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‘Doomsday Preppers': Our New Threat?

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 chhuddl@siue.edu.

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.


10 Responses

  1. An intelligent breakdown. Refreshing to see an academic perspective that doesn’t condemn preppers (see ‘preppers are socially selfish’) and appreciates the self-reliance aspects of the movement.

  2. […] the Statement on Gun Violence and to anthropologist Chad Huddleston for revisiting his ethnography, ‘Doomsday Preppers’: Our New Threat?. For the follow-up to the December 2012 comments, see Anthropology, Gun Reform, American […]

  3. this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. you guys have to blame someone or something to feel justified don’t you?

  4. […] ‘Doomsday Preppers’: Our New Threat? (aaanet.org) […]

  5. […] ‘Doomsday Preppers’: Our New Threat? […]

  6. […] recently had a guest blog published by the American Anthropological Association based on his research thus far with Zombie Squad.  He began researching with the group about two […]

  7. […] the Statement on Gun Violence and to anthropologist Chad Huddleston for revisiting his ethnography, ‘Doomsday Preppers’: Our New Threat? See below for those links and more updates on gun reform […]

  8. America has had many opportunities to devolve into the doomsday that preppers prepare for, and yet the opposite has occurred. America is more stable than in the past, it is producing more food, and it is more prepared for disaster. Witness the difference in response between Hurricane Sandy and Katrina. In the Civil War, people had to store away food like preppers, and yet during the Civil War, not all families had the capacity to do so – yet there was no mass starvation. Today, society is more efficient at producing and distributing food, not less; ergo the danger of a food shortage is less than during the Civil War. Preppers are putting effort in the wrong area. If they put their energy into advising their country how to better mobilize collectively, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper, and a heck of a lot more effective than going it alone assuming that society will collapse. Society won’t collapse because it is naturally predisposed to self-preservation. Having said that, society does encounter hiccups like the LA Riots – sure prepare for hiccups, that’s prudent. But preparing for societal collapse is to ignore history.

  9. Preppers…a THREAT?! Some people buy a week’s worth of groceries, so they don’t have to shop every single day. Some people keep a gun in the house, in case someone breaks in and there isn’t time to call the police. What’s the difference, and more importantly, what’s the THREAT if someone chooses to prepare for longer than a week, or for more than just a single intruder? Liberals are intimidated by the strangest things, and yet they’re perfectly content to expect that things will continue to go exactly as they always have, without any interruption. (how did this go, Superdome?) This is their choice, and it’s my choice to prepare for the worst, just in case. How that makes me a threat I’ll never know. I don’t bother other people now, and I won’t bother them the next time power is out for an extended period of time and everyone else is scrambling for food.

  10. what the hell are you guys doing the need to prepare is always there for any situation for which you will not be prepared. some if not many are just too out there …. being prepare for the bad guys nice ,but at what number will they be coming if ………………… you till ever one what you have. where it at and how you are going to defend yourself. thats giving your enemy in any combat zone plans on how to defeat you. da da!!!! keep your mouth shut!
    being prepared is for the stronger to help the weaker if the time to share is there! dont be closed minded people the gov gov. knows what and where you have … cameras in the sky!!!! others that will give you up for a crust of bread….. they will take it from you even if it from your cold dead hands … your familys then what? i dont have the answers nor does any one else..
    seek your god in heaven for the direction… and pray you dont have to use all of the things you have done to defend yourself… knock and the door will be opened… signed very concerned for U.S.A. please pass this on to other sites dont know much about the process of it..

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