About a month after I left meetup 2.0 at Pizza Hut, former attendee Garland Fitzhugh called to tell me it’s become more of an ‘eat-up’ than a prepper meetup—fair, considering there’s been no local calamity to keep the survivalist group on its toes. Allen emails meeting suggestions to a prepper listserv, asking them to focus on prepping situations they can actually influence. He may as well type in Wingdings. A former Navy technician, Allen spent most of the meeting on his phone; his ears only perk up when Andrew: says something about naval intelligence that piques his interest. “I try not to do that too much,” he tells me later.
To answer that question, I found myself in the Siloam Cafe in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, seated across from Martin Fletchall, a disabled veteran who says God called him and his family to the Ozarks from Montana. He prefers to be called Fletch. Fletch is in his 40s, wears a white beard, a camouflage hoodie and matching hat and orders toast, eggs and steak, which costs less than $4. He agreed to meet me after a few weeks of exchanging emails and vetting that I wasn’t actually a “social justice warrior.”
And so on and so forth. We’d be here all day if I was to write a complete list of ‘what if’ survival scenarios. But in that time of looking at all of the likely options that could affect my lifestyle, I further developed my meager three-day emergency supply into more of a developed prepper supply. In that time, I have found that there is some prepper gear I completely rely upon and use all of the time, and there are some that I don’t.
“That’s a major problem,” says Gene Louis, a New Jersey expat who attended his first meetup in 2013 after moving to Springfield to begin ventures in real estate brokerage and digital marketing. Plus, Jersey is expensive, and he doesn’t like the fact that its residents don’t pump their own gas. “You don’t know what people are going to define as a threat, don’t know what people at survival meetings are going to talk about,” he says. “You can’t prepare for 100 percent of what’s on that list—well, you’d need to be Donald Trump to afford to.”
In his book Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times, Mitchell, the sociology professor, develops a working theory of survivalism as a response to living in a society where every object we could possibly need is already taken care of for us. “The shelves are full, and the channels are full,” Richard tells me over the phone. “This is a response to a culture that has stripped away from us our sense of efficacy, our capacity to craft culture.”
Mr. Patrick has a podcast, “The Fall,” that paints a more dystopian picture, however, anticipating that civil unrest could start on the first day of a disorderly Brexit “and increases exponentially after that” — a prediction that he denies is alarmist. He noted that in 2011, an outbreak of arson and looting that “began literally over nothing” in London led to “a national incident that lasted for five days.”
I got into the prepper foods game quite late in the race. For me, I was more concerned with collecting foods that lasted a long time that you could buy on the shelf. This is what I started with when I started my first three-day emergency supply and it expanded from there. But since getting into making my own long-lasting foods, I can say that a dehydrator is a much better investment.
Then, as the show-and-tell ended, he gave the prize for Best Bag to a precocious young Prepper whose kit included a fishing line, a seat belt cutter, ready-start fuel cubes, several types of multi-tools and a smoke hood. The winner had come with his mother and had dutifully prepared a bag for her. I wanted to talk with him, but when I approached, he asked if I was “press” and suspiciously refused to give his name.
Acquiring skills over the next two decades from military manuals and from Soldier of Fortune magazine, he said he went one day to a course in civil defense hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and recalled being horrified that the government was still relying on “cold war supplies of vienna sausages and five-pound bags of sugar.” His disillusionment led in 1989 to the founding of I.P.N., which seeks to train civilians to be ready for emergencies like cyber attacks and flu pandemics.
Again, the reason we tend to look sideways at those who get a little too into prepping for an apocalypse is because of their smug optimism. People actually being realistic about a dangerous future would be better served joining the military or ingratiating themselves with high-level government officials than agonizing about a little mouth scuzz or foot fuzz, right?
This group focuses on surviving brief encounters of violent activity, including personal protection and its legal ramifications, danger awareness, John Boyd's cycle (also known as the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act), martial arts, self-defense tactics and tools (both lethal and non-lethal). These survivalist tactics are often firearm-oriented, in order to ensure a method of defense against attackers or home invasion.
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Revealingly, however, many doomsday preppers’ fears are not based on speculative, sci-fi-style catastrophes but on disasters that have already happened. “Watch a documentary about Katrina. Look at something about Sandy, years afterwards. Look at Puerto Rico right now,” Scott Bounds, a member of N.Y.C. Preppers, says. “You have to realize that people are not going to come take care of you. You really have to be able to take care of yourself.”
A HAM radio, provided you know how to use it, turns a prepper into a vital asset in any emergency where the communication grid has gone down. They are completely reliable transceivers and are worth more than gold when the SHTF. I personally only hold a BaoFeng BF-F8HP portable HAM radio in my prepper gear as it still provides a means of two-way communication when the communication grid is down is my area, works well when I am on the move, and is much less expensive than a traditional fixed HAM radio.
“It was never offered as a contrary movement to hippies by any means,” Mitchell explains. “I think maybe it was just one more expression of ‘You can try something new now.’” Survivalism was and still is, Mitchell believes, a product of late capitalist consumer society, premised on drumming up panic about various hypothetical catastrophes and furnishing people with products that will allegedly help survive them.
I would like to add, buying too much of something at one time. I have lots of water and food stored. Toothpaste, soap, qtips and such. How much medical and bandaid? NONE. Make a list most definitely. But include stuff you HAVEN’T BOUGHT yet. Checkmark items you have with the amounts. Also I have 3 non bullet weapons and have a 4th on the way. A regular size crossbow (with a broad head it will penetrate any class of body armor) A pistol crossbow which is actually more powerful than the large one, but you can’t get broad head for them. They will however penetrate 3/4 pressed plywood particle board. Good for human threat or rabbit get. A wrist rocket slingshot with “hunting” rubbers and I’m waiting on a new item called a “Pocket Shot”. It’s a new type of slingshot that self centers the ammo. You can fire almost twice the ammo in the same amount of time. All 4 will be valuable to be quiet during the first month. After the hordes have been thinned, noise from a gun will bring less attention.
During his 45th Infantry Division, Pense taught field wiring, instructing G.I.s on setting poles and stringing wires to rig together a communications network from scratch. After the war, he was an electronics engineer in the private sector, sometimes on military contracts, learning the frailty of the nation’s power grid firsthand. On one government contract, he witnessed a nuclear warhead knock out power in Hawaii after detonating high above the Pacific.
Adam Hadhazy is a contributing writer for Live Science and Space.com. He often writes about physics, psychology, animal behavior and story topics in general that explore the blurring line between today's science fiction and tomorrow's science fact. Adam has a Master of Arts degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. When not squeezing in reruns of Star Trek, Adam likes hurling a Frisbee or dining on spicy food. You can check out more of his work at www.adamhadhazy.com.