Today’s guest post is written by AAA member, Chad Huddleston. He is a cultural anthropologist currently studying preppers. Dr. Huddleston is an Instructor at SIUE in the Anthropology department and an adjunct Assistant Professor at St. Louis University in the Sociology and Anthropology department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Survivalism has been dragged back into the news lately with details about the ‘prepping’ done by Nancy Lanza, Adam Lanza’s mother. For many, this may have been the first time they have heard the term ‘prepping’ or ‘prepper’. Some may be familiar with the term due to the show Doomsday Preppers on NatGeo, of which Nancy Lanza was rumored to be a fan. As I read through the various stories coming out on this specific detail of the very large and complex story of the shooting in Connecticut, I was interested in tracking the creation of a discourse on this new category of possible threat – the prepper. Who are these people and should we be worried?
I have been doing ethnographic research over the past 3 years with preppers based in the Midwest. Some of the preppers with whom I do research watch ‘Doomsday Preppers’ just like Nancy Lanza. They watch it as entertainment and like most that watch the show, they think the people featured on the show tend toward the extreme. At the same time, these are people that may have hundreds of gallons of water, months worth of food, materials, and (yes) guns and ammunition stored in their homes. Not one of them has ever called themselves a ‘doomsday prepper.’ That term would be an alternate version of another term that most preppers are looking to avoid – survivalist.
Survivalist came to the fore in the news throughout the 1990s in stories on the events at Ruby Ridge (1992), the Branch Davidian Complex (1993) and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building (1995), among others. These survivalists tended toward being anti-government, white supremacist, millennialist, isolationist, and violent. It should be easy to see why many preppers would want to distance themselves from such individuals and groups.
However, the primary reason those with whom I have done research want to distance themselves from these stereotypes is due to the simple fact that they do not hold those views or opinions. In fact, they are just the opposite in their mindset: inclusive in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, supportive of the current form of government, and interested in teaching others about how to be prepared for possible adverse events. The only similarities between survivalists and preppers may be some of the skills that they acquire to be ready for such events, including firearms training.
I am not arguing that all preppers are engaged in prepping activities for altruistic reasons. Many of them just want to keep their families and neighbors safe. I am also not arguing that all survivalist are crazed, religious, anti-government racists. Many of them would easily slide into the prepper category, even if they call themselves a survivalist.
So, the question is: does having firearms training, firearms, and some extra food and materials in your home make you a threat to your community? The simple answer is: maybe. I think the mindset behind gathering such materials and gaining such training is telling. If you are doing so because you are prejudice against certain groups in society, then you may be a threat. If you are doing so because you want to overthrow the government, then you may be a threat.
However, learning how to shoot a gun or owning legal weapons does not automatically make you a threat, just like having extra food, a first aid kit and some extra clothes packed in a bug-out bag does not make you a threat. It makes you prepared. Organizations like the International Red Cross, Homeland Security, FEMA and the CDC all have web pages that instruct individuals how to put together a bug-out bag and how to make a plan in order to organize your family or community in the event of a disaster.
The idea here, first told to me by the preppers I know, is that you don’t have to be a victim in a disaster. You may be able to feed yourself and care for minor wounds, so that first responders can help those that really need it. More than that, if you get some of the training that is offered by the organizations listed above, you could assist those first responders if asked. Instead of being a threat due to the knowledge and preparations you have made, you may be a vital support in your community.