"Bolt Force" Vigilantes Score International PR From I-10 Shooting Case
Though online detractors claim they are more of a "Dolt Force," the vigilante group calling itself "Bolt Force" is scoring international publicity from the freeway shootings in Phoenix that the Arizona Department of Public Safety is investigating.
In fact, when the group's leader, Tony "Bolt" Rowley, is not getting stopped and frisked himself by law enforcement, as Fox 10 recently reported, he's giving interviews to media and allowing reporters to follow around his heavily armed, black-clad patrol as it seeks to fight crime.
During an interview with New Times, Rowley, 48, says his membership, normally about 17 volunteers, has "increased quite a bit since all this media coverage.
"Now we have ...a substantial amount who want to join," he claims. "So we've got to process through all the people and do criminal background checks on them."
Rowley says his group has been here for five years and is not required to be licensed, since it isn't a security company.
Bolt Force foot patrols in the Valley usually take place "at night, because we're stealthy at night," he says. Also, Rowley has a day job, running a moving business, which he says proudly employs veterans..
Bolt Force's story has gone viral on the heels of the Arizona Department of Public Safety's hunt for those responsible for the shootings primarily along I-10 over the past couple of weeks, which now include at least 11 separate incidents.
Rowley says Bolt Force is doing its own investigation of the shootings and that the group has its own leads and two vehicles under investigation.
"There are people who don't trust the police," Rowley explains. "And just want to talk to us."
Outlets as varied as CNN, England's Daily Mail, and online-only publications like Breitbart.com and The Daily Beast, have all jumped on board the Bolt Force bandwagon.
"These Bolt Force guys must have a great PR agency," cracked DPS spokesman Bart Graves, when asked about the group. "I'm getting questions constantly from the media about them. It's amazing!"
He paraphrased DPS Director Frank Milstead as saying, "Having another set of eyes and ears on the road" is great, but Bolt Force "needs to let us do the investigation."
Rowley has been getting plenty of raspberries from folks online, one of whom created a "Bolt Force band of idiots" page on Facebook, with a plethora of derogatory memes aimed at Rowley and his team.
There are memes showing the "Bolt Force Sniper School," featuring a little kid with a toy gun, the "Super Secret Bolt Force Initiation Ceremony" showing a row of males with their pants down, and one labeled "Bolt Force Tactical Entry," which defies polite explanation.
Commenters to both this faux Bolt Force site and a real one for the group have poked fun at Rowley and his people.
And Rowley's creepy, white contact lenses have been the subject of much scrutiny, though Rowley insists these help him maintain an edge while he's on patrol in rough parts of Phoenix, where he may be alone.
"I don't wear them all the time, just when I go out and fight crime," Rowley says. "It's not something I think that's cool. It's just something I think assists me in what I'm doing."
Rowley says he served in the U.S. Marines for three years, beginning in 1985. He says he left with an honorable discharge.
He also speaks of being in a "bad military accident" while in the USMC, over which there was "a big military cover-up."
The cover-up was because of the accident occurring in the Mojave desert, he says, on a day when the "big brass" in the USMC allowed each marine to have two beers each.
As a result, Rowley was "forced to retire" when he was 19, he says.
The USMC was not able to respond immediately to these claims when contacted for this story.
Asked about a video on Bolt Force's website, showing Bolt Force members detaining two individuals and searching them for drugs, Rowley says his group had permission of the property-management company to patrol the apartment complex in question.
"When we do that, we enforce the rules for the property-management company," he explains. "We can do a lot more on private property than we can out on the street."
He says people who criticize this particular video don't realize that his group is playing by the rules.
"They've got to understand," he says. "Some of us are former police officers, and we've been doing security a long time...and we know what we can and cannot do on private property, and we know what we can and cannot do on the street."
Rowley says he and his group "stay out of the gray area" and defer to actual law enforcement.
Asked about Bolt Force, Phoenix Police spokesman Trent Crump seemed equivocal.
"We have not had problems with them, other than we get a lot of media calls about them being out," he stated.
He said the PPD assisted in an inquiry begun by the DPS, which recently was captured by Fox 10.
Fox 10's write-up on the segment reads:
While surveying the area earlier in the day, someone got concerned and called the police who ended up temporarily detaining "Bolt" and frisking him.
"The communication error caused resources to be drawn to me instead of the shooter, which is bad, and it wasn't a result of me, it was a result of a breakdown of communication," said Bolt.
"Today I was out alone scouting and looking for shell casings, but I relayed that to law enforcement agencies. Someone is going to get hurt or killed, and we are adding another element to this. I believe our presence at night in the dark can be effective.".
Asked about this encounter, Graves was circumspect.
"It appears [Bold Force members] look suspicious enough for people to report them," he wrote in an e-mailed response.
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