Cash In on Me If You Can

The Barefoot Bandit’s fans and foes battle at the till.

By James Ross Gardner June 15, 2010 Published in the July 2010 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Dan Sipple

REGARDLESS OF HOW the story ends for Colton Harris-Moore, the Camano Island teen whose boat-stealing and plane-jacking spree has captured the country’s imagination, there’s no denying that we have witnessed the birth of a legend. (And recent developments—a bounty hunter in the chase, victims’ pledges to shoot the thief on sight—suggest things could end badly.) Along with the glossy mag profiles— Time, Outside, Rolling Stone —and news that 20th Century Fox has optioned the rights for a Colton Harris-Moore biopic there is, more humbly, what can only be described as the Iconography of Colt.

Now 19, the Barefoot Bandit—so named for the footprints he leaves at crime scenes—has enjoyed cult status since November 2008, when, months after breaking out of juvie, he stole a small aircraft (having never been on a plane in his life) and flew from Orcas Island to the Yakima Indian Reservation 300 miles away. The media couldn’t resist comparing him to 1960s con man and escape artist Frank Abagnale Jr., portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can.

A Colton Harris-Moore Facebook page boasts more than 39,000 fans. A popular T-shirt is adorned with his face, an adolescent, Grand Theft Auto-era version of the Che Guevara mug. Above: the words “Momma Tried,” a reference to the song by “Original Outlaw” Merle Haggard. Good Times Screen Printing in Ballard produces and sells the shirt for $16. Owner Adin Stevens, who designed the shirt and cocreated, has shipped tees as far away as Eastern Europe and Asia. He’s considered donating a portion of the proceeds to either to an at-risk youth organization or, more controversially, to a Harris-Moore legal defense fund.

Online, another company charges $25.99 for an organic tee with the motto “Fly, Colt…Fly!” and the image of a Cessna swooping down on a pine tree (the bandit has yet to put a plane down without crashing). But not all the merchandise is pro-Colt.

In May, David Peters, a former San Juan Islands resident, created Along with disseminating news and opinions about the fugitive, he sells shirts, stickers, coffee mugs, aprons, and neckties, most of which ridicule the teenager (“Colton Harris-Moore, Turn yourself in and we’ll give you the second half of the flight manual, you know, the part about landing,” harps one shirt). “I was tired of seeing him glorified,” Peters says. “The fans are as much terrorizing these communities as Colton is. They’re supporting crimes against them.” Twenty percent of Peters’s merch proceeds goes toward a reward—$5,500 as of press time—for info leading to the bandit’s arrest.

What exactly Colt represents—Screw the police? Parents just don’t understand? Buy airplane theft insurance?—no one can say. But Stevens insists he wasn’t making a statement with his shirt. “I just hope the best for this kid.”

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