to buy some very expensive night-vision goggles. He also stole a large number of cars.

As much as I might also want some sweet night-vision goggles, I'm an anarchist, and anarchists often draw a big distinction between stealing from individuals and stealing from corporations.
That is, we tend to find it much more morally acceptable to steal from an organization that makes so much profit that from an economic standpoint it can afford to lose some inventory. Despite the lies of some particularly silly management types, stealing from corporations (like wallmart or fred meyer for example) just doesn't really hurt the average workers, since most stores sell their products at prices much higher than what they bought them for, hence, they make a lot of profit. Profit is an excess of money that they use either for expansion, or more often to pay their owners, higher-up managers, etc, ridiculously and indefensibly high salaries. We'd have to steal a truly HUGE amount of inventory from most stores before they'd even get close to "just" breaking even!
Also even if this stealing really did hurt the corporation as a whole, well we don't like those corporations and think they should go away and be replaced by either some form of co-op system or just a gift and trade economy of basic natural resources. And I haven't yet found a corporation that I think I can get away with stealing some night-vision goggles from.

I've NEVER heard of a whole black-bloc breaking into an individuals home and stealing their personal stuff, or their car, let alone an individual anarchist. In fact the only time I've ever heard of an anarchist stealing a car was when one stole a COP CAR! Sometimes a black-bloc will move people's recycling bins a couple of feet into the street in order to try to slow the police down, but that's hardly 'stealing'. Black-blocks do engage in property destruction to be sure, they break corporate and government windows mostly, which are generally insured against damages. Sometimes they go as far as to really trash a recruitment center... but while Colton gets public praise, black-clad anarchists either get vicious ridicule or at best silent tolerance from the mainstream. The bloack-bloc gets slammed by folks who's personal property it DIDN'T steal or break.

So from a purely materialistic standpoint, Colton is WAY more likely to actually do something that would materially negatively affect you as an individual, i.e. steal your car or your credit card (or your airplane as it might be). If, on the other hand, an anarchist black-bloc accomplishes anything at all, it will be to send a clear message to the cops and the city that it's expensive for THEM to keep KILLING people.

And as far as motivation goes, it seems that Colton was throughout most of this just "looking out for #1," just doing whatever he wanted to do for his own pleasure. That is, he stole or destroyed personal and private property for his own personal ends. Anarchists, on the other hand, mostly destroy property out of a profoundly moral concern: trying to make the world a better place, one where it's less likely for people to be beaten to death by cops because they have a mental condition, or where its less likely for a black man in an emotional crises to be shot dead by the cops, etc.

So what is it? Have the capitalist ideals of this country seriously brainwashed average people to the degree that they identify more with someone who steals and damages things for his own personal ends rather than those who act out of regard for the common good?

Is the mainstream SO hopelessly cynical that it lashes out at people who want to see a better world simply BECAUSE they want to see a better world?

Is it actually that much of a 'virtue' to have no social or political ambition whatsoever? Can our only heroes be those who have no regard for trying to make the world better for others, and not only themselves?

Please explain!

Three comments 12.Jul.2010 22:16


First of all, you need to prove that this guy is a hero. Is there a poll somewhere to establish that "so many random folks" love this guy? I'm not gonna take your word for it. Same with the hatred for anarchists. Some news show told you everyone loves him and you believed it?
Second, well, it's because some news shows have glorified him while demonizing the anarchists. I have no doubts that if Fox News started spinning the anarchists as heroes, plenty of uneducated morons would take this at face value because "everyone" was saying it. The proof is, well, they can make Harris a hero, so there's no reason they couldn't make any zillion other banditos into heroes too. It's the power of mass media. Are you still amazed that Bush became president? That pretty much proved the power of media in my opinion.
Third, it's the masks. They're kinda scary. Harris has a face, the black bloc doesn't. It's hard to glorify an undifferentiated mass, easy to glorify a single person with an identity. I mean, Subcomandante Marcos at least had a name. The unknown soldier never gets his picture printed on t-shirts, because he's unknown. The black bloc is an idea, while the Barefoot Bandit is a person.

yes 12.Jul.2010 22:32

Yes and No

A 'romantic' outlaw gets sympathy- has some sex appeal within pop culture. I think it's because many people are so repressed. Their 'dark side' has no outlet. The romantic outlaw and his doomed perspective sells better to the eternally frustated. But tell someone you're trying to liberate them by making insurance companies fix windows. It's no wonder they would rather watch someone leave a trail of eccentric robberies and police chases. Has fiction and everyday life blurred together?

clear distinctions 13.Jul.2010 00:12

Exile portlander_in_exile@yahoo.com

Mr. Colten was able to game the system, and use the authorities against themselves. He taunted them with a fair amount of style. He was also not afraid to proclaim his deeds as an individual. He put a face and name on the cat-and-mouse game. However, He would have been more widely accepted by the general public, had the only victims been multi-national corporations, but they would have had him killed by now.

The anarchist movement often doesn't have an individual face. It doesn't have an public identity, other than the group identity. This anonymity can cause discomfort, and fear in those that are outside of the movement. Black bandanas over the faces, lends a "dehumanizing" image. It's just collective human nature. An outlaw, with a face, illicit an emotional response, whereas a movement of faceless people seem too distant.

You really don't know? 13.Jul.2010 04:05

Mike Novack

"So... why do people love this guy so much? Specifically, why do so many random folks like this guy and mistrust or downright dislike anarchists, especially those anarchists that participate in Black Bloc actions? Why is Colton a "folk-hero" while masked anarchists continue to be "hooligans, insane hoodlums, thugs" etc.?

Obviously there are plenty of authoritarian type folks who don't like either Colton OR masked-up anarchists. But I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about those average folks who span the spectrum of sort-of-lefty to basically-conservative who find Colton's actions to be admirable."

You can correctly see that he should be less admirable based on who his actions hurt. But that you are judging primarily on THAT criteria is perhaps why you can't see the why of the admiration. Style, class, imagination, out of the ordinary, whimsical. That's why he's a "folk hero" and our warriors aren't.

Need more creativity in our actions, more humor.

Sensationalism 13.Jul.2010 09:50


People have genuine and real concerns in today's world. Through this, they wish to see authority challenged, and praise what they understand.

But look at how they understand these two topics: for OregonLive's coverage of both issues check out Google's results for "barefoot bandit site:oregonlive.com" and "black bloc site:oregonlive.com"

One paints a narrative of a young fugitive on the run - defiant of the law, bold and brave. Where are the criticisms of the Barefoot Bandit in the pages of the Oregonian?

Then, look at Black Bloc - fuck'n Alex Ansary comes up google first! Lolz! Criticisms of the Black Bloc are very apparent: sometimes subtle, through likening separate actions in Olympia to those in Portland, to the more overt editorials on tactics. The newspapers are intentionally bashing a marginalized minority group, and we make it really easy for them, we have no public spokespeople to defend our position or assert our legitimacy - not to mention the ridiculous and misguided street kids that we attract. Although the media's criticisms are baseless (i.e., "they're wearing masks!", "they broke a window!"), the repetition of these criticisms creates a narrative that is not flattering: in most citizen's minds we're a violent mob of criminals roaming the streets. Search the Oregonian to find the demands of the people who've participated in the "black bloc" - oh wait, we have none!

This isn't absurdity or nonsense or hypocrisy - it's standard operating procedure for selling newspapers. This is a 200 year old tradition. You could call this "Media Control" when it comes to the coverage of the Black Bloc, and "sensationalism" when it comes to our lovely Bandit. It should be expected, not surprising. You'll see it again, too.

Here's a thought... 13.Jul.2010 10:08


Colten doesn't have an ideology, a morality, a message, a solution, a critique. His actions are a break from the mundane, not a narrative that says the mundane is anyone's fault. For people to accept and be fans of the black bloc, they have to look at their banal existence and say I want to change, the world has to change. So ask yourself, which you think they gonna choose?

FLY FLY AWAY 13.Jul.2010 22:29


Ideologies are annoying. Loose-cannon pirates with big balls are hot! Simple as that.

skills 14.Jul.2010 13:05

alberta parsons rebecca@happypredicament.com

just to add to the other comments here: supposedly the bandit has skills that Black Bloc'rs don't demonstrate
* lock picking - it's easy to use bolt cutters - picking takes more finesse
* walking on barefeet - can be tough - black bloc'rs wear shoes/boots but Tre Arrow was recognized for his barefooting it
* safe cracking - apparently did this at a restaurant in WA
* outdoor survival skills - every week someone gets lost picking goddamn blackberries or something
* quiet - doesn't say a lot of stupid shit every time he gets a chance to be in the spotlight

personally, I sympathize with him now, while he's young but he needs to work this anger stuff out and figure out how he's going to live in this world and what kind of person he really wants to be

i think the "poor residents of Camano Island" are probably a bunch of asses who hated his mom and dumped and scapegoated him every chance they got. anyone who's had the joy of living in an "island community" know how it can be.