Colton Harris-Moore: Barefoot Bandit is ‘not who I am’
Colton Harris-Moore says he tries not to be rude when someone refers to him as the “Barefoot Bandit” but he will correct them. Now that he’s been released from prison for his series of headline-grabbing thefts as a teen, Harris-Moore is ready to dispel the myth of the Barefoot Bandit.
“That’s not Colton Harris-Moore. It’s the myth of the Barefoot Bandit,” he told KIRO Radio’s “Jason and Burns.” “I don’t go by that name, I don’t live my life by what the Barefoot Bandit would presumably live his life by or the Barefoot Bandit’s values or what people would associate with a character like that. That’s not who I am. And that’s one of the reasons why I reach out so intensely to these negative people on the internet who say these totally outrageous, baseless things. I invite them to lunch. I invite and seek the opportunity to show people who I am and kind of debunk this very extensive list of assumptions that people make.”
Harris-Moore, who grew up on Camano Island, discussed the mythos of his teenage years when he was on the run, and how it shaped his life and perspective. He also set the record straight about a life that has primarily been told by everybody but him.
In 2010, Harris-Moore became a fugitive, on the run for thefts and burglaries he committed around the Pacific Northwest. He taught himself to fly and stole several aircraft, a boat, and two cars along the way. The lore of his mischievousness grew as he reportedly committed some of his crimes while barefoot. He was arrested at the age of 19 in 2010 and sentenced to more than seven years in prison in a deal that consolidated many of the roughly 100 charges against him. He was released on probation in September of 2016 and freed from work release on Dec. 27.
While he stares headlong into the future, Harris-Moore acknowledged that, no matter what he does, he doesn’t expect his past to fly away.
“I think it’s gonna be difficult to have a normal life. I really do,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think I’m ever going to have a normal life, I’m just going to have to focus on the things that are important to me and be around like-minded people and those people are out there.”
Setting the record straight
Harris-Moore said he can appreciate both sides of the debate over whether he was a folk-hero or the bad guy. On one hand, he acknowledges committing many crimes. On the other, he says people do lots of stupid things when they are younger and can learn from them.
But were all the stories reported true?
“Depending on the instance or the event, it changes, but 60-40,” he said. “I think 60 [percent] of it is sensationalism and 40 percent of it is fairly accurate. But the nuance of this is this has been going on for ten or eleven years now and I’m just now coming into the public life as an adult in the free world. I’ve always either been in the woods or on the run or both and I’ve never spoken for myself and other people have spoken for me.”
Harris-Moore said his probation could last six months or 18 months, depending on how quickly he pays restitution. Paying restitution is a requirement in this case. Federal supervised release ultimately lies with a judge, who could use outstanding restitution as a factor in whether or not to terminate probation early or not. Harris-Moore said he believes it could be appropriate to petition the court to end probation earlier since he is on probation at both the federal and state level, which he believes is redundant.
Harris sold the rights to his life story to 20th Century Fox for $1.4 million, all of which went toward restitution.
“I don’t like the publicity,” he said. “I don’t want the movie made but it was a risk I was willing to create and assume in order to have a good gesture toward satisfying those obligations and I could have totally kept every dollar.”
He still owes another $129,000. He says he’s admitted his guilt and is trying to take action to do right by the rest. It can be difficult to ignore the internet trolls and disagrees with the notion that his actions show a sense of entitlement, he says.
“It was never my goal and it still isn’t my goal to profit personally from any of this and when I’m accused of that it’s not only outrageous and offensive but it’s disappointing because I’ve spent so many years trying to make things right,” he said. “It doesn’t ever feel good when you’re accused or suspected of doing something immoral or bad when in fact you’ve tried to do good and that doesn’t ever feel good.”
He said the Son of Sam law says an offender can’t profit from violent crimes, but because none of his were violent, he could have kept the profits. However, under the terms of Harris-Moore’s plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit the rights of his story in order to pay restitution, which rests outside the Son of Sam law.
“This is gonna sound a little arrogant, but I don’t know any other teenager that would have been able to do that and I sold my soul to the devil as far as I’m concerned to be able to do that and I could have kept every dollar of that. There is no legal mechanism for keeping every one of those $1.2 million.
“There is always somebody reminding me that I have the restitution,” he said. “Nobody needs to remind me, I understand. There is nobody who wants the restitution paid more than me, it’s simple as that. Nobody.”
Harris-Moore recently set up a GoFundMe page attempting to raise $125,000 to pay for flight school, however the feds shut his efforts down. He said there is no policy in place to deal with the GoFundMe controversy and is in the process of filing a motion in federal court to explain the situation.
Harris-Moore previously attempted to raise money to cryogenically freeze his dying mother. Ultimately it was for naught. His mother died on May 17.
“If they make me out to be the worst person in the world, she was a close second,” he said. “And she was a very kind person. She was also very intelligent and she had an addiction to alcohol but she wasn’t this horrible, heinous, abusive person that … the media, make her out to be.”
That’s not all he says has been inaccurately reported. Harris-Moore denied reports that he was caught holding a gun to his head while on a sandbar. He said he was caught in the Atlantic Ocean where there is no sandbar and that “there was no gun.”
“They were shooting at me and they were probably trying to call me and that’s another situation and somehow I lived through that. It’s just remarkable,” he said. “There are dozens of instances where I totally should be dead and I’m still alive and I make sense of that as best I can and maybe in 20 or 30 years it’ll make sense but things could be a lot different, a lot more bleak. And even if it’s not bleak, I might not be alive.”
Living life on the edge
Harris-Moore said he’s loved airplanes for as long as he can remember and that his passion never waned.
“It’s this uncontrollable obsession, that’s really what it is,” he said. “It’s a little bit more controlled than it was six or seven years ago, but that’s what it is. It’s an obsession.”
His first airplane theft came at the age of 17, he said, and described that first illegal flight as “Euphoria.”
“It’s something that you have dreamt about and waited for your entire life. And out of all the possibilities of that moment, no matter what scenario or situation you could find yourself in, that one moment, you were exactly where you were supposed to be and I wonder if I’ll ever feel that again,” he said. “It’s one of those moments that I think you only get once or twice in your entire life.”
Some might call it a miracle that he wasn’t killed flying planes he learned without proper instruction. Others might claim it miraculous that he survived any of his fugitive life. But he said it was almost all meant to be.
“The very last plan that I had was to leave the country and that’s when I was caught,” he said. “I don’t believe things happen for a reason, per se, but I believe certain outcomes are vulnerable to other outcomes and those energies interact with one another and they change their probabilities depending on where you are in life, in spirit, in a lot of things. So I wouldn’t say I was caught for a reason but there has to be something to that because I was only a couple days away from reaching my destination.”
A ‘lonely’ life
Harris-Moore’s crimes have come with a certain notoriety. He’s already met many people who have “ulterior motives,” including one person who had a money-making idea for the Barefoot Bandit.
“I don’t know if it’s just the culture we are in today or what but everybody has this hyper focus toward these artificial, surface deep things,” he said. “And everybody is trying to play an angle and, literally, my only friend is sitting right here [in the studio for the interview] and everybody else are lawyers and people like that. And I love the lawyers but after 10 years of it, you get burnt out.”
Harris-Moore says he cringes when people ask what his greatest transition will be coming out of jail.
“I had to get used to prison, I don’t have to get used to the free world,” he said of his six years in prison. “I’ve dreamt of this for a very long time, half my life. There’s no transition but being in that environment for so long, around just incredible negativity and then almost overnight being around positive people that love what they do, that’s been rejuvenating and really incredible.”
Beyond that, he says he’s “really tired of having my guard up,” but doesn’t expect that will ever change. Luckily, he’s always enjoyed solitude.
“You kind of have to like solitude to be out in the woods for years at a time but I think my life has crossed the line into, as cliché or as corny as this might sound, into loneliness,” he said. “There is a fine line between solitude and loneliness and I’m trying to work on that right now but it’s really difficult to work on that when you just never really know what’s going on in other people’s minds.”
Making friends with his victims
Harris-Moore said he doesn’t expect anyone to forgive him for his crimes. He wouldn’t if the roles were reversed.
“It has such an impact on me because if somebody stole my airplane, I truly don’t think that I could forgive him,” he said. “Because an airplane, you have an intimate relationship with if you’re a pilot, and certainly if you’re an airplane owner, with the airplane. And somebody rips this thing away from you. I totally couldn’t forgive somebody, I really don’t think I could do that.
Still, Harris-Moore said he’s received “incredible support” from the pilot community and has actually become friends with a few of his victims (“Although there are a few police officers on Camano Island that probably don’t like me very much”). That includes a man who’s plane he stole that he plans to visit in Los Angeles.
“Here’s this man, I stole his airplane and flew it to the Bahamas and the first thing he said to me is, ‘Well, Colt, you can’t drive a car down the highway looking in the rearview mirror,'” he said. “That’s his exact words and I’ll never forget it.”
Harris-Moore says he has a unique perspective on the justice system, refusing to look at it as an adversarial relationship.
“I’ve never viewed the justice system negatively even though I’ve been the subject of the justice system’s attention more than once but it hasn’t developed into this bitter thing and I think for a lot of people it does,” he said.
Harris-Moore says he hears the negative comments, including on Twitter, but that it “doesn’t affect me, per se.” Ever since he was a kid, he said, he’s been able to absorb the good energy and internalize the “bad energy” to make him more dedicated and determined. In that regard, he says he is determined to become a fully certified pilot.
Harris-Moore has been an advocate of Donald Trump’s presidency and explained his position with a bit more depth. He said he preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton, “Because I think this country needs somebody that has strength, intelligence and an understanding and appreciation for money. I think that’s an incredibly important thing.”
“I don’t dislike Hillary Clinton. I’m sure she’s a very nice person … She’s not a heinous person,” he added. “But if it’s choice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, given the state of this country, and we’re not in a good position right now, it’s very bad, internationally with trade, the economy, infrastructure, taxes, on and on. This country needs Donald Trump, it’s as simple as that.”
‘I’ve always felt … I’m not gonna live very long
Harris-Moore says he splits his life into four categories: childhood, fugitive, jail and, now, adulthood. He says “everything in my life orbits the future.” That future, though, is always fleeting in his mind.
“I’ve always felt, ever since I was a little kid that I’m not gonna live very long,” he said. “I’ve always had that sense that I’m not going to live into my 60s or 70s or 80s and that’s probably where I get this full-throttle attitude, or subconscious, whatever you want to call it because I don’t feel like I’m going to live very long and so there is this attempt to have as intensive of an experience as possible. To live life, whatever that means.”
Harris-Moore said his law-breaking days are behind him — except maybe for some speeding tickets.
“Breaking the law is not something I’ll ever do again but I did it,” he said. “And it’s in the past and it’s part of my past and it adds color and dimension to things and was it exciting? It was very exciting and it made me who I am today. And I would like to think or have people see that I’m not this heinous person. And given that I committed all of these crimes it’s in the past. I’ll probably get a lot of, you know, speeding tickets.”
Harris-Moore admits to being addicted to the adrenaline he experienced during his days on the run and plans to replace that rush without resorting to crime.
“I intend on doing that by founding my own company and, again, building things that have never been built,” he said. “There are a lot of things in the aviation industry that nobody’s doing and that’s because it’s this vast network of bureaucratic companies that don’t see the full scope of what’s possible. They don’t see the full spectrum of what they can do. It’s the same old thing decade after decade. And that’s the one thing you never want to get me started on is the state of the aerospace industry because it’s a total disaster.”
The big question: Why?
Harris-Moore couldn’t exactly explain why he committed so many crimes. Boredom? Maybe. But he says he has learned a few things about himself along the way.
“No matter what I’m involved with, I’ll take it full throttle and dedicate myself very intensely and exclusively, if I can, to that thing. And if that was being a fugitive, then that’s what it turned into. But now it’s my career, it’s my freedom,” he said. “It’s like I woke up at 25 years old and now I’m in the downtown of a major city and I have all these things, all these possibilities flying around, no pun intended.”
He said he didn’t turn himself in because he truly feels like he was on a “spiritual journey.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it a spiritual journey when I was 17 or 18, I just knew that I was on something that would matter for some reason and I didn’t want to end that prematurely,” he said.
Despite the current uncertainty and “chaos” he said he is grateful and “in a lot of ways I’m happy with how things unraveled or happened, played out.” Most notably, that he is still alive.
“There is no other life that I would want and I’m happy with the person I’ve become,” he said. “I’m proud of how far things have come and it could be totally different. It really could be totally different. … Not too many people come out the other end still looking at what I’m looking at.”