Last year I wrote about the rising numbers of fundagelical Christians getting into prepping, a subculture devoted to preparing for some imagined upcoming apocalypse. Not only are their efforts not actually very useful or helpful to anybody, but all this preparation speaks more to their own fear of change than to any possible future troubles the world might face. I’ll show you how today.
Meet the Preppers.
Doomsday Preppers is a National Geographic series that looks into the prepping activities of various real-life people. It’s in its fifth season or so now. Each show looks at one to three different preppers, all of whom are sure that some kind of disaster or war or plagues or financial crisis is coming their way. After the preppers outline their schemes for survival, the show’s “experts” (who I never saw named, so we don’t know why they are experts) decide how well-prepared they are and then make suggestions for how to become better prepared. At the end, the show’s narrator tells us just how likely the prepper’s feared future scenario really is.
It’s obviously a winning strategy for a TV show. The episodes bear a surreal game-show quality, almost like something you’d expect to see out of The Running Man or Idiocracy. Considering its jaunty style and its subjects’ certainty about the doom coming their way, one could easily be excused for thinking one is watching a side-joke straight out of one of those cheery-dystopia sorts of comedies. But no–these shows are real, and the people on them are quite earnest about their efforts to prepare for the worst.
I’m fascinated with these sorts of people. The idea of spending many days of one’s finite lifetime (and a not-inconsiderable amount of disposable income, leisure time, and limited house space) preparing for a specific disaster that might or might not ever happen strikes me as one of the weirdest uses of time one could devise. At least after playing The Sims for a few hours I have a cute digital dollhouse to show for my time! But these folks have a house full of supplies just waiting for the Big One–in whatever form they imagine that will take.
The people on these shows tend to share similar features. They are generally:
- Morbidly obese and suffering a variety of health problems.
- Far-right-conservative politically.
- Super-racist white folks.
- Obsessed with guns.
- Preparing for a scenario that the show’s experts generally don’t think will happen.
- Totally convinced that if that scenario comes to pass, civilization will be destroyed.
- Insistent that they’re gonna get theirs, and rather looking forward to punishing the people who laugh at them now.
- Quite religious.
If you marathoned this series and played a drinking game every time some fat fundagelical dude stood on-camera fondling a rifle while trying to avoid using racist epithets to describe President Obama or referring to him as the Antichrist, you’d be dead of alcohol poisoning by the 3rd or 4th episode. No, no, they’re trying hard to look perfectly reasonable and competent, well gosh like anybody would if they suddenly got the idea that an EMP burst would take out all of America’s civilization (pro-tip: no).
The few people who don’t fit that mold tend to be a little more level-headed. One elderly lady and her husband were gung-ho preppers, but they were flaming liberals who eschewed guns and gun culture entirely. Instead, they were concentrating more on learning useful homesteading skills, socking away canned goods, and teaching others in their community. When the show’s “experts” advised them to get some guns to protect themselves in case of emergency, they sweetly but firmly refused. The lady mentioned that she and her husband didn’t fit in with the other preppers in their area at all–which isn’t surprising, given that they are the polar opposite of everything on the above list. She reminded me in the best way of non-fundagelical homeschooling parents–who probably feel downright surrounded by religious zealots in the homeschooling community.
But there weren’t many of those sorts of preppers. The show prefers to focus on people who are doing the equivalent of Stupid Pet Tricks–folks who are showing off just how completely clouded their perceptions are and how badly they overestimate their own abilities to survive in the event of an apocalypse.
Worse than everything else, though, these episodes reveal just how low an opinion fundagelical preppers have of their fellow human beings.
Fear of Change.
Prepping may be one of the ways that some folks soothe themselves in times of great change. The people most likely to prep are those who are afraid of what the future may bring–so they’re trying to bring some of that fear down a few notches by preparing for the worst. They’re running in circles, but they’re doing stuff with results they can perceive, so they are comforted somewhat.
Though originally not exclusively the purview of fundagelicals, prepping slipped into fundagelicalism like a small boat slips into the water. The fears involved, the “what if?” doomsaying, the hucksterism that prepping lends itself to, the outright fearmongering and the pandering that prepper leaders create and spread among these frightened flocks (bonus: spot the racist codewords in “Frederick Reddie’s” writeup), all of it is already a natural part of their culture.
And, too, their culture is well accustomed to the sheer boiling anger that preppers show when they talk about what is going to happen to everyone else.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, take a look at this guy from the first episode. Start at the 36-minute mark:
Pat Brabble’s big fear is hyperinflation, as he reveals in his introduction. Not realizing that conservative policies lead to exactly the situation he describes (to wit: prices rising out of control while wages remain stagnant), he now spends some USD$700-800 a month buying supplies for that nightmare. He goes on to say with a distinct twang I associate exclusively with Southern Baptists,
Peoples are goin’ to panic when the economic collapse does happen. Yew couldn’t get any money outta the banks. People couldn’t get gas at th’local gas station and if they can’t pump fuel then they can’t get groceries into town. People will do whatever they have to do to feed their family. I think it’d be pretty bad, pretty quick.
After his monologue, which is backed by stock footage of rioting and abandoned gas stations, the very next shot is of him walking around his property holding his wife’s hand–and holding a big ol’ rifle in the other hand. He makes clear that his prepping is being done to benefit himself, his immediate family, and his own friends–the smirk that floats across his face while he describes the people who aren’t part of that number, and who aren’t preparing like he is, cannot be missed. And different scenes reveal his American flag hung over his garage workbench–and the sign on his secret prepper stash proclaiming that he is a bitter religious nutter who clings to his guns and his religion (riffing off of something Obama said once).
They don’t drink alcohol, but they still are stockpiling tons of booze for bartering purposes–since obviously money won’t be worth a thing when hyperinflation becomes an issue. So if Pat Brabble’s fears never come to pass, at least he’ll have lots of peanut butter and bourbon so he can throw a world-class party.
Well, he would, except that he’s thinking more in terms of learning to make Molotov cocktails with some of that booze to “deter” would-be looters and thieves. I guess when Jesus told fundagelicals to give strangers the shirts off their backs, turn the other cheek, and carry others’ burdens a second mile, he sure didn’t mean to do it in case of hyperinflation!
On the show, Pat Brabble and his brother test their homemade booze-bombs, which seem to work nicely. But in case that doesn’t work to keep their home secure, he has sixty firearms stockpiled away.
(I’m guessing they all use exactly the same ammunition? Or he has a warehouse full of all the different sizes of ammunition he’ll need to keep them all operational? Mr. Captain just told me he doesn’t even know how many total sizes of ammo there are, but he guessed that Fundie McGunNut here probably needs about 20 different kinds for all of those varied guns he has.)
In fact, Mr. Brabble and his wife have a variety of firearms that come easy to hand everywhere they are and everywhere they go–they are never without at least one. Too bad they didn’t go to that prepper convention that Vice did, or they could have bought a “BIBLICAL WEAPON” (a sling) for just $10; I hear those don’t require much in the way of complicated ammunition.
The episode contrasts Mr. Brabble’s rapturous listing-off of all his guns with a sign he’s got in his house that proclaims, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15”) — which I assume means they are planning to serve the “Lord” with a flaming bottle of vodka and an 30-aught-6 to the face. They even have some minister guy come over to bless their humble
militia arsenal gun hoard while the film crew is there, which in my mind constitutes Level 10 Fundagelicalism. If they’d managed to work in homeschooling references somewhere, they’d have won the entire game.
He does manage to preach a little toward the end of his segment, ending by declaring that he thinks it’s important for born-again Christians to prepare during this life. I’m assuming that this “born-again Christian” doesn’t know about that thing Jesus is supposed to have said about his followers never worrying about the future because he’d be taking care of everything they really need, but then, I didn’t see any Christians at all in any of these shows who remembered that bit.
A lot of what Jesus is supposed to have said is considered totally optional by fundagelicals, I’ve noticed. This guy is totally aching for that magical day when he can fling a flaming bottle of booze at all those
liberals looters prowling around his property, and when he can crack open and eat some rancid peanut butter while laughing at all those meanies who dared to laugh at people just like him.*
The segment ends with the narrator advising that most economic experts don’t think hyperinflation is going to happen anytime in the coming years. Pat Brabble’s stockpile of peanut butter will go rancid long before he ever has to worry about eating it.(That first episode contains several other segments–don’t miss the first one, about a fundagelical gun nut who accidentally shoots himself right through the hand right in front of his kids, right on camera while out shooting.)
And that’s what this show was like, time after time. I was absolutely fascinated. One guy who was disabled and so fat he could barely walk was stockpiling guns and whatnot in preparation of the coming apocalypse. David Sarti fears a giant EMP surge of some kind, and there’s no myth about them that he doesn’t totally buy into (yes, he’s totally building a Faraday cage). He’s convinced that because his area (Texas) is so agrarian and wholesome, he and his peers will be eating “ribeyes and TEE-bones” while those city folk (that’s fundagelical code for godless liberals, in case you’re wondering) up in in New York are eating “ROW-mane noodles,” implying that they’ll sure be sorry then. Then he smirks and lovingly fondles his rifle, calling it his “last line of defense.” (We’re treated to an awesomely terrible long shot of him “patrolling” his property with the gun at the ready.)
The “experts” delicately advise that Mr. Sarti isn’t in very good physical shape to handle Doomsday, and he concedes that point and says he’s trying to get weight-loss surgery; in the update, he concedes that his health has gotten even worse.
In the same episode, Kellene Bishop is in much the same situation. She’s a Mormon housewife and fake-news blogger in Utah who’s busy eating herself right into diabetes. She’s afraid of an economic meltdown of some kind (not surprising, given her solid stream of failures in business), so she and her husband are stockpiling food and guns. She’s got so much squirreled away that she’s convinced that even after that meltdown, she’ll still be morbidly obese while everyone else is “skin and bones.” She claims to be a “foodie,” but the feast she prepares for her prepper friends from all her mummified foods looks absolutely ghastly. She tee-hees and giggles about the idea of murdering intruders with her guns (naturally there’s another long shot of her doing a patrol in her darkened house with her husband). She is completely oblivious to the far greater threat to her future than any nebulous financial apocalypse might pose to her.
The Curious Disconnect.
If I got scared about the end of the world, the main thing I’d be doing would be getting myself to the best health I could humanly manage. I’d want to as medication-free as possible and at as little risk as possible for long-term and chronic diseases. I’d be getting as strong and as fast as I could, as capable of long-term exercise, and as able to withstand periods of starvation as I could. In my mind, that’d matter a whole lot more than all the guns and stockpiled food someone could amass.
I’d definitely be trying to secure my immediate area and connecting with my community, trying to build ties and networks where possible and coordinate the life skills needed for a group to thrive. But most of these preppers barely seemed to comprehend that there was anything past their own homes and properties, and some hadn’t even considered how they’d deal with the world outside their front doors–
Or even inside their own bodies. That one guy who wanted weight-loss surgery was undoubtedly on numerous medications considering all the health problems he had (and there were other preppers who mentioned the same thing in that series, including a Type 2 diabetic), and he seemed to look forward to the end of the world–except he wanted to be sure to get his weight-loss surgery first! How is he planning to get his medications after the end of the world? How is he going to move around his farm and do all the stuff farmers do, if he can barely walk as it is?
I’m not the only person who has seen that disconnect, either. The prepper community has had loads of discussions about exactly this point. One of them mentions a sociology professor who wrote a book about preppers who discovered that overwhelmingly, that crowd is white, married, male, and middle-aged (meaning that the health problems may well just be demographical in nature). I’d also strongly suspect that they tend to be members of conservative religious groups as well. One blogger adds that a lot of preppers he’s run into also lack the necessary social skills for functioning in groups after whatever apocalypse they fear comes to pass. Really, those discussions I saw were good evidence of some level heads in the prepper movement–people who are prepping more for lost jobs and bad winters than The End of the World As We Know It, and who look upon fundagelical preppers the same way that military veterans look at weirdos who wear full camo and yellow shooting glasses to Cabela’s.
Far more curious to me than Christian preppers’ overwhelming lack of practical preparedness is the mixed message they’ve absorbed and are sending regarding their religion. They have faith–but they also have loads of guns. They love Jesus–but they’ll shoot someone in the face for coming near their stuff. They’ll be chortling in glee when they’re eating well while their enemies are starving–oh, wait, I reckon that’s usually the case for that crowd. The overwhelming feeling one gets from them, despite their bluster, is fear. They’re very afraid of what’s coming, and they’re doing their best to soothe those fears by grabbing for more control over their situations.
The big problem here is that even if their fears do come to pass, there’s no indication that their efforts will be totally necessary.
That Time I Lived Through a Near-Apocalypse.
I’ve actually been through a strikingly similar post-apok scenario to what these preppers imagine is going to happen. And I know that their fears are largely groundless.
I was in Memphis in 2003 when the city was hit by an extremely powerful derecho, which is a sort of sideways tornado. The whole city had lost power; every streetlight had been blown out. Most of the major roads had been blocked by downed trees (the city was fond of a type with shallow root systems, and most of them had been ripped clean out of the ground and strewn around).
I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to a post-apocalyptic environment than what I saw that July morning in Memphis when I finally crept out from my hidey-hole to survey the damage.
And you know what happened as a result of that devastation?
People figured things out.
A friend of my mom’s drove by to check on me and we went to the Waffle House over by the mall, which had fired up a generator and was serving (and only serving) cheeseburgers and potato chips from single-serve bags, and warm soda. The place was packed, being the only place open for miles around. There were no lights on in the building, but the mood was cheerful. If Waffle House was making food, things couldn’t be quite that bad. Fed and feeling bolstered, my mom’s friend and I figured out what we’d need to do till we knew more about the power situation–mom had two deep freezers full of food, some of which was viable still, and a barbecue grill.
Most of the city didn’t get power back for weeks, and some folks in the further-out areas didn’t have it by Halloween. As for the traffic lights, it turns out (according to a power company source speaking informally) that only one company made them and it was not a big company or a close one; it’d take a very long time to get them all fabricated and sent to Memphis.
My mom’s home was very close to a major electrical hub serving hospitals and government buildings, so I got power back that afternoon, which meant I didn’t need to fire up the grill and try to figure out what to do with 500 pounds of deep-frozen food in 24 hours.
But the people who did, made it all work. A lot of barbecues happened that week, and a lot of folks who didn’t have food or potable water got both from neighbors who needed to get rid of frozen goods in a hurry.
What really astonished everyone there was that for all that sheer and monstrous destruction, almost nobody died as a result of the storm (2 casualties, I think I heard), and crime didn’t spike or anything like that. People helped each other, were kind to each other. I saw not one single accident at any of the intersections governed by those hundreds of now-defunct blown-out traffic lights; instead, people treated them like proper four-way stop signs, each going at their proper time and using hand signals when needed. In fact, I’d never seen Memphis drivers behave more politely or considerately.
If the apocalypse had come, the people there sure weren’t rioting in the streets, looting everything, or causing general mayhem.
Now, different disasters obviously provoke different responses. This one was bad, but it wasn’t a Katrina by any stretch. However, it had the essential elements of an apocalyptic scenario: lack of electricity, complete disarray, buildings destroyed, quite a lot of infrastructure out of commission, roads intermittently inaccessible and blocked. We had no idea when we’d be getting power back and no idea when our infrastructure would be operational again. There was no phone service and only intermittent cell coverage.
And people didn’t go nuts, riot in the streets, start bartering bourbon and whiskey, or shoot each other in the face for trespassing.
Their Dreams Never Come True.
I wonder now how many Memphis preppers were sorely disappointed by the total lack of chaos. I know that the idea of civilization breaking down entirely is part of fundagelical imaginations, especially with regard to the Endtimes they imagine will come before the end of the world. Movies like Left Behind take totally for granted that non-Christians will riot like beasts the second things start going pear-shaped, especially if TRUE CHRISTIANS™ aren’t there to lovingly control everyone in sight.
The worst thing that could possibly happen to a fundagelical prepper is getting exactly what they dream of. Their food won’t last very long. The guns? Someone more physically capable will doubtless take those away very quickly. What happens when there are no more opiates for the people who need painkillers for their various conditions? Or the other medications they need, like insulin and Metformin? What happens if they blow out their knees or can’t find gas for their truck, and have to walk 50 miles to the nearest meetup place? What happens if they’ve managed to alienate and anger all of their neighbors, who now are a much-needed safety net rather than a hindrance to look down upon and smirk about?
Fundagelicals’ fears have driven them to this new extreme in behavior–and hopefully it’s just another harmless fad for them to waste money on while their religion putters to its end. For the rest of us, that new fad constitutes another sign of their fears about their own coming diminishment.
We’ll be looking at another sign of that diminishment next — see you then!
* For real: I’ve never seen a prepper so fixated on peanut butter. How long exactly does this guy think that stuff lasts? I saw a prepper site that really thought it lasted 25 years, but a more sensible estimate is probably a year for the commercial kinds and 3-4 months for the “natural” kinds–if unopened.