Stop Demonizing Preppers

There's more to this American subculture than you think.


My friend Ceredwyn Alexander lives on a homestead in the mountains of Vermont. Her family raises a lot of their own food, from chickens to cabbage, and they heat their home with wood they chop themselves. They worry about peak oil. They try not to buy things on credit. They keep a great deal of food and water and other supplies on hand. If everything goes to hell tomorrow, they want to be prepared.

People who say and do such things are often called preppers, and Ceredwyn willingly applies the term to herself: It's a decent label, she says, for people who try to be prepared for sudden, disruptive emergencies. If you've been absorbing the recent portraits of preppers in the press, where they've been depicted as doomsday-fearing right-wing paranoiacs stocking up on guns and canned goods, you may think you know all there is to know about Ceredwyn. But before you use your stock of stereotypes to fill in those blanks, here are a few more facts about her.

Her politics are liberal and feminist. Her family's firearm collection consists of a single shotgun, which they own in case a four-legged predator passes through. She speaks disdainfully about survivalists who spend their time "waiting for the Mutant Zombie Bikers to come take their guns, drugs, and women away." Ask her about survival strategies, and she doesn't start spinning fantasies about a well-provisioned family fending off looters. "When the shit hit the fan during Irene," she says instead, "neighbors were everyone's best resource." Preparedness, she adds, requires "learning skills and community involvement…not freeze dried food and razor wire." To those ends, she has joined the volunteer fire department and become the town service officer.

As far as the mass media are concerned, America's preeminent preppers are the Alabama kidnapper Jimmy Lee Dykes; Nancy Lanza, whose son raided her gun collection before he carried out the Sandy Hook massacre; and the people who appear on the National Geographic TV show Doomsday Preppers, who might charitably be described as "colorful." Dykes "is described by neighbors as 'very paranoid,' anti-government and possibly a 'Doomsday prepper,'?" the New York Daily News reported. The London Independent called Lanza a "so-called 'prepper,' a part of the survivalist movement which urges individuals to prepare for the breakdown of society by training with weapons and hoarding food and other supplies."

When the liberal historian Rick Perlstein wrote about preppers in The Nation this year, he headlined his essay "Nothing New Under the Wingnut Sun: 'Survivalism.'" After invoking Dykes and Lanza in his lead, he talked about the right-wing survivalists of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, linking them to the preppers of the present by describing the lot of them as "Americans who fear change, fear difference, fear you and me, fear everything falling apart. So much so that they organize their lives and politics around staving off the fear—which often entails taking political action that only makes America more fearful and dangerous for everyone; which destroy the trust and love it takes to sustain communities." (Speaking of fears about people who are different.)

In fact, the prepper community includes a lot of political and cultural variety. If there is right-wing survivalist DNA here, there is also the DNA of the Whole Earth Catalog and several generations of bohemian back-to-the-landers, plus a fair number of families whose inspiration isn't much larger than the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." Tour the online prepper communities, and you may run into people who have embraced the long-lived conspiracy yarn in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is plotting to put us in concentration camps. You may also encounter FEMA itself, which currently has an advertisement on the front page of the American Preppers Network. The ad asks, "Do you meet President Obama's minimum Prepper Standards?"

There may be even more diversity in the scenarios these people are preparing for. Ceredwyn got her family on board with her prepperdom about 12 years ago, when an ice storm hit their then-home in Shreveport. "We were out of power for 10 days," she recalls. "No heat, no water, no stove, no phone.…Could have been completely awful, but we had everything we needed, including a propane heater and stove I bought." Her own interest in preparedness began earlier, when she was working for an abortion clinic: "Nothing like being the possible victim of terrorism to get the survivalist juices flowing," she recalls. Or maybe it was even earlier than that: In an essay for her blog, she writes about her parents' divorce. Her dad drained the family savings accounts on his way out, and "in short order, we went from the sort of people who gave to charity, to being the sort of people who had to choose between eating and paying the light bill.…I am left with a fear of empty cupboards and a clear understanding that, at any moment, the bottom could drop out of my world."

Disasters, she concludes, come in all shapes and sizes, and they strike people every day. "People talk about collapse as though it's in the far off future, and as if it will hit everyone, everywhere, at the same moment," she writes. "Many, many people are already living in a state of collapse. It doesn't matter if the rest of the world is going merrily on when you've been evicted, your kids are hungry, you have an infected tooth you can't take care of, and you're trying not to let anyone know the family's been sleeping in the minivan." It's a class-conscious take on poverty, disabilities, and other issues that might not come up much on Doomsday Preppers but obviously aren't absent from preppers' minds. When the American Preppers Network lists problems to prepare for, it explicitly includes "the loss or major injury of a breadwinner, loss of a primary job, extended sickness, accidents and other personal calamities."

It's important to push back when a subculture gets scapegoated, whether it's goths after Columbine or preppers today. It's especially important when those attacks are embedded in our political debates. Today the gun owner is often envisioned as a prepper, the prepper as a frightened survivalist. Neither real-world gun owners nor real-world preppers are well served by such stereotypes. And neither is anyone who wants an accurate image of the world.

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  1. I don’t get why anyone gives a shit if people are “demonizing” preppers.

    If you care that much about what someone else is doing with their own money you can go fuck yourself for all I care.

    I personally like to be prepared for reasonable emergencies; I make sure I always have some food that I can cook without power, and water… then again, I live in an area that semi frequently experiences hurricanes, and have lived thru a storm where the power and water were out for 10 days. Not very fun times.

    I guess I just don’t see anything wrong with having your own shit together to be able to take care of yourself.

    1. If you do anything that shows you are not reliant on Leviathan for help in dire times you want us to turn into Somalia!

      /shithead nanny stater off

      1. All non-conformity must be rooted out.

    2. just as Russell implied I am amazed that anyone able to make $9889 in four weeks on the internet. did you look at this site link

  2. “They try not to buy things on credit…. If everything goes to hell tomorrow, they want to be prepared.”

    If everything goes to hell tomorrow, you should be buying EVERYTHING on credit and save all your hard currency.

    1. Isn’t that how the US Government is doing it right now?

      1. Who’s going to collect? The zombies?

        1. I dunno, but we need someone to collect Nikki’s hardcore slut days stories.

          1. This idea engages my interest.

    2. I was thinking the same thing. Run up your credit, who’s gonna collect?

      1. I was thinking the same thing. Run up your credit, who’s gonna collect?

        Typical disasters tend to happen asymmetrically. (We lost power for two weeks after we got a major snowstorm in January of 2000, while the school across the street was only out for a couple days.) It’s reasonable to assume extraordinary ones could have asymmetric effects as well.

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    3. What hard currency? About the first thing that will go poof will be the value attributed to all that paper money the feds keep printing willy nilly.

      If you want to do the right thing buy gold, silver, and lots of lead (propelled by gun powder if you are too dense to get his reference) on credit. Stock up on Chianti too. Goes real well with fava beans and census worker’s livers.

  3. If you follow the government’s advice
    … you just might be an anti-government radical.

    Remember, ‘Brazil’ is a documentary.

  4. What is it with you and paranoia, Jesse?

    1. Paranoia
      The destroy-aaaaaaaaaaah!
      The destroy-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!


  5. You shouldn’t demonize anyone who is not bothering anyone. And these people are not bothering anyone. So leave them alone. That said, you can make fun of them and laugh at them.

    1. You shouldn’t demonize anyone who is not bothering anyone.

      You shouldn’t demonize anyone based on what ‘group’ they may belong too. Treat individuals as individuals.

      Then make fun of them and laugh at them; if that makes you feel better about yourself.

      1. It doesn’t make me feel better about myself. It is just fun. I think doomsday preppers are funny and more than a bit nuts. But it is their life and it is or at least should be a free country. So more power to them.

      2. Really? SO there are no groups of people anywhere that merit demonizing someone for seeking memmbership in them?

        Because that assertion is fucking stupid.

        1. Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you….THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES!

          1. Got it in one.

        2. I guess you missed the “treat individuals as individuals” part of that statement. Once that individual does something meriting condemnation, go for it. But thanks for playing.

          1. “I guess you missed the “treat individuals as individuals” part of that statement.”

            No, I didn’t. It doesn’t change THIS statement however

            “You shouldn’t demonize anyone based on what ‘group’ they may belong too.”

            You said something stupid. Stop acting like a fucking crybaby troll and trying to walk it back into something less stupid, YES, it is perfectly ok to demonize people for belonging to groups of known evil people.

            1. You said something stupid. Stop acting like a fucking crybaby troll and trying to walk it back into something less stupid,

              On the margins, yea, you could say it is stupid. But for the vast majority of situations, it is a perfectly legitimately way to treat people. So no, I am not walking anything back.

              1. “On the margins, yea, you could say it is stupid. ”

                It’s a blanket statement that is easily defeated by numerous examples.

                Fuck the margins, it’s just plain dumb from one side to the other.

          2. “Once that individual does something meriting condemnation, go for it. ”

            And I really should make this more clear, since you seem like the kind of asshole who wants to die in this hill, seeking to join a group of evil assholes IS “something meriting condemnation”.

        3. Dude, demonizing Klan members is the road to collectivist hell.

          1. Pedal to the metal then.

      3. You shouldn’t demonize anyone based on what ‘group’ they may belong too. Treat individuals as individuals.

        Oh, bullshit. A Sooner is a Sooner.

        1. Oh, bullshit. A Sooner is a Sooner.

          ….or a Buckeye.

  6. If you don’t something nice to say, then say nothing.

      1. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. (I refuse to put a stupid little smiley here)

      2. Fuck you!

        Careful, Sparky. Lord Peter Wimsey might come over here and tell you how the word ‘fuck’ has a longstanding anti-Semetic meaning and that you should therefore be blown up by terrorists, you anti-Jew hatemonger.

        1. Yikes, you’re right! I should probably just lay low for the rest of the day just in case crazy-eyes comes looking for me.

        2. ….the word ‘fuck’ has a longstanding anti-Semetic meaning and that you should therefore be blown up by terrorists, you anti-Jew hatemonger.

          Then I’ve been using it incorrectly all these years?


  7. Despite your attempt to make “preppers” seem normal, there’s no doubt that many are delusional nuts with anti-government views.

    Government has both the authority and the duty to fulfill the delusions of nuts with anti-government views.

    1. Ironic how the more delusional and anti-government someone is, the greater the likelihood of the government proving them to be correct.

      1. Isn’t that basically what happened to that guy on CNBC’s “America’s Gun: The Rise of the AR-15” who made a you tube video condemning the government and had his gun license taken away for inciting violence. Or am I misremembering.

    2. Despite your attempt to make “preppers” seem normal, there’s no doubt that many are delusional nuts with anti-government views.

      Of course a lot of people would start that sentence, “Despite your attempt to make libertarians seem normal…”

  8. OT, sorta related:
    SF is ‘leading a trend’ (or not):
    “After SF vote, other cities may divest from Big Oil”
    “It’s still in the very early stages, but the movement among city governments to drop their investments in oil and coal companies may be picking up steam.”
    Yeah, it may be picking up steam, or maybe that’s a fart you just heard. The other cities listed are the ones commonly associated with brain-dead econ policies.

      1. Wow, you mean they are going to flood the market with stocks of really profitable companies?!?

        My IRA is grateful for their stupidity.

      2. Good. Should cause the stock price to drop allowing me to buy them at a better price. That is if my company didn’t have a rule against owning oil company (or related) stocks.

  9. Pearlstein’s piece was trivial hoplophobia.

    The real basis of the animus liberals have for preppers is based on the fact that preppers don’t accept two critical liberal orthodoxies: altruism, and “participation”.

    The liberals hate preppers because preppers anticipate coming social collapse, and take steps to insulate themselves from that collapse, rather than take steps to try to “change Society” to stave off that collapse. This is an offense against Altruism.

    The preppers also make no bones about the fact that their self-defense preparations are an adjunct to their self-sufficiency preparations. In other words, preppers want to be able to feed themselves, but also want to be able to kill liberals if liberals come around looking for food. This is a second offense against Altruism.

    But the real bugbear here is the rejection of participation. To liberals, the only permissible function of individuals is to perform roles in a group process. (Observe an OWS meeting to view this principle in the wild.) Preppers don’t want to perform a group role; they specifically seek to take themselves out of existing social groups to the extent they can. That’s the truly unforgivable offense in liberal eyes.

    1. It is because they are totalitarians fluffy. If you are a totalitarian no one can ever stand on the side and be neutral because politics embrace everything. Since politics embrace everything, every person is either working for the cause or working against it. If you are not working for the cause, you are failing in your duties and are thus an enemy. There can be no standing on the sidelines or opting out. Everyone and everything must be put into the service of the common good.

      1. “If you are a totalitarian no one can ever stand on the side and be neutral because politics embrace everything.”

        Well your typical statist Liberal will say that they don’t mind anybody being neutral. But then when questioned they consider being neutral to really mean, don’t get in the way of ‘Progress’ and obey the progressive state in every way. So when they say ‘neutral’, they mean sheep.

    2. There is no point in doing something if everyone else isn’t going to do it as well.

      Since there is no law mandating that everyone be a prepper, prepping must be a dumb idea.

      Because if it was a good idea, then everyone would be forced to do it.

      1. Wow! You should run for President! I’d vote for you – lol!

        Let’s go protest Kochporashunz and then pick up our new iPhones! lol!

    3. Very good comment, Fluffy. The participation aspect is key. Liberals are horrified by anyone who wants to “opt out”. To them, opting out is an outright rejection of them–you don’t want to be on their team–and they literally take it personally. You don’t want to join the amorphous “society” group? REJECTION! STERILIZE!

      1. that is what happens when you define every single aspect of your life in terms of politics. Nothing can ever be neutral. No one can ever just live their life for themselves.

        1. that is what happens when you define every single aspect of your life in terms of politics. Nothing can ever be neutral. No one can ever just live their life for themselves.

          I remember running into a Swede who viewed the world in precisely these terms. He was very smart, snarky in a Joe from Lowell manner, and was appalled whenever someone refused to take sides on any issue.

          He told me that refusing to make a choice was a political act. It was really impressive.

          BTW, the dude really loved Allendele and was always bitching about Milton Friedman being complicit in his murder(!).

          The fifteenth time he brought it up, I asked him if Pinochet has asked him (the Swede) to come and give him advice on how to improve the lot of Chileans, what would he do?

          His response was that it would be different, because he would go and criticize Pinochet’s policies… which is exactly what Milton Friedman did, since the Pinochet government was really corporatist initially and Friedman told them that was a bad path.

          1. A lot of liberals think that way. That is why the destroy so many organizations they touch. Take any organization no matter how apolitical or harmless and fill it with liberals and it will be turned away from its original purpose and turned into an instrument for politics.

            Think about it. Put liberals in charge of a college and the college will stop teaching and preparing people for jobs and instead become a political propaganda factory. Put them in charge of a little league and the point will no longer be sports and competition but teaching children about caring for the larger world and doing recycling projects and such. It never fails.

          2. Think about how liberals are always boycotting businesses. You can’t just buy something because you like it or need it. You have to buy from someone on the right side politically.

            1. Think about how liberals are always boycotting businesses

              You’ve clearly not spent time around Evangelicals. As a kid my parents boycotted Disney, Johnson & Johnson and a few other companies. American Family Association was always encouraging families to boycott SOMETHING. It’s really not just a liberal thing.

              1. It’s a social engineering thing. Liberals and evangelicals suffer from the same impulse, but have convinced themselves through years of CULTURE WAR that they are opposites.

                Both of them see items not just as items but as some symbol of a greater political or spiritual truth that only they fully understand. As a result, if a company does something they don’t like, no matter how minor, they must make this truth known.

              2. But that is because they feel like the product itself is bad. Disney is promoting whatever. I am not aware of them boycotting a neutral product over the political views of the owner.

                1. No John, that is not the case. They were specifically boycotting companies because they had donated money to groups the AFA found objectionable. My parents subscribed to the newsletter, I read them very frequently. Had you followed the wikipedia link you would’ve seen a list of reasons why the AFA had boycotted:

                  The AFA has boycotted companies for various reasons, most often relating to Christmas controversies, pornography, support of pro-choice activism, support of violence or sexual content in entertainment, and support of LGBT rights, including same-sex partner employee benefits.

                  Or you can see one of their current boycotts at the afa website yourself.

                  Rather than remain neutral in the culture war, The Home Depot has chosen to sponsor and participate in numerous gay pride parades and festivals. Most grievous is The Home Depot’s deliberately exposing small children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals and cross-dressers, which are a common occurrence at these events.

                  But thank you for playing the justify your assertions with bullshit game, John.

                2. Apple Computers for recognizing gay partnerships in their benefit plans

                3. I don’t know if it was the AFA or something similar but I remember in the 70’s many classmates’ parents boycotting Proctor and Gamble because of the satanic symbolism.

                  1. Yeah, that was part of one of the Satanism moral panics.

                    The wikipedia entry on it is pretty hilarious:

                    The Church of Satan denies being supported by Procter & Gamble.

                    In 2011, the company successfully sued individual Amway distributors for reviving and propagating the false rumors.

                    This is the offending image.

    4. I’m not sure it’s that complicated. They are demonizing them for the same reason they demonize Goldbugs.

      Every propane heater and case of vienna sausages is a vote of no confidence in the assuance that the Government man will take care of you when the shit-hits-the-fan.

      Every silver and gold coin purchased is a vote of no confidence in the Top Men managing our economy.

      Not having full and unquestioning faith in government is crime in itself – or should be according to the state fluffers at the Nation.

      I always go back to what the penultimate Government Man said: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

      1. Yeah but they demonize pretty much everyone who isn’t on their side. They don’t demonize goldbugs and preppers anymore than they demonize evangelicals or Libertarians.

    5. They also have imperfect faith in everlasting, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent government. I’ve spoken to liberals who find it screamingly funny that anyone should even have food saved in preparation for disaster, when right-thinking people trust government to come to the rescue.

      1. yessir ^^ this right here

        My wife and I (upper middle class, nice neighborhood, 2.3 kids, 6 cars, etc. etc.) do not even talk about it any more. Cause CRAZYOMFGYOUREALLYDOTHIS!!! HAHAHAHAHA!

        And we’re total pikers. But I’m 100x better prepared than I was for the mythical Y2K derp-bacle. Cause…I’ve lost power a couple times, for a few days…and it SUCKS. What happens if something bigger hits? I got the money – let’s….prepare a little.

        As for laughing friends, neighbors and relatives? “Don’t stop by my house when your basement’s flooded cause you don’t have backup power….my Generac will not be available…nor will any guestrooms.”

        1. Yep.

          What do you call a prepper after a hurricane?

          Warm and well fed, motherfucker. And no, I can’t spare any power.

          1. And no, I can’t spare any power.

            We would have also accepted, “No, you can’t borrow my chainsaw”.

        2. ………6 cars?

          more than your fair share.


    6. As much as I thought they had adequate cause, the ways in which OWS actually organized and communicated were embarrassing, to put it kindly; no reasonable person should be faulted for distrusting such a mindset in practice.

  10. It rarely occurs to those who criticize the prepared that maybe I’ll be able to help out. buy not standing in line at costco* after the emergency, i was able to make sure the old man down the street was doing okay after the local derecho last year.

    *talk about people hoarding.

  11. No, I’ll keep demonizing them as long as they keep acting like nuts.

  12. Am I the only one who’s sure I’ve read this exact article already a while ago?

    1. The article appeared here in February; we then abridged that piece for the May issue of the magazine; and now the contents of that issue are going online.

      (So you didn’t read the exact same article. You read a longer version!)

  13. Stupid ants, not wanting to share with the grasshopper.

  14. Article and comments and nobody quoted the Simpsons on this?

  15. I prefer the term ‘survivalist’.

    If I’m going to be scapegoated anyway, I might as well do away with the ‘kinder, gentler’ term.

  16. until I looked at the check that said $9995, I be certain …that…my friend woz like realie taking home money in there spare time from their laptop.. there mums best friend haz done this less than fifteen months and just now took care of the morgage on their villa and purchased a great new Jaguar XJ. I went here,

    1. Khimki Forest dot com. You will care.

  17. to be fair, a lot of them are tards and a half. But yeah I don’t think buying ammo in bulk and growing a little garden is a bad thing. It’s called resourcefulness.

    1. “Sustainability” is a concept that most liberals can get behind, so they really don’t need to contradict themselves by condescending to people who are practicing just that.

      1. Truly. The other night I had to listen to a roomful of 32 people seriously debating whether the planet is in fact doomed due to overpopulation, pollution, and of course, global warming, or if a particular scientific approach (behaviorism) can save us. Everyone (except me) pretty much agreed we are on a collision course with doom. Some thought if behaviorism could get the ears of people in power it might be prevented. I pointed out it’s rather arrogant to believe that one’s profession is the only thing between sustainability and doom. I didn’t get much traction. So yeah, what are these people laughing as they go about living their lives as if we aren’t in fact doomed? Driving their SUVs 2 hours to and from work every day of the week? If they really think we are doomed, why don’t they stop that behavior and start stocking up on supplies? More fun to just live as you please and tut-tut at others for, well, living as they please too.

  18. What’s wrong with the “doomsday-fearing right-wing paranoiacs stocking up on guns and canned goods???”

    They have that right.

  19. Ceredwyn got her family on board with her prepperdom about 12 years ago, when an ice storm hit their then-home in Shreveport

    So they moved from Shreveport to Vermont for the ice?

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  23. Have insurance? Wear your seatbelt? Look both ways before crossing streets?

    You too are a prepper.

  24. Prepping is just foolishness. After all when SuperDooperStorm Sandy hit Long Island it wasn’t like everyone ran out of food and drinking water inside 24 hours.

    No one was screaming at tv cameras for gummmint help.

    Wait, wha?

  25. Some fantastic info on Libertarians and how they created and sustain the Prepper movement at http://www.TheLibertarian.Info

  26. Instead of preparing for doomsday why not stop it happening. I believe that a global fuel crisis is the thing that would most likely happen. because in the last Century mankind has kind of put all its eggs in the oil basket. When it becomes non-viable to drill, it will dry up. Cars run on ethanol, there was a time when every farm had a still and made ethanol fuel. Model T and earlier Ford cars ran on it the timing was adjusted in the cab. All modern cars will still run on it, the only difference is the ECU computer does the adjusting. Get a licence, build an ethanol fuel still. Or demand your local Gas station stocks E85,

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