Over the summer I was contacted by a filmmaker named Eric Hayden, who had heard me on a podcast (Rumor Flies) talking about my book, American Madness. He got a copy and read it and then messaged me, asking if I’d thought about adapting the book into a documentary. I told him I had always believed that the book would adapt well into that format.
There were a couple things that made me want to work with Eric (and his wife, Kim).
One was that he had read the book and understood it. That might seem like a low bar, but over the past ten years or so I’ve talked to plenty of reality show jokers and other people with film projects who want me in on something they’re developing who haven’t read my stuff. At best they are wasting my time (and their own). At worst, they are hoping that I hand over my research and/or contacts to a fringe group of people for little to nothing in return. Eric was offering to have me be involved each step of the way, something very much appreciated by me.
Second– Eric’s background is not in documentary filming but mostly video effects (though he does have directing and writing credits), however in looking at his impressive resume it was clear to me that he built his career by being hard-working, innovative, and talented. Some of the films he’s worked on include Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, Deadwood: The Movie (Eric’s team was nominated for a video effects Emmy for that one), and many more. Most recently, he’s been a video effects supervisor on The Orville.
So after some discussion, we agreed to start working on this documentary with myself, Kim and Eric producing, Eric directing, and me helping set up interviews. The first day of shooting was July 31 and was an extended interview with me here in Milwaukee. Since then, we’ve been working slowly but steadily to arrange interviews, dig up materials, and plan the direction of the documentary. We’re in contact almost every day– today, for example, me and Eric have been texting about how the tragic death on the set of a movie starring Alec Baldwin is ripe for a quickly developing conspiracy around it.
Earlier this month, we decided to spend a few days interviewing in Northern California and LA. It was a great, productive trip. Here’s some notes on what we did. If you don’t know what the Bohemian Grove or Richard McCaslin is, you should read my book American Madness.
I arrived in San Francisco on October 7 and spent the next day, Friday, relaxing. I met my friend Elizabeth for lunch, she had moved from Milwaukee to San Francisco many years ago. Saturday, Oct. 9 was the longest day of shooting interviews. We started out by talking to “Anonymous Grove Valet,” someone who had worked in one of the Bohemian Grove camps for over ten summers as a “valet,” an all purpose job of cooking, pouring drinks, cleaning, helping with luggage, etc. We wanted to find out what this person did or did not see in the Grove and what the clientele was like.
From there we headed to Superhero Desserts (1449 Webster St.) in Alameda, a bakery operated by Real-life Superhero members of the California Initiative. I first met Rock N Roll and Night Bug ten years ago at an RLSH event called HOPE in 2011. Def some of the favorite people I’ve met in that movement, I’ve several times cited them as doing the RLSH the “right” way. And so cool that they’ve opened their bakery business, a portion of proceeds going to their food/supply handouts to the unhoused. Rock and Bug also met Richard McCaslin in passing a couple times. It was great to see them and my only regret, as always, was not having more time.
From Superhero Desserts, we ventured further north to visit Mary Moore. Mary is a longtime activist and one of the founders of the Bohemian Grove Action Network. For decades, she helped organize a group of activists who gathered outside the gates of the Bohemian Grove every summer to protest. BGAN was also key in sneaking undercover reporters into the Grove and extracting documents and pictures out (by Grove employees). I interviewed her by phone for American Madness, but slowly cruising up a windy, narrow mountain road to visit her cottages in the Redwood forest was quite an experience. Now in her 80s, Mary showed us around her incredible collection of research and I’m so glad we got to visit and get an interview with her. Mary lives just a few miles down the road from the Grove, so we of course had to visit. We didn’t attempt to trespass, but shot some footage in the area.
The next day, on Sunday, we interviewed Don Eichelberger, another BGAN founder, in front of the Bohemian Club in downtown San Francisco, then began the long drive down to the Los Angeles area. Once there, the Haydens were incredibly hospitable towards me, letting me stay in their guest room. We shot an interview with Dave Baker and Andrew Price, comic book writers and hosts of the Deep Cuts podcast, who were able to give insight on comic book aesthetics and conspiracy problems (they are currently unrolling a massive Deep Cuts series on QAnon, listen here: deepcutspod.com). We had another meeting, then I flew home.
There’s still much to do on the documentary, including work on reenactments and interviews in other cities. For now, we’re catching up on the many hours of interviews that were already filmed. I’ll update periodically as production moves forward. And next week I’ll talk about ANOTHER (but smaller scoped) documentary short project I’m working on about local horror hosts. Fun stuff!
Tea’s Weird Week, S3 ep 05: Denver Airport Conspiracy: On my way home from California, I transferred at Denver International, a notorious hub of conspiracy. I spoke to my Denver friend Jenny Sanchez (Long Days Travel) about how these conspiracies spun. Me and my co-host Heidi Erickson discussed weird news about the Not Deer, an unemployed wizard, the country’s fattest pumpkin, the Zodiac Killer, and more. Plus trivia with Miss Information, and we close out with a track by Jon Henry, “Chicken Little.”
Listen here: Tea‘s Weird Week S3 ep05: Denver Airport Conspiracy (podbean.com)
Spotify//Soundcloud//Google Podcasts//iHeartRadio//PlayerFM//Apple//Stitcher//Pocket Casts
Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers (2019, Chicago Review Press)
Wisconsin Legends & Lore (2020, History Press)
If you’re new to Tea’s Weird Week, well, hi, my name is Tea. I’ve written 5 published books to date. My first was titled Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement. As the subtitle applies, it’s a dive into the Real Life Superhero (or “RLSH”) movement or subculture. It was an incredible adventure– I traveled around the country to meet RLSH on their home turf to join them on patrols, charity events, and humanitarian missions. I had some wonderful moments as well as some terrifying ones. I met some cool, interesting people, some that I’m still in contact with today (and I’ve met some new RLSH since). I began work on the book in 2009– in addition to trying to figure out just what this whole RLSH thing was all about, I was also figuring out how to write a book. I sold the book and turned my manuscript in to Chicago Review Press in 2012 and it was published in 2013.
One memorable RLSH I met was Denise Masino aka Miss Fit. I met her at an RLSH meet-up in San Diego in 2011 called HOPE. I loved her story because it smashed the whole “RLSH are all nerdy Caucasian virgin LARPers” misconception that floated around the snarky corners of the Internet. Miss Fit is a Brooklynite (via Puerto Rico), professional bodybuilder, model and erotic entertainer, athlete, and a RLSH with a charitable mission.
During some downtime at HOPE, I had a chance to talk with Denise, and I thought it might be fun to arm wrestle her–I don’t know, I thought it might be good material for the book. But we quickly found out this was a mismatch because Miss Fit has short but very muscular arms– those pythons ain’t no joke– whereas I, on the other hand, have long, gangly arms like a tree branch. We called it a draw, but I’m sure she would have won and was just doing me a kindness.
I thought of her being a good Tea’s Weird Week guest because she recently had a documentary about her, The Adventures of Miss Fit, re-cut into a web series.
Here’s what’s really great about Miss Fit, though: every year since I first met her ten years ago, Denise has led the Miss Fits 4 Life, a superhero themed league that raises money for a great cause, St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital. The team solicits donations leading up to them entering a warrior dash obstacle course race– it’s a pretty intense one with wall climbing, plenty of mud, and a little bit of barbed wire. It’s all for a good cause and the Miss Fits 4 Life have been amazing at fundraising. This year they are hoping the team will be passing the $200,000 mark for fundraising over the last decade– not bad for a rogue bunch of heroes!
You can help the heroes make their goal this year– the best way to stay up to speed is to look for announcements from Miss Fit on how to participate and donate via her YouTube: www.youtube.com/MissFitHero
Please Clap Dept.: I’m honored to say that last week I was awarded a gold Excellence in Journalism Award by the Milwaukee Press Club. You can read more about how the article shook down as well as a link to the article and an audio file of me reading it here: https://teakrulos.com/2021/05/22/i-won-a-gold-milwaukee-press-club-excellence-in-journalism-award/
Tea’s Weird Week podcast, Season 2, Episode 2: Hear my interview with Miss Fit, plus me and Heidi talk about citizen journalists, revisit upcoming UFO disclosure, and talk about another Real-life Superhero, ShadowVision, who claims he is “hunting” a serial killer in Little Rock. Plus we close out with an appropriate song for the episode– “Hero,” performed by one of Miss Fit’s RLSH friends, Rock N Roll of the California Initiative!
Check out my books:
Richard McCaslin died two years ago today. I wrote about his life in detail in my book American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness. I realized he never received an obituary. I wrote one for him here.
RICHARD WILSON MCCASLIN was born to Ned and Elsie McCaslin on June 20, 1964 in Zanesville, Ohio. He was a Marine, Real-Life Superhero, stuntman, activist, and artist. Richard developed a passion for superhero comics when he was a kid and this interest in comic book mythology would shape the direction of his life. Richard was an honors student in high school and after he graduated, he served with the United States Marine Corps from 1982 to 1985, and was honorably discharged.
After he returned home, Richard bounced between Zanesville and wandering the country for several years, looking for a career that would utilize his talents and creative power. His hobbies included illustrating his own comic adventures and designing costumes based off his favorite characters– photos of him in these costumes appeared in comic book letters pages and in the quintessential magazine devoted to comic news, Wizard. In 1987, he attended the Kim Kahana Stunt School in Chatsworth, California, hoping to find a career in stuntwork. Nothing panned out in that field at first, but in 1996 and 97, he got to play one of his childhood heroes, Batman, in a stunt show at Six Flags Astroworld (in Houston).
Around this same time in the late 90s and early 2000s, Richard went through a tough time, losing both his parents and struggling to make connections and a career. He moved to Austin, where he created his own superhero persona, the Phantom Patriot, and moved briefly to Carson City before he stormed a place called the Bohemian Grove in California. He had seen a video created by conspiracy theory peddler Alex Jones (of InfoWars) that suggested a cabal of powerful men were sacrificing people, possibly children, in front of a statue of an owl inside of the retreat.
Richard was arrested at the Bohemian Grove and charged with five felonies. After his raid, Richard was called “crazy” and a “domestic terrorist,” but I’d like to note that he acted on faulty information and believed he would be rescuing people that were in danger. There were multiple times inside the Bohemian Grove that he could have shot someone, but he didn’t. Richard spent about 6 and a half years in prison, where he channeled his creative side by drawing a comic book that included an autobiographical account of his Bohemian Grove raid.
Upon his parole ending in 2011, Richard exercised his free speech rights by conducting peaceful protests, including a tour where he traveled coast-to-coast, protesting and seeing the country through his eyes. He conducted a protest in front of the Bohemian Club (which owns the Bohemian Grove) in downtown San Francisco in 2012. He moved to Las Vegas and then out to Pahrump, Nevada, where he finally settled down in a place he could call home. He lived a quiet life there, working with Las Vegas Motion Pictures to produce videos that showcased his creative talents, and regularly traveled to Las Vegas to protest and, of course, buy comic books.
His videos can be seen on his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTSuMTR4SI1AZyEBt8WGIfA
I think it’s fair to say that the people that Richard befriended didn’t agree with or necessarily even understand his views. But no one that met him will forget him, and he made our lives more interesting and gave us plenty to think about. Few people got to see the side of Richard that was a caring, concerned, loyal friend.
In October of 2018 Richard traveled from Pahrump to Washington DC, choosing to take his life in his truck, parked outside of a Freemason temple. He died October 15. A small memorial took place on his property with friends and neighbors in November 2019. I hope Richard has found peace from the things that troubled him in his voyage here on Earth.
It’s been awhile since I posted a reading list (last one was in January) so I’m taking a break from conspiracy theory this week to talk about 3 titles I’ve read recently and 3 I hope to read soon, all non-fiction titles. Any time is a great time to read, but I suppose I have a particularly romantic vision of reading in fall. Tomorrow is my birthday– I don’t have any strange birthday adventures planned, but I do plan on reading and relaxing a bit. Click on the highlighted titles below to find links to them at Bookshop.org.
Read it, loved it
When I first heard about this book, I was a bit like “well, been there, done that,” as I wrote a book about Real-Life Superheroes in 2013 titled Heroes in the Night. I’m glad I read the book– Nowak does a first rate job telling this story. There’s some familiar names and history to those who know RLSH, but Nowak explored some fresh angles as well. I really enjoyed reading about a Superman tulpa, African interpretations of superheroes, and really great material on the Guardian Angels, as well as reading about teams I never got around to meeting.
Nowak presents an engaging book that explores comic book (and vigilante) history and ends up on street level with the Real-Life Superheroes in San Diego, Chicago, Orlando and beyond. It’s an accurate portrait of a fascinating, colorful, and timely subculture.
In American Madness, I wrote about the history and evolution of conspiracy theory, using a man named Richard McCaslin’s life story to talk about these themes. Darby has written an excellent book that tells the story of three women and their lives in the white power/ Alt-Right movements, and by extension a history and examination of who these people are. I read the entire book with much interest– it moves along without getting bogged down but is also informative. It’s frightening and disturbing– but it’s something we need to be informed on.
Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made by Steve Miller
Someday you’ll find out why I’m reading up on Juggalos, but for now I’ll just say that this is a good portrait of the Insane Clown Posse and their following, and very much my style– honest but not condescending, a great story of outsiders banding together. Will you be “down with the clown” after the book? Maybe.
Throw on the “To-Read” Pile
Earth A.D. The Poisoning of the American Landscape and the Communities That Fought Back by Michael Lee Nirenberg
One reason I was thrilled to have American Madness published with Feral House is that all of the books in their catalog are interesting, if not completely fascinating. Nirenberg’s book, about citizens that live in toxic zones fighting back, came out around the same time as mine and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump by Edwin L. Battistella
Edwin interviewed me for his website, Literary Ashland and after I was introduced to him I found he had written this book which looks like a fun history of insulting Presidents, including that polyester cockwomble bawbag fucknugget leather-faced shit-tobbaganist Trump (those insults were all lifted from Scottish Twitter, btw)
Sinister Swamps: Monsters and Mysteries from the Mire by Lyle Blackburn
Blackburn narrated my book trailer for American Madness (you can see it at the end of this post) and is just a cool guy– he’s in a hellbilly band called Ghoultown, narrates documentaries for Small Town Monsters, and has authored several books about cryptozoology cases of the south– I’ve read his books on the Beast of Boggy Creek and the Bishopville Lizard Man, which were both great, so I’m looking forward to Sinister Swamps. You can find it on his website: lyleblackburn.com
Oh yeah, please do read my book, too: American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness has been getting great reviews and is available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop.org
First, I like to remember that there’s always new readers, so here’s a short intro– my name is Tea, and in 2009 I ran into a story that forever changed my life. I’ve always been fascinated by subcultures, and the “underground,” and I found a report of a movement of people that adopted their own comic book style personas and called themselves “Real-life Superheroes.” I wrote a magazine article about a RLSH here in the Milwaukee area named The Watchman and thought there was a bigger story so I traveled around the country, met about 100 RLSH, went on patrols, did research, interviews, had some strange moments, got punched in the face, and met a lot of cool people I’m still friends with today.
The result of all this was my first book, Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real-Life Superhero Movement (2013, Chicago Review Press). There’s also a brief revisit to the RLSH (and a man who called himself the Phantom Patriot) in my new book American Madness (Aug. 25, Feral House).
I’m currently working on a research project that studies subcultures/social movements in the year 2020 and their responses to topical issues. That’s about all I can say about it right now. I’m not trying to be mysterious (or am I?) I’m just not sure what the final form of this project will be yet.
A logical place for me to start with this was the RLSH community, where I already had connections. Word of the study was spread on my Heroes in the Night News Facebook page. Many RLSH shared it on Facebook and on a RLSH thread on Reddit.
There were 56 responses, which I believe is a good sample size for this movement. It’s unknown exactly how many active RLSH there are– it isn’t like a club where people pay membership dues, anyone can say they are a RLSH, and people often disappear into the night (or the Internet).
I asked three RLSH I thought would have good insight for their estimate on active RLSH. Rock N Roll, one of the organizers of the multi-city Initiative teams says “maybe 100.” Discordia, who runs the site RLSH News places it slightly higher at around “120-140” or up to “200 if being generous.” And Razorhawk, a well connected RLSH, puts the range “between 100-200.”
My goal was to ask about topical subjects– the 2020 election, Black Lives Matter, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Polling is useful to see if a group leans strongly one direction or another on issues or if they’re split.
The “RLSH 2020 Survey” was 10 questions long. Questions 1-3 asked for name, city (or cities) they were active in, and any team affiliation.
Florida and California led with participants with 8 and St. Petersburg led the count by city with 6. There were 5 from Texas and Oregon, 4 from Seattle and 3 each from Illinois, Tennessee, and New York City. 15 other states had 1-2 representatives.
Several teams were represented, with the most coming from various branches of the Initiative and the Xtreme Justice League, followed by Bay Coast Guardians (St. Petersburg), ECHO (Seattle), PATCH (Chicago), and Firebirds (Dallas). Update– I’ve been informed that Bay Coast Guardians and Firebirds are divisions of the XJL.
Q4: Asked what activities RLSH engaged in. Participants were allowed to choose more than one answer. The results:
Homeless outreach: 50.88%
Patrols and Outreach: 66.67%
Q5: Asked who RLSH had voted for in 2016. My main reason for including this was to see if there had been any major shift in the community from 2016 to 2020. RLSH respoded:
Clinton: 35.85% (19)
3rd Party: 30.19% (16)
Not eligible: 18.87% (10)
Didn’t want to: 5.66% (3)
3 skipped the question
Q6: See chart below. More than one answer was allowed.
Worst: 49.09% Bad/Bad: 49.09%
Bad person/good president: 3.64% Good person/bad president: 1.82%
Good/Good: 1.82% Best: 1.82% Mixed feelings: 9.09%
Q7: Who will RLSH vote for in November?
Interesting in that after Biden (47.17%), 3rd Party candidates came in second (33.96%), similar to results from the 2016 election. I should have specified this more. If any RLSH are reading this and voting 3rd Party, please comment on this blog post to tell us if you’re voting Green, Libertarian, or something else, I’m curious to know. Trump got 5.66% and 15.09% said they are not voting, though I didn’t ask specifically if that was because they were ineligible or didn’t want to.
A clear majority here– 83.93% of RLSH support Black Lives Matter, 5.36% (3 respondents) said they prefer the term “All Live Matter,” 1 respondent said they were indifferent, and 8.93% (5 respondents) said none of the answers above reflected their feelings.
Another clear majority and perhaps not surprising as many RLSH wear a mask for long periods of time, sometimes while they’re running through alleyways. 91.07% said people should wear masks to prevent COVID while 8.93% said people should choose whether or not they want to.
When I first started interviewing RLSH in 2009, they would often tell me that RLSH shouldn’t “be political” and I noted several cases where RLSH from extremely different backgrounds and belief systems worked together on various efforts.
But that was a different time. This answer was split Yes: 23.21% No: 28.57% Depends: 53.57%
Thank you to all RLSH who participated. I’m keeping the info on who partook confidential, but one was Superhero of Clearwater, Florida, who took the survey just a three days before he died. You can read my obituary of him here: teakrulos.com/2020/07/20/death-of-a-superhero/
And please support the fundraiser in his honor here: www.gofundme.com/f/old-superhero
There is a giveaway for FREE copies of my book American Madness on Goodreads, open through Aug. 10. You can enter here: www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/309615-american-madness-the-story-of-the-phantom-patriot-and-how-conspiracy-th
It’s available at Lion’s Tooth: www.lionstoothmke.com/american_madness.html#/
Bookshop.org: CLICK HERE
and wherever books are sold.
Imagine this– your car has run out of gas and you’re sitting stranded on the side of the hot Florida highway. You’re cursing out your bad luck when a corvette pulls up and a man clad in bright red, yellow, and blue spandex jumps out. He has a weightlifter’s physique and a bald head shining in the Florida sun.
He waves and smiles and says “need a hand?!” You stare in disbelief, thinking maybe you’re hallucinating in the heat. But the next thing you know, you’re sitting in the passenger seat of the Supermobile so you can fill a gas can up. He tells you his name is simply “Superhero.” He drops you off and waves cheerfully as he cruises away– all in a day’s work.
Dale Pople, to those who knew him, was “Super Hero,” or as he called himself in later years, “Old Superhero.” He was a well-known member of the Real-Life Superhero (or RLSH) community. He took his life this week at age 52.
He “didn’t grow up in the best of households,” was abused by his parents, and was harassed by bullies, so young Dale found escapism in the worlds of superhero comics and sci-fi. He joined the Navy, went to police academy, attempted a wrestling career, then found a job in television broadcasting. But the biggest part of his life was his adventures as the larger-than-life Superhero.
When I first began working on my book Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real-Life Superhero Movement, Superhero was one of the first people I got in contact with. He was always helpful to me and I found him refreshingly honest and candid in talking about his motivations. He didn’t have some phony Batman origin story or tall tales in his patrol log– he was, he said, simply a guy who liked dressing up as a superhero to drive around and see if he could help the people in his community in Clearwater, Florida. He didn’t need a costume to help old ladies with their groceries or to help change a flat tire, but Superhero was his identity.
I wrote about Superhero in Heroes in the Night in a chapter titled “Early Prototypes,” which talked about my research into RLSH that were active prior to the community developing on message boards around 2005. Superhero had adopted his persona in 1998, though originally it was a wrestling persona. An injury cut his wrestling career short, but he next used the identity as a character in a pilot for a potential TV show, which was to be a fun, campy take similar to one of his favorite shows– the 1960s Batman starring Adam West.
Other interests of Superhero included Godzilla (he had an impressive collection of toys), Star Trek, the film Logan’s Run, wrestling, true crime, and classic comics of the Golden and Silver age. He also loved spending time at the gym, where he met his wife, who would later be dubbed Lady Hero.
When the RLSH community began to develop in the mid-2000s, he was thrilled to find a like-minded group of people. He was incredibly supportive of his fellow RLSH and their endeavors. One of Superhero’s hobbies was to make custom action figures of the RLSH, carefully hand-painting the details. He enthusiastically took on his role in this movement of colorfully clad people by going on patrols, handing out supplies to the homeless, helping organize an annual toy drive, and other charitable work. In 2010, he helped create a milestone– his team of Florida based RLSH, Team Justice, became the first team to get non-profit status.
Superhero was often recommended as a media representative for the RLSH community and it’s easy to see why. With his broadcasting experience he was well spoken, charismatic, and had, as I described in Heroes, a “booming radio announcer voice.” He knew how to work the camera and give the RLSH story a good narrative. He was featured in the HBO documentary Superheroes, as well as The Adventures of Miss Fit, and a wonderful, award winning short documentary that focused on him titled Portrait of a Superhero. I included the video at the end of this post.
I met Superhero in 2011 at the HOPE charity event in 2011 in San Diego. It was a great experience. I joined in and helped RLSH hand out a couple trucks worth of supplies to San Diego’s homeless population. Here’s an excerpt from Heroes in the Night, from the last chapter, “An Age of Heroes?” I described how I was in a truck helping to hand out food as a large group of homeless people gathered around it.
When the action died down for a moment, I stepped outside of the truck to get some air and check out the scene. It was surreal, but moving. Thanatos had his hand on a homeless man’s shoulder. The man had a bushy beard and was missing several teeth. The two of them were laughing and talking about the old Adam West Batman show. DC’s Guardian was in the street. Such a large crowd had showed up that he was worried it was a safety hazard, so he stood in the street, expertly directing traffic. Across the street, Superhero was instructing people to form an orderly assembly while Mr. Xtreme, Vigilante Spider, and Miss Fit helped hand out the backpacks and sleeping bags.
These people could have done anything with their summer vacations. They could have spent their time less than a mile away, where Comic Con was in full swing. But they chose to come here, sweat profusely under their spandex costumes, and work as a team handing out supplies to San Diego’s homeless population.
We did end up stopping by Comic Con later, where I have fond memories of sitting next to Superhero during the premiere of the aforementioned Superheroes documentary at the con and talking to him at the after party. I still remember his infectious laugh filling the room.
But behind that gleaming smile and brightly colored spandex, Superhero was struggling with some dark issues of depression. Be mindful that sometimes people who are so enthusiastic about helping others and making them happy are sometimes deeply suffering on the inside. Superhero wanted to save others, but he couldn’t save himself.
In a short, final Facebook video this past weekend, Superhero referenced following in the footsteps of his childhood hero, George Reeves, who played Superman on TV in the 1950s. Reeves was found dead in 1959, and police ruled that a gunshot to the head was a suicide. It’s a difficult video to see. Dressed in his Superhero costume (or “gimmick” as he called it), he is clearly shaken and overcome by what he knows will happen next.
“You know there was a time when I wasn’t too comfortable being Superhero,” he says to the camera. “But looking back at it, if I could have been somebody that made so many people happy and inspired so many people to do good– then he really wasn’t such a bad guy at the end of the day. He was all I was really good at being anyway,” Superhero says, shaking his head and giving his laugh one last time. “So until next time, it’s Superhero and– you know what to do!” That last sentence was his catchphrase.
In scrolling through my messenger with Superhero, I found I hadn’t talked to him directly recently, but found this message he sent after he had answered my final round of questions while working on Heroes.
“Looking forward to buying (the book)!” He replied to me. “You’ve been working on it for years. Anytime you want a patrol in the Supermobile, lemme know. If you’ll fit….you’re tall.”
That is one ride I would have loved to have taken with him, even if it meant that my knees were squished.
A couple important things I’d like to share:
—You know what to do! RLSH have organized a fundraiser to help with Superhero’s final mission. The fundraiser reads:
In Memorium of our friend Dale Pople, AKA “SUPERHERO”, we continue his final mission in helping the Pinellas Park, FL facility ‘Family Resources’, an agency dedicated to crisis counseling, safe shelter and safe respite for runaway teens, and notably at-risk LGBTQ teens.
Here’s the link, please donate and share: www.gofundme.com/f/old-superhero
–We are living in very challenging times, which only adds to the stress people dealing with depression are feeling. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone.
The Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK(8255) and their website is here: suicidepreventionlifeline.org
You can watch Portrait of a Superhero directed by Tony Armer below, and see our friend Superhero in action.
Rest in Peace.
Tea Krulos is the author of Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real-life Superhero Movement and American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness
This is a call for participants for anyone who identifies as part of the Real Life Superhero (RLSH) subculture/ movement who is eligible to vote in the U.S. in 2020. I’m conducting a short survey that acts as a census to see what states/ teams are still active as well some questions about the year 2020– the presidential election, COVID, and Black Lives Matter.
The survey is just 10 questions, most multiple choice, and takes about 2 minutes to complete. The participants will be kept anonymous– only the data results will be shared. The data will be used in a report on this website and potentially in a future book that is a sociological study of subcultures.
This survey will be open through August 1, 2020. Any questions can be addressed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Z5NB2MF
Please help spread the word if you can and thanks for a participating!
–Tea Krulos, author, Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real-Life Superhero Movement
I made a somewhat impromptu decision to spend the 4th of July weekend in Seattle. I’m working on a writing project (I’ll tell you about it in the future), and it was kind of irresistible to pass up a chance to explore the former Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), which was re-branded as Capitol Hill Organized (or Occupied, depending on who you talk to) Protest zone (CHOP). What better place to spend the holiday?
On June 8, protesters drove the Seattle Police Department out of their East Precinct and claimed a six block area (with the East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park as the center) as a “cop-free zone.” After that, “Free Capitol Hill” was held down to various results. Some described it as a summer of love street fest and others an anarchist warzone. The truth is, according to various people I interviewed, more complex than a quick label allows.
After a fatal shooting in the CHOP, a battalion of police and city workers opened it up and cleared protesters out early in the morning July 1, arresting anyone who resisted, removing tents and barricades.
Police kept everyone but residents out for a couple days after that, setting up a perimeter around the entire zone, giving the area the new nickname POOCH (Police Officer Occupied Capitol Hill). I wasn’t sure what I’d find, post-CHOP, but I thought it was worthwhile to go out and see the terrain and interview a few people.
On Friday night, after a long day of wandering around Capitol Hill I met up with some Real-life Superheroes (RLSH). This is, if you didn’t know, an extremely familiar topic to me. My first book, Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real-life Superhero Movement (Chicago Review Press, 2013) was a thorough look at this adventurous lifestyle. My upcoming book American Madness revisits the subculture briefly, too. I was particularly interested to talk to the Emerald City Heroes Organization (ECHO) because they had been spending a lot of patrol time in the CHOP.
My wildest moment over the weekend was observing the clash between a “patriot march” of the Alt-Right. They had proclaimed that “thousands” would be descending to dismantle the CHOP, but after police cleared they area, they said they would perform a “victory lap.” In reality, about 30 showed, including former Proud Boys, a group called Patriot Prayer, militia-types, and at least one openly showing off Nazi tattoos.
I’ll write in detail about what happened in the future, but the short version is Antifa, protesters, and Cap Hill residents chased the group out of town. Police broke up the conflicting sides at the beginning, but at some point just disappeared. The Alt-Right group tried to deter the protesters chasing them down by spraying clouds of bear mace into the street (several Cap Hill residents sitting on their porches got sprayed and joined in angry pursuit). I caught a good whiff of it. They would spray a huge cloud and then when protesters caught up with them again, they’d spray again– they did this 4 or 5 times (one time it backfired when the wind changed direction and they sprayed themselves).
Last time I was in Seattle (in 2011), by the way, I was following RLSH Phoenix Jones and witnessed an event called the “Pepper Spray Incident,” which I wrote about in Heroes in the Night. I guess every time I go to Seattle, I get a taste of pepper spray!
Eventually police reappeared and gave the Alt-Right enough of a buffer to escape.
Converge Media is an independent news site based in Cap Hill and are out livestreaming protests and other actions every day. You can see their footage of the first part of the protest (keep an eye out for me– big, tall guy in a green Milwaukee Record shirt and black Fuel Cafe baseball hat) here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1022231294913417
The last day I ventured into the CHOP area was Sunday. It was a beautiful afternoon and I ran into several tourists to the CHOP taking pictures of the remaining graffiti, trying to capture this moment of Seattle history.
Here’s a couple random shots I took:
And here’s a postcard I designed for you:
My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: Lion’s Tooth: CLICK HERE Bookshop.org: CLICK HERE Amazon:CLICK HERE
It’s on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52486773-american-madness
“Tea Krulos has forged a fascinating collection of work by immersing himself in various sub-cultures that exist on the fringes of society.” —Cult of Weird
Tea’s Weird Week started as an outlet to write about whatever I wanted to once a week, engage readers, and promote stuff I’m working on– books, articles, events. In this year of crazy 2020, I’ve mostly been writing about “conspiracy theories in the news.” I have a book out in August titled American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness and quite a few people I wrote about have big in 2020: Alex Jones (most recently for leading an anti-quarantine protest in Austin), David Icke (“5G is Coronavirus”), Roger Stone (“Bill Gates is Coronavirus”), QAnon, and Anti-vaxxers have all been in the news this month.
There are new conspiracy stories in the news every day, but I thought I would take a break from analyzing them this week and answer my friend’s questions, solicited through social media. Here’s answers about anti-quarantine protests, doomsday bunkers, cryptozoology, and more.
Real talk. I know you’re all about the absurd and crazy shit. I just gotta know because I care about you- are you planning on going to one of these wingnut anti-stay-at-home/ pro-plague rallies to document? Because, if so, please be safe friend. This is obviously not an encouragement to go be a journalist at one of those. I’m just saying, if you do, be safe as fuck. Also please live long enough to get your own Netflix special because I know you’re capable of that.–Concerned
First, thanks for caring about me. Your message has reminded me that I should be spending some of my spare time messaging people to check in.
Here’s the thing– I really enjoy writing about things that I am enjoy and am genuinely interested in. I have become friends with a lot of people I write about. But sometimes I like getting out of my comfort zone and want to observe something I don’t understand up close. Some examples of this would be attending one of Bob Larson’s “exorcism seminars” for my book Monster Hunters, attending an anti-vaxxer rally and flat earth conference for my book American Madness and most recently, attending a Trump rally (in January, I wrote it up for the Shepherd Express.)
I’m going to sit this one out. I’m processing enough crazy stuff as it is. Watching a bunch of MAGA-hat wearin,’ Gadsen flag wavin’, 2A militia types, anti-vaxxers, etc. shouting about how they demand haircuts just ain’t doing it for me. As far as a Netflix special– as long as I don’t end up getting eaten by a tiger, I’m in!
Any thoughts on those fallout type shelters/bunkers at the moment? Or if you know if people are using theirs in the face of pandemic? Just curious and interested in what qualifies those who own space in one to activate its use. –Aims
I think Aims is referring to the Survival Condos, which I toured with my friend Paul while working on a chapter (“Doomsday Bunkers of the Rich and Famous”) for my book Apocalypse Any Day Now. Built into an old Atlas missile silo in Kansas (with more being developed), the building featured several condo units (all sold) and recreation levels.
One thing we were told is that the condo owners had access whenever they wanted. There had recently been a football watching party, and owners would sometimes “vacation” there. As such, it’s possible that the owners could ride out the entire pandemic there if they wanted, and it certainly would be the ultimate quarantine.
What’s one conspiracy that most others find false; but, you kinda believe in?— Mando
I’m skeptical about most conspiracies, but I think it’s worth noting that some stuff that seems like conspiracy later turns out to be true. I talk about a few of those in American Madness, the CIA’s Project MK-ultra (a mind control program) being one one quick example. The most believable conspiracy to me is that there has been some kind of UFO cover-up. I don’t mean necessarily extra-terrestrial, but some secret program. There’s just so many compelling UFO cases, I think something is going on. The truth is out there (winking emoticon).
What was really normal, too normal, about one of your subjects that you researched?–Addo
I really love those moments. In my book Heroes in the Night I shared a funny story about how me and Real Life Superhero The Watchman got lost and couldn’t find his car in a parking garage. It was humorously mundane. A lot of Real Life Superheroes were pretty normal outside of their secret lifestyle, as were a lot of paranormal investigators.
One of the major stories I tell in American Madness is that of conspiracist Richard McCaslin. He told me some of the most wild ideas I’ve ever heard– Reptilian aliens secretly controlling our world, Satanists eating babies, all sorts of crazy and terrible things.
Meeting him in person several times, I found I got along with him pretty well and he was friendly and could be oddly normal. I visited him at his house and I remember walking into his kitchen to find him drinking orange juice and laughing as he watched some baby jackrabbits chase each other around his yard in what seemed like a game of tag. It was the first time he said “you gotta see this!” and wasn’t referring to some Illuminati code he had cracked.
Do you have a favorite cryptid?— Matt …and have you ever had a personal experience with one or saw one?— Lynn
If you don’t know, cryptids are creatures studied in cryptozoology. I’ve not had a cryptid encounter myself, but while working on Monster Hunters, I did go on expeditions looking for Sasquatch, a Lake Monster (“Champ” of Lake Champlain), a Skunk Ape, went to the Mothman Festival, and took a ride down Bray Road looking for the Beast. It was all really fun and interesting, I love cryptozoology. I’m working on a writing project about Mothman. I love ’em all, but because of this project, I’m going to declare Mothman as my favorite cryptid, a close second would be Chupacabras.
Would you want to have a really scary experience (alien abduction, possession, angry ghost) just to prove to yourself that it was real? What, if any, would be “too much”?— Judy
When faced with a tough question like this, I try to break it down. On the one hand, it would be pretty intensely transformative to have an experience like that, to witness a deep mystery of the universe. On the other hand, most people wouldn’t believe me anyway, and I know of several cases where people experienced stuff like this (or thought they did) and it damaged them forever. Final conclusion: I’d rather keep it a mystery. I enjoy not knowing.
Of all the people/things you interviewed or investigated was there any thing that you felt you were getting too deep into, or anything that you felt was getting too dangerous or did you fear for your life?— Gregory
The one things that stands out is the crazy night I spent on patrol with Real-Life Superhero Phoenix Jones while working on my book Heroes in the Night. He had pepper-sprayed a group of people that were fighting and they got angry and attacked us. I got punched in the face. At one point it looked like they were trying to get a gun. Then they tried to run us down with an SUV. “I hope this was worth it, cause now you’re going to get murdered,” was definitely a thought that crossed my mind as I was running from the angry, pepper-spray soaked mob. Other experiences– investigating Bobby Mackey’s, a notoriously haunted bar, and diving into some of the conspiracy stuff, has produced frightening moments, but nothing like that.
Thank you all for your questions! I’ll do another “ask me anything” to tie into the release of American Madness in late August or early September– pre-order info below!
Please Clap Dept.: I’ll leave you with some positive vibes– here’s an article I wrote for Milwaukee Magazine on a social distancing nightly dance party: “This Riverwest Neighborhood Dances Every Night at 8.”
My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: CLICK HERE
It’s on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52486773-american-madness
“Having just returned from the grocery store during an official pandemic, I’m reminded to highly recommend Apocalypse Any Day Now, from Tea Krulos, who went way down the doomsday prepper rabbit hole. Fun and unfortunately highly relevant. Do it.” — Brent Gohde, Cedar Block/ Science Strikes Back
My first book, Heroes in the Night, was published in 2013 and was a deep examination of the Real Life Superhero (RLSH) subculture. I’ve had a plan to write a piece sometime in the near future titled “Heroes in the Night: Where Are They Now?” One of the most sensational people I wrote about in the book is an MMA fighter turned RLSH named Benjamin Fodor aka Phoenix Jones, leader of the Rain City Superhero Movement.
Where he is now is in, as Seattle station KOMO News notes, “super trouble.” On November 21 Fodor sold $500 of MDMA (“Molly”) to an undercover cop (who was tipped off that Fodor was dealing) and delivered it to him at a Starbucks. The agent sent Fodor $500 for a second delivery of Molly, but Fodor didn’t deliver. Around the time of this drug deal, Phoenix Jones was active, according to his Twitter, with posts from September-November 2019 saying he was repairing his “super suit,” “mapping and patrol areas and crime reports” in relation to taking out a local gang, and searching for a stolen vehicle.
After Fodor didn’t deliver the second purchase of Molly, the police agent switched tactics and decided to pose as a frisky young woman who wanted to party with Fodor and his girlfriend.
The Seattle Times reports:
Fodor and “Laura” exchanged text messages over three days. At one point, Fodor gave “Laura” his full name and encouraged her to Google him.
“Laura” responded: “OMG I just googled u … Superhero’s are hot lol. You really a superhero?”
Fodor and “Laura” made an arrangement for Fodor to deliver $225 worth of cocaine for a birthday party on January 9, where Fodor and his girlfriend were arrested with four grams of coke. They are scheduled for a court hearing on February 3.
Last I heard, Phoenix Jones was quite pissed off at me. I don’t think he was wrong to feel that way. In 2015, I was a guest on the radio show dedicated to all things strange, Coast-to-Coast AM, with the great George Noory. I was there to talk about my second book, Monster Hunters, but we spent some time talking about Heroes in the Night. I knew I had limited time on the subject, so I decided to roll with talking about one of the most frightening nights of my life– the night of the “Pepper Spray Incident.”
To recap: In October 2011 I voyaged out to Seattle to meet Phoenix Jones. My second night there, I was on patrol with Phoenix Jones, his teammate Ghost, and a videographer named Ryan. We spotted a group of people fighting in the street. Phoenix Jones ran into the midst of the battle and pepper-sprayed the combatants. The scene that followed was pure chaos– an angry woman beat Phoenix repeatedly with a high heel shoe, I was punched in the face by an angry, pepper spray soaked Russian, me and Phoenix were almost run down by angry, pepper spray soaked Russians in an SUV, I was almost arrested with Phoenix Jones (the officer let me go after I explained that I was a writer.)
Phoenix spent the night in jail. The incident was reported around the world and became a joke on Saturday Night Live. I wrote about that night in a chapter of Heroes in the Night titled “People Fighting and Superheroes and Pepper Spray and…I Don’t Know.”
I think Phoenix Jones was angry at me because I chose to share on Coast-to-Coast AM this moment where he had fucked up, a scene where the defender of Seattle caused a scene of dangerous chaos. People running around burning with pepper spray, screaming in Russian, and punching each other made for good radio.
I did not mention the charity events he had organized. I did not mention that he had inspired an entire team of Seattlites to spend their spare time patrolling the Rain City to protect their fellow citizens. I did not talk about how he had placed a car-jacker under citizen’s arrest or how he had dedicated his life to trying to be a superhero and helping people out. I always try to give a fair assessment of people, a nuanced look that talks about their good qualities and bad qualities. A lot of people I write about seem to be a mix of both. On Coast-to-Coast AM, I failed to do that.
Let’s back up for a second. In 2011, 20-year-old Phoenix Jones busts on the scene, energetic about being the world’s greatest superhero. I think he had heart and genuinely wanted to be a hero. But everyone told him he couldn’t.
Phoenix Jones was inspired by the RLSH movement, but found himself aggressively rejected by most of the people he hoped would be his peers. Not only rejected, but some RLSH developed an unhealthy obsession with his downfall. They said he was a liar (I think he embellished or fabricated stories to give him more street cred), a cocky egotist, a sell-out, a scammer. I believe some of this was jealousy over the massive amount of media attention he received, though the media was also not always kind to him. They called him an “idiot weirdo,” and brought up discrepancies in his stories. The police thought he was a pain in the ass. The City Attorney of Seattle dropped the charges against him for the Pepper Spray Incident, but reprimanded him as a “deeply misguided individual.” A loud chorus was calling Phoenix Jones a failure.
It makes me sad to think that all of this rejection possibly led Fodor down the wrong path. If everyone– the RLSH, the authorities, the media is chanting “you are no superhero,” I would think it would wear him down over the 9 years he has tried to do good as Phoenix Jones. Maybe he thought “if that’s what you’re telling me, I’ll just deal drugs instead.” Think of the jaded cops who get worn down and turn dirty, dealing drugs with the same people they are supposed to arrest.
Phoenix Jones, if you ever read this, I want to say that I hope you don’t give up on your dream to be an inspiration– I think you slipped, like most people do at some point in their life (I know I have). You should still strive to be a positive influence– the world needs it.
Sources: “Real-life Superhero ‘Phoenix Jones’ in super trouble, facing drug charges,” KOMO News.
My book Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement, features my adventures with Phoenix Jones and other RLSH. It’s available here: https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/heroes-in-the-night-products-9781613747759.php?page_id=21
My upcoming book American Madness (August 2020, Feral House) also has a Real-Life Superhero tie-in. It tells the story of Richard McCaslin aka the Phantom Patriot, and his descent into conspiracy theory culture. Pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/American-Madness-Conspiracy-Theories-Consciousness/dp/1627310967/
The #TrumpConspiracyCounter has the goal to track every time Trump promotes a conspiracy theory or theorist in 2020. Here’s the update for January 21-28.
The conspiracy counter was ticking along slowly until an impeachment trial inspired TWEETSTORM! got the wheels whirring. In the last week Trump has retweeted conspiracy mongers almost 50 times.
09.) Our featured theory today is the image the President of the United States pinned on his Twitter January 23, seen here above. It’s his second count this year of personally promoting Spygate directly, the unfounded allegation that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower. Spygate is something Trump is still obsessed with, even though there’s no proof that Obama directed the FBI to spy on Trump (or that he hung outside Trump Tower with a giant suction cup and a pair of binoculars).
10.) January 21: Retweets his son Donald Trump Jr.’s retweet of Breitbart News. Technically every retweet of Junior should count, as like father, like son, he is a conspiracist who has retweeted InfoWars and promoted theories about the Clintons and George Soros. Can you imagine, though, if the conspiracy counter also included members of the Trump Empire family and administration? I’d have to hire full time staff to update the counter around the clock! This click is for the Breitbart retweet.
11-19.) January 21: Mark R. Levin, host of Levin TV on Blaze (or as I like to call it, InfoWars Lite), a network ran by conspiracy monger Glenn Beck (formerly of FOX). Trump’s retweets of Levin retweeted not just Blaze, but Levin’s sharing of other conspiracy peddlers like Breitbart News, Peter Schweizer (see last week’s column), and The Right Scoop.
20.-22.) January 21: Three retweets from Dan Bongino. In the past, Bongino has been a frequent InfoWars guest. He hosts his own podcast, The Dan Bongino Show, and is a major proponent of the Spygate conspiracy theory, penning a book titled Spygate: The Attempted Sabotage of Donald J. Trump.
23.) January 22: Trump retweets a photoshop from White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino, a picture of him walking with an explosion labeled “Deep State” behind him. Deep State is a classic conspiracy term that refers to an undefined, shifting group of enemies, including Democrats, intelligence agencies, the media, Satanists, and whoever else conspiracists feel like throwing in.
24-31.) January 24: More retweets Peter Schweitzer / retweet of endorsement of Schweitzer’s book and Dan Bongino.
32-36. January 24: Retweets of Gregg Jarrett. Jarrett is a FOX legal analyst and author of books titled The Russian Hoax and Witch Hunt. Nuff said.
37-55.) January 25-28: More retweets from aforementioned #TrumpConspiracyCounter entries Breitbart News, Gregg Jarrett, Mark Levin, Dan Bongino, and Jack Posobiec.
56.) January 27: Trump retweets Dana Loesch, former NRA spokeswoman, host on the short-lived NRA-TV channel(2016-19) (and before that, Blaze and Breitbart). Not surprisingly, the NRA and their media is ripe with conspiracy theorists, including Loesch. Among many other things, she helped peddle a conspiracy that ISIS was behind a push for stricter gun laws because “terrorists agree, they want you to be disarmed,” Loesch said on NRA-TV.
#TrumpConspiracyCounter now has a Twitter page: https://twitter.com/TrumpConspirac3
“Krulos is one of the best chroniclers out there of the total craziness of our world today, and he does not disappoint in this book. He has a wickedly keen eye for high strangeness and a great voice to bring it to light.”– Mitch Smith, Goodreads review of Tea’s Weird Week: 2019 Review