Last time we wrote about Phoenix Jones it was because he was wrongfully accused of pocketing money intended for a domestic violence non-profit. Now another fundraiser -- a campaign to raise $10,000 to makeover his superhero costume -- has critics questioning his motives.
Jones, aka MMA fighter Ben Fodor, writes on his website that he wants to upgrade the "bulletproofing, functionality, and redesign of my current superhero suit." He has convinced a company called Nightmare Armor Studios to donate their time and labor (worth $100,000 by Jones' estimate) assembling the ensemble, but he still needs cash for the raw materials.
His wish list includes a "ballistics shield used by SWAT teams, police officers, and superheroes to shield themselves from bullets, breach houses, and protect citizens caught in cross fire," that will reportedly be installed within the costume. According to Jones, the cost of this contraption "is in the $80,000 range," but the manufacturer has agreed to give him a drastic discount. He also wants a bulletproof face shield, and an HD live-streaming camera to broadcast his crime-fighting exploits on the Web in real time.
The gadgetry and armor are necessary, Jones claims, because he has had "over 30 bullets shot at him or in his general direction" and "been threatened with murder and stabbed."
Jones initially tried a Kickstarter campaign, but ran afoul of the site's community guidelines, which prohibit "fund my life" projects. He has since turned to asking for handouts via his Facebook page, and also embedded a PayPal donation button on the website for the Purple Reign Campaign, the non-profit initiative by his superheroine girlfriend to benefit victims of domestic violence. As of Friday, he has already banked more than $1,600.
The hefty price tag, request for handouts, and intermingling of Jones suit fundraising and the Purple Reign non-profit seems outrageous to some of Jones' real life superhero peers. A San Diego man who calls himself Urban Avenger penned a blog post last week entitled, "Phoenix Jones Sells Snake Oil, Calls It A Supersuit," that lambasts Jones, calling him "an egocentric glory hound, who really only wants to propel himself further into the limelight."
Reached by phone last week on his way to Comic-Con in San Diego, Urban Avenger explains that his own costume cost less than $400 total to assemble, including a bulletproof vest he bought on eBay last year using his income tax return. Avenger says Jones ought to spend his own money on the "super suit," and give the donations to a worthy charity.
"What pisses me off about this guy," Urban Avenger says, "is that he's entirely focused more on the appearance and the prestige of being whatever it is he wants to call himself."
Avenger's takedown of Jones was seconded by others, including filmmaker Matt Harrsion. Once a staunch Jones supporter who spent more than a year accompanying Jones on his nightly Belltown patrols for a documentary slated for release later this year, Harrison now says the self-proclaimed superhero is "manipulative, deceitful, controlling, and ignorant."
"So many people are enamored of him and the idea of him," Harrison says. "I think it's very telling that of all the things he says he wants the suit to have, the thing he brings up the most about it is the live-streaming video that will be uninterrupted."
But responding to his critics during a phone interview last week with Seattle Weekly, Jones says the body armor upgrade is what's most important to him. "I've been getting guns pointed at me way more than I feel comfortable with," he says.
Jones says he was approached by several corporate sponsors who offered to cover the cost of new suit in exchange for him prominently displaying their logos on the exterior, like something out of a Booster Gold comic. He put the issue to his fans on Facebook, he explains, and they were resoundingly opposed to the idea so he turned to grassroots fundraising.
As for the costume controversy, Jones believes it's the result of jealousy and personal differences.
"It's literally people don't like me, and they're not going to like me, and I just don't care anymore," Jones says indignantly. "They don't agree with my crime-fighting methods and they could go fuck themselves about that."
Jones maintains that his suit fundraising has been completely transparent, and that people know exactly what their money is going toward when they donate.
"Even if I'm unethical," he says. "I couldn't be unethical publicly because it would ruin being a superhero...I don't know how many times people will accuse me of doing things before they realize that's not in Jones' character."