Subculture of Americans prepares for civilization's collapse

Sat Jan 21, 2012 11:44am EST

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(Reuters) - When Patty Tegeler looks out the window of her home overlooking the Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Virginia, she sees trouble on the horizon.

"In an instant, anything can happen," she told Reuters. "And I firmly believe that you have to be prepared."

Tegeler is among a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as "preppers." Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.

They are following in the footsteps of hippies in the 1960s who set up communes to separate themselves from what they saw as a materialistic society, and the survivalists in the 1990s who were hoping to escape the dictates of what they perceived as an increasingly secular and oppressive government.

Preppers, though are, worried about no government.

Tegeler, 57, has turned her home in rural Virginia into a "survival center," complete with a large generator, portable heaters, water tanks, and a two-year supply of freeze-dried food that her sister recently gave her as a birthday present. She says that in case of emergency, she could survive indefinitely in her home. And she thinks that emergency could come soon.

"I think this economy is about to fall apart," she said.

A wide range of vendors market products to preppers, mainly online. They sell everything from water tanks to guns to survival skills.

Conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck seems to preach preppers' message when he tells listeners: "It's never too late to prepare for the end of the world as we know it."

"Unfortunately, given the increasing complexity and fragility of our modern technological society, the chances of a societal collapse are increasing year after year," said author James Wesley Rawles, whose Survival Blog is considered the guiding light of the prepper movement.

A former Army intelligence officer, Rawles has written fiction and non-fiction books on end-of-civilization topics, including "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It," which is also known as the preppers' Bible.

"We could see a cascade of higher interest rates, margin calls, stock market collapses, bank runs, currency revaluations, mass street protests, and riots," he told Reuters. "The worst-case end result would be a Third World War, mass inflation, currency collapses, and long term power grid failures."

A sense of "suffering and being afraid" is usually at the root of this kind of thinking, according to Cathy Gutierrez, an expert on end-times beliefs at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Such feelings are not unnatural in a time of economic recession and concerns about a growing national debt, she said.

"With our current dependence on things from the electric grid to the Internet, things that people have absolutely no control over, there is a feeling that a collapse scenario can easily emerge, with a belief that the end is coming, and it is all out of the individual's control," she told Reuters.

She compared the major technological developments of the past decade to the Industrial Revolution of the 1830s and 1840s, which led to the growth of the Millerites, the 19th-Century equivalent of the preppers. Followers of charismatic preacher Joseph Miller, many sold everything and gathered in 1844 for what they believed would be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Many of today's preppers receive inspiration from the Internet, devouring information posted on websites like that run by attorney Michael T. Snider, who writes The Economic Collapse blog out of his home in northern Idaho.

"Modern preppers are much different from the survivalists of the old days," he said. "You could be living next door to a prepper and never even know it. Many suburbanites are turning spare rooms into food pantries and are going for survival training on the weekends."

Like other preppers, Snider is worried about the end of a functioning U.S. economy. He points out that tens of millions of Americans are on food stamps and that many U.S. children are living in poverty.

"Most people have a gut feeling that something has gone terribly wrong, but that doesn't mean that they understand what is happening," he said. "A lot of Americans sense that a massive economic storm is coming and they want to be prepared for it."

So, assuming there is no collapse of society -- which the preppers call "uncivilization" -- what is the future of the preppers?

Gutierrez said that unlike the Millerites -- or followers of radio preacher Harold Camping, who predicted the world would end last year -- preppers are not setting a date for the coming destruction. The Mayan Calendar predicts doom this December.

"The minute you set a date, you are courting disconfirmation," she said.

Tegeler, who recalls being hit by tornadoes and floods in her southwestern Virginia home, said that none of her "survival center" products will go to waste.

"I think it's silly not to be prepared," she said. "After all, anything can happen."

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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Comments (370)
RangerDan wrote:
I’m not a kook, but I am well armed, have food stored, and a safe place to go. Most of all, I have an attitude of survival at all cost. It would take a matter of minutes during a big upheaval for the most doscile people to become raving lunatics.

Jan 21, 2012 12:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Sueque wrote:
I actually moved to Maine to prepare for Y2K. When the federal government set up a center to monitor the anticipated disaster that was the last straw. Now in retrospect I see that the people who perpetuated this idea of world collapse made a LOT of money on speaking engagements, books, selling supplies, and promoting whatever they could in order to sell anything related to the impending disaster. Then they moved on when it didn’t happen. Rich from their endeavors. They knew it wouldn’t hurt anyone, just part them from their money, so they had no qualms engaging in the fraud. Same thing now.

Jan 21, 2012 12:16pm EST  --  Report as abuse
e2verne wrote:
Apparently I am the first reader to find this article worthy of comment. I have to say these folks are NOT like “hippies in the 60s; they are, however, like the doom people from the 50′s building bomb shelters in their backyard to preserve themselves from an atomic bomb blast. The doom sayers were preposterous in their thinking- it was highly unlikely their “shelters” would have survived a direct blast, and even more unlikely these folks would have survived the resultant radiation. The “preppers” are not giving their neighbors credit. If all civilization breaks down, these folks will be swept away precisely because their neighbors will know they have supplies. Humans are mentally and physiologically created to survive- whatever the cost. But this is all nonsense. I am thoroughly amazed that anyone in the 21st century has the slightest belief that our government and civilization exists on such shaky ground. I guess ‘thank you, Ron Paul, for undermining the country’s belief in itself.

Jan 21, 2012 12:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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