Is Prepping Paranoia - Or Worse?

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently published an article titled “Doomsday Desperation” in their Hatewatch column devoted to exposing the rise of an alarming new “hate group:” Preppers. That’s right. They’re not just crazy any more, they’re dangerous. The anxious tone of the article would make for great satire, except the author is actually serious.

You can read the full text of the article here:

Among some of the alarmist gems penned by author Daryl Johnson are these:

“…beyond a few legitimate reasons, doomsday prepping, for the most part, represents a dark worldview that combines, to varying degrees, end-times apocalyptic views, an obsession with firearms (and other weaponry), conspiracy theories and too often an anti-government sentiment. When combined, these radical views become toxic and lead unsuspecting followers down a funnel of despair, which perpetuates fear, paranoia and extremism.”


“Since the 1950s, Preppers, also known as “survivalists,” have spread their ideology and tradecraft through preparedness expositions, gun shows, literature, and religious institutions — such as Mormons, Baptists, and cults. These trends continue today. Since 2008, the Prepper Movement has steadily increased membership and grown in both sophistication and creativity.”

*Mormons and Baptists? The horror.*

“Cable television shows, such as National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers,” Discovery’s “The Colony” and “Survivorman,” have mainstreamed, and even glorified, survivalism and end times prepping.”

*God forbid.*

The SPLC leans left, but has historically been a fairly well-respected organization, and has done some genuinely beneficial work towards promoting civil rights in this country. However, articles like this one are nothing more than alarmist hand-wringing written by an author who prejudicially fears and dislikes a community he does not understand – something I would think the SPLC would try to avoid.

The murders mentioned in the article are truly tragic. However, they are outliers. We’ll address that part of the discussion later in this post.

At SARCRAFT, we try to stay fairly apolitical, except when politics directly impacts the world of survival. And even then, we strive to stay fair-minded. There's enough noise out there and we don't really care to add to it. So this post is about as political as we get. 

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Which brings me to the point of why I’m writing it. (Finally, right?)

Prepping gets a bad rap. Out of all the things you can self-identify as in 2017 America and not get judged for… a prepper is not one of them. And the farther you get from the land, the harsher the judgment will be. If you live on a farm or are a blue-collar worker, you’re probably fairly safe.

But if you’re a white-collar professional in the corporate world, academia, or government, you better keep your mouth shut about the year’s supply of food you’ve got stocked in your basement. And Lord help you if they find out about all the guns you own, or your bugout plan. You’ll never be taken seriously again.

I’m not sure where this attitude stems from. It may be them projecting their own fears about being unprepared onto others. They are acutely aware of their own inadequacy in the event of a disaster, and they try to tear down those who are prepared, or are at least trying to be.

But regardless, the attitude definitely exists. If you ask most mainstream Americans about preppers, you’ll hear the same set of words used consistently: Paranoid. Crazy. Odd. Unrealistic. Conspiracy theorists. Maybe even extreme.

It hasn’t always been this way. For most of American history, prepping wasn’t called prepping. It was called common sense.

From the founding of our country until the past few decades, it was assumed that you probably had some home-canned food stocked up, even if you lived in the city. If you lived in a rural area, you were an outlier if you didn’t. The coming year’s harvest wasn’t guaranteed, and you’d better have enough supplies squirreled away in the root cellar to get you by. If you didn’t, you were considered lazy or irresponsible, because if things went bad, your neighbors had to bail you out. You were a burden to the community.

Because trips to town were such a hassle, basic supplies such as sugar, salt, coffee, and ammunition were usually bought in bulk to last at least a few months. The honest-to-goodness hillbillies who lived way back in the mountain hollers might not go to town more than once a year.

Ask anyone from rural America who’s over the age of 80 and they’ll back this up. My grandmother, born in 1928, grew up in an environment where living off the land, having a few months of supplies stockpiled, and being semi self-reliant was the norm. Even former president Jimmy Carter talks about it extensively in his autobiography An Hour Before Daylight.

With this knowledge in mind, the recent attitude of scoffing at preparedness is an anomaly in our history – in the history of the world, actually. It’s really only been over the last few generations that our attitudes have changed. We live in an era of unparalleled wealth and equality where even the poorest among us can afford what kings couldn’t dream of two centuries ago.

Most of us don’t think we need to be prepared, because anything we could ever want is just a few minutes’ drive away and can be had for a few dollars. This is the ultimate luxury of modern society: The luxury of not having to worry about basic necessities.

The problem is that we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that this system can be relied upon. The reality is, what we consider civilized society is a fragile veneer that cracks under the slightest pressure. Even something as minor as the gas crisis that happened in the fall of 2016 starts to send it into a tailspin. Never mind an actual disaster. During the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in south Florida, people were shooting each other dead over bags of ice, so that they could keep their refrigerated food from spoiling. To say nothing of the horrors that followed Hurricane Katrina.

I had friends in Chicago during the blizzard of 2011, the one that caused $1.8 billion in damage and ended at least 36 lives. These wealthy, cosmopolitan urbanites were forced to ration meager pantries full of canned goods before finally catching and eating rats to survive the days spent stuck inside freezing apartments.

The point is, if you think you don’t need to be prepared, you’re deluding yourself. The modern world we live in is held together by gossamer strands, and to think nothing could happen to send it all crashing to the ground is simply foolish. I hate to break it to you (I really don’t, though), but if you’re not prepared, you’re the crazy one.

How prepared do you need to be? That’s a long discussion, one that we’ll delve into a lot deeper in the future. FEMA recommends that all families have supplies for at least 72 hours, I’d say that’s woefully inadequate. Two weeks is a safe minimum for most local or regional disasters that we’ll face in the United States. By the end of that time, civil order, power grids, and supply chains should be restored, if they’re going to be restored at all.

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So on to the issue of paranoid preppers that started this whole discussion. Do all preppers live paralyzed by fear, in a state of despair and turmoil, as the article suggests? Is prepping a guaranteed gateway to become a violent anarchist, or white supremacist? After putting together a 24-hour bag, will you have a sudden, uncontrollable urge to go join an apocalyptic cult? After years of stockpiling toilet paper, will you snap without warning and start killing federal agents? Um, no. Definitely not.

Does the prepper community attract some crazies? Oh, yeah. I won’t deny it. I’ve met a few of them. There are certainly hardcore conspiracy theorists, apocalyptic prophesiers, and anarchists out there gleefully awaiting the crash and burn of modern society.

But truth be told, they’re the outliers. They only constitute a tiny percentage of a community of several million people. And the examples that the article mentions, those who turn violent, are an even smaller percentage. The majority of the odd ones are totally harmless. That’s why these acts of violence make headlines, because they’re not the norm. I can say with near certainty that it was not the ideas of prepping or survivalism that caused those people to commit those crimes. While tragic, those events cannot be blamed on the prepper community. Correlation does not equal causation. Those folks had some serious unresolved mental issues, and there’s a strong possibility they would have hurt others whether they were involved in prepping or not.

If you’re one of those scoffers who’s not used to being around them, you’ll be shocked to find that most preppers are actually very normal. In fact, you probably already know a few, they just keep quiet about it because they don’t want to risk the social stigma. (Or have people knocking down their door if things do go bad) They (we) are just ordinary folks who happen to be cognizant of the risks we face as a society, and choose to be proactive about dealing with them, rather than choosing to be an unprepared victim. Preparedness is not paranoia. If you keep a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit handy, are you paranoid? I don't think any reasonable person would say so.

If you’re living in fear and obsessing about every disaster that could befall you, you’re doing it wrong. Preparedness, defensive living, or whatever you want to call it, is about freedom – the freedom from worry about what could go wrong, the freedom to take care of our own in the darkest days instead of leaving their safety to chance, and the freedom to have options in those dark times instead of having to make our choices based on what the government is willing to dole out. I’ll say it again. Preparedness is not paranoia. And it’s certainly not hateful. It’s prudent, it’s good sense, and it’s a tradition woven into the fabric of our nation since day one.

- Alex