It's interesting that the academic term for what Colton Harris-Moore turned out to be is “social bandit.” Those who study outlaws call them social bandits, aka outlaw heroes, because for one reason or another, a segment of society gets behind the bandit and roots for him.
Hero in this context is not a value judgment: No one is equating crooks with real heroes like some cops, firemen, soldiers, and so on, are. The term hero in this context is because some people live vicariously through the bandit’s adventures and see them as getting revenge for them against a system or power that in some way has been unfair.
Social bandits include everyone from Robin Hood to John Dillinger. Robin Hood is held up as the pure example. Colt, obviously, was no Robin Hood. Dillinger was also held up as an outlaw hero by some even though he and his gang killed cops and innocent bystanders. Colt was not on that extreme, either.
Colt was easy for some to root for because he didn’t hurt anyone. And even though he stated no philosophy, some people began to see him as striking out against the various things that they, too, wanted to rebel against. Colt was an exciting, camera-ready avatar for those who wanted to strike back at grown-ups, the police, school, local government, rich people, investment bankers, authority, shoe manufacturers… whatever they had a problem with, Colt was out there fighting against it for them. The Great Recession was as fertile a backdrop for Colt to spring up out of as a social bandit as the Great Depression was for Dillinger.
Social media then played a huge role in spreading his story and fame far quicker than any other outlaw hero in history.
And now the related plug: In advance of the release of my book, The Barefoot Bandit (which will be in bookstores on March 20, but is available for pre-order now) I’ll be launching a new website (more about that very soon), and I have already put up a Facebook Author page. Both will have lots of content related to the book such as photo galleries, videos, links, maps, updates, interviews, etc, acting as the “Special Features” to the book. This blog will then mesh with the other social media stuff.
So if you’re on Facebook, go to http://www.facebook.com/AuthorBobFriel . I’ll be adding more content frequently.