Commentary: Rise of the 'preppers'

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)January 15, 2013 

This month at a picnic shelter at Umstead State Park in Raleigh, they plan to gather and trade notes about preparing for a disaster.

These are not FEMA or EMS folks. FEMA and local government services will be useless when this trouble comes. This will be big: a collapse of the government, nationwide riots, famine, plagues, nuclear war. People will be on their own.

The wise ones will be ready to survive. They’ll have a secure, often remote or hidden shelter known as a BOL (a Bug Out Location). They’ll have months’ or years’ worth of supplies, including food, fuel and ammo.

This is the creed of survivalists known by the oddly perky term “preppers.” It’s a group whose numbers have been fed by terrorism, the bursting of the housing bubble, the ballooning federal deficit, global warming and the increasing dependence on a vast, but vulnerable power and communications grid that could collapse

A dose of paranoia contributes, too.

William Bradford, who formed his North Carolina group a year ago and quickly drew 100 members, said he’s ready for disruptions ranging from a power outage to U.S. collapse.

“Most are preparing like myself, preparing for anything,” he says.

There is a certain fascination in watching people prepare for who knows what. The National Geographic channel’s reality show “Doomsday Preppers” is one of its most popular.

There is also a certain gloom about the movement that only deepens as it grows. Its followers expect the worst from fate. Some expect the worst from people, too.

Preppers, who tend to be private, gained unwanted attention with the Newtown shootings. Nancy Lanza, the mother and first victim of Adam Lanza, was drawn to survivalist ideas, her sister told reporters.

But Bradford, a 40-year-old information technology consultant who lives near Fayetteville, says that link is a bad rap.

“Not all of us are sitting in concrete bunkers, 30-feet below ground with pork and beans and toilet paper for the next 15 years and enough arms to arm a Third World country,” he says.

Online, Bradford goes by Orion Blackwood, but he says in a phone interview that he’s not a bearded, wild-eyed, the-end-is-nigh type.

“I basically look like your cable guy,” he says.

Preppers are not anti-social, he says. Indeed their aim is to preserve society. After civilization is badly disrupted, it will spring back from the seeds of those groups that know the fundamentals of surviving and have the will to endure.

Bradford emphasizes that preppers generally are not “doomsday preppers” piling up guns.

“I have less than five weapons, and I’m not a gun nut,” he says. “I believe in having the right gun for the right situation.”

While others look at survivalists’ gun stockpiles with alarm and call for gun control, bans on assault rifles and limits on ammo clips, Bradford says the real problem is that too many people are ignorant about guns.

The nation would be a safer place, he says, if every high school offered gun safety courses the same way they offer driver’s education.

“Buying a gun doesn’t make you proficient with it,” he says. “People who don’t know how to use it and are putting that gun in a closet, I’m more afraid of them than someone who respects and knows how to use that weapon.”

That’s the mantra. Prepare for the worst by learning the basics that will keep you and your family alive. Politics may be polarized, the economy may go off a cliff, the terrorists may strike, the oceans may rise. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in North Carolina and across the U.S., preppers are prepping more than ever.

It’s both disturbing and oddly reassuring that they’re out there. But after the disaster, remember to be careful how you approach their BOLs.

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