Today’s guest blog post is by cultural anthropologist and AAA member, Chad Huddleston. He is an Assistant Professor at St. Louis University in the Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice department.
Recently, a host of new shows, such as Doomsday Preppers on NatGeo and Doomsday Bunkers on Discovery Channel, has focused on people with a wide array of concerns about possible events that may threaten their lives. Both of these shows focus on what are called ‘preppers.’ While the people that may have performed these behaviors in the past might have been called ‘survivalists,’ many ‘preppers’ have distanced themselves from that term, due to its cultural baggage: stereotypical anti-government, gun-loving, racist, extremists that are most often associated with the fundamentalist (politically and religiously) right side of the spectrum.
I’ve been doing fieldwork with preppers for the past two years, focusing on a group called Zombie Squad. It is ‘the nation’s premier non-stationary cadaver suppression task force,’ as well as a grassroots, 501(c)3 charity organization. Zombie Squad’s story is that while the zombie removal business is generally slow, there is no reason to be unprepared. So, while it is waiting for the “zombpacolpyse,” it focuses its time on disaster preparedness education for the membership and community.
The group’s position is that being prepared for zombies means that you are prepared for anything, especially those events that are much more likely than a zombie uprising – tornadoes, an interruption in services, ice storms, flooding, fires, and earthquakes.
For many in this group, Hurricane Katrina was the event that solidified their resolve to prep. They saw what we all saw – a natural disaster in which services were not available for most, leading to violence, death and chaos. Their argument is that the more prepared the public is before a disaster occurs, the less resources they will require from first responders and those agencies that come after them.
In fact, instead of being a victim of natural disaster, you can be an active responder yourself, if you are prepared. Prepare they do. Members are active in gaining knowledge of all sorts – first aid, communications, tactical training, self-defense, first responder disaster training, as well as many outdoor survival skills, like making fire, building shelters, hunting and filtering water.
This education is individual, feeding directly into the online forum they maintain (which has just under 30,000 active members from all over the world), and by monthly local meetings all over the country, as well as annual national gatherings in southern Missouri, where they socialize, learn survival skills and practice sharpshooting.
Sound like those survivalists of the past? Emphatically no. Zombie Squad’s message is one of public education and awareness, very successful charity drives for a wide array of organizations, and inclusion of all ethnicities, genders, religions and politics. Yet, the group is adamant on leaving politics and religion out of discussions on the group and prepping. You will not find exclusive language on their forum or in their media. That is not to say that the individuals in the group do not have opinions on one side or the other of these issues, but it is a fact that those issues are not to be discussed within the community of Zombie Squad.
Considering the focus on ‘future doom’ and the types of fears that are being pushed on the shows mentioned above, usually involve protecting yourself from disaster and then other people that have survived the disaster, Zombie Squad is a refreshing twist to the ‘prepper’ discourse. After all, if a natural disaster were to befall your region, whom would you rather be knocking at your door: ‘raiders’ or your neighborhood Zombie Squad member?
And the answer is no: they don’t really believe in zombies.