The Vampire Who Beat Wells Fargo

Since the collapse of the housing bubble and the 2008 bailout, Americans have grown so mistrustful of financial institutions that a recent survey indicates that 38% of Americans consider statements from banks to be “not at all believable.” The number is even higher for mortgage companies. Last month, Patrick Rodgers of Philadelphia “foreclosed” on a local Wells Fargo branch.

In an act of legal jiujitsu, Rodgers was able to prove that Wells Fargo exhibited a pattern of failing to communicate with its clients and was awarded $1000. When the bank didn’t pay, he arranged for a sheriff’s levy to sell the bank’s assets at auction. A deputy sheriff arrived at the bank branch and prepared an inventory of its assets: computers, fax machines, and office furniture. Not long after, Rodgers received his $1000, plus legal fees. The media promoted his victory as a classic David and Goliath story and CNN dubbed Rodgers “a folk hero.” 

But there’s another element to the story: Rodgers openly identifies as a vampire. The media’s celebration of a vampire “folk hero” is an important historical moment for this emerging community and may be a curious statement about tolerance in a time when trust is in scarce supply.

A music and events promoter by trade, Rodgers started Philadelphia’s “Dracula Ball” sixteen years ago, which has since become one of the largest events for goths and vampires in the country. Rodgers identifies as a “pranic vampire” meaning that he nourishes himself on the vital energy of others, and he’s had fangs permanently installed, which he describes as “an extension and expression of myself.” When asked about the decision to openly share his identity, he responded, “If I am occasionally underestimated by someone, I am happy to exploit their mistake.” 

Rodgers’ dispute with Wells Fargo started when the bank demanded he back his mortgage with a home insurance policy. While Rodgers paid $180,000 for his home, the bank insisted that because of its historic value, he take on a million dollar insurance policy that carried hefty premiums. When Rodgers refused, Wells Fargo force placed an insurance policy that covered the bank but not the homeowner. When Rodgers complained, the bank simply ignored him—so Rodgers turned to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Financial institutions must respond to RESPA letters within 20 days or pay a fine. As predicted, all of Rodgers’ RESPA letters went unanswered, leading to a court date and ultimately the sheriff’s levy. (Those who have read Bram Stoker’s Dracula may recall that The Count is a master at real estate deals, acquiring multiple lairs throughout London.)

When Fox and CNN scrambled to cover the story, Rodgers was asked to come to a satellite office in Philadelphia. He commented, “The network anchors didn’t see me until we were about to go live. I don’t know if they even noticed my fangs, to be honest.” The resulting interviews were rather surreal, resembling a scene from HBO’s True Blood. Anchors asked Rodgers about real estate law, apparently overlooking his Johnny Cash attire, long black hair, and long white teeth. 

Needless to say, this is not how vampires are normally treated in the media. Typically, when a vampire (or a vampire expert for that matter) appears on television, they are made to sit next to a candelabra or some other gratuitous prop. At the very least, the interview is framed with ominous music and bad puns. Worse, as awareness of this community has grown, “occult crime” investigators and spokesmen for the Christian counter-cult movement have attempted to cast vampires as deviant criminals. Some have hailed Rodgers’ recent appearances, in which he is treated as just another interview subject, as a serious milestone. Merticus of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance commented, “This is exactly the kind of progress I was talking about years ago; to be able to walk down the street, go on television, or conduct yourself as you wish openly without your message being lost because you self-identify as a vampire.”

This may be less of an expression of “vampire tolerance” and more of a comment on how cable networks go about producing news. A cynic might accuse the networks of clinging to their pre-written narrative whether their interview shows up with fangs or with two heads. Rodgers remarked:

The segments are so quick that the anchors are anxious just to squeeze a few good quotes out of you and get you to tell your story within the narrow time frame that the producers have allotted. It was barely enough time to talk about mortgage laws; there was no way we could have even scratched the surface of vampirism.

Interestingly enough, none other than Karl Marx wrote that, “Capital is dead labor that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” As a small business owner, Rodgers does not share this mistrust of capitalism. However, he did agree that there is a systematic problem in American financial institutions: “When problems arise, as they inevitably do in our imperfect world, nobody takes responsibility; nobody is at fault.” 

He added, “It makes me sad to say this, but I wish more people would learn how to sue in small claims court. So many companies have made it clear that customer service is not a priority for them. Americans need to force them to rethink that position.”

The fictional vampires of contemporary “paranormal romance” frequently appear threatening at first, but inevitably end up using their powers to protect mortals from other, more evil vampires. Self-identified, real-world vampires (strange as they might seem) may currently be more trusted than the blood-sucking banks, making Rodgers’ victory over Wells Fargo a teachable moment.

Many lament that America has become “tribalized,” with individuals thinking solely in terms of their own interests and identity groups. But perhaps as outrage over financial irresponsibility continues to grow, we can learn to set aside these differences. After all, if Jacob the werewolf and Edward the vampire can join forces against a common foe in Twilight, then perhaps we too can reach across social and religious boundaries to challenge the growing power of corporate interests.

Joseph Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. His forthcoming books include The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle for Catholic Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says About Religion, Play, and Imagined Worlds (University of California Press, 2015).