The ‘Prepper’ movement has become synonymous with apocalyptic fear-mongering and gun-toting paranoia, but as Antony Funnell discovers, there’s much more to the movement than camouflage clothing and underground bunkers.
Every scout knows the value of being prepared, but a growing subculture of so-called Preppers are taking preparedness to another level. At the extreme, members of the movement are stockpiling armaments, food and clothing, whilst awaiting an inevitable Armageddon: be it religious, economic, social, or ‘all of the above’.
While they’re often the most visible members of the subculture, they’re not the whole story.
I think with modern technology and social media, just being able to see how often disasters happen makes people realise that it really can happen to them too.Tom Martin, The American Prepper Network
Truck driver Tom Martin believes that most Americans have no idea how tenuous their existence really is.
‘I’ve spent the last 15 years in the transportation industry and I know that our supply chains are very vulnerable,’ he says during a rest-over in Ohio. ‘The grocery stores only have about three days’ supply on the shelves. So if something was to disrupt that supply chain you can imagine how quickly the stores would empty.’
Growing up on a farm, Martin learned the value of resilience and preparedness early in life; values he says have been forgotten by many in our modern consumerist world.
Martin calls himself a Prepper, someone who makes being ready for possible adversity a way of life. He’s also the founder of one of the most successful mainstream preparedness websites – The American Prepper Network, which boasts around 50,000 subscribers and 130,000 Facebook fans. The website is an online repository of information about survival procedures and practices. Their motto is ‘Freedom through teaching others self-reliance’, and Martin runs the site in his spare time.
‘We use a lot of social media to communicate with other people. And we also have a map where people can find groups close to them that they can connect with and meet those people in person and discuss ways that they can be better prepared in their communities. I think with modern technology and social media, just being able to see how often disasters happen makes people realise that it really can happen to them too.’
Martin estimates there are millions of Preppers in America, crossing socio-economic and political lines. Some are extremist, end-of-days junkies consumed by fear; the sorts profiled on the National Geographic reality television show Doomsday Preppers. However, he believes that the vast majority of Preppers are ordinary people concerned about financial or environmental instability—and sometimes both.
The majority come from parts of the United States that have been hardest hit by recent natural disasters—cities like New Orleans and New York, both of which were pummeled by hurricanes. Or they come from the towns and cities along ‘Tornado Alley’ in the US Midwest.
‘What we are doing is nothing new; it’s what people have always done. I think what is new is the dependency that people have on the system to think that someone else is always going to take care of them. You know—if there’s a disaster the government is going to be there the next day to take care of you. But that’s really not true.’