What if the world we know comes to a halt? No electricity, no law and order, or a disease that wipes out millions. Maybe the implosion of our economy reducing the population to abject poverty. Everybody forced to rely on their own resources to survive. This is the world that Preppers believe is just round the corner. And a network of Prepper communities can be found on social media making all the necessary plans and sharing their knowledge.
I’m not a Prepper. But one can understand how Preppers are finding converts. The banking collapse of 2008, the Covid pandemic, and the recent recession plus fears over global warming and populist politicians feeding our fears. Add to that global warming, geopolitical tensions, and the prospect of planet Earth being hit by an asteroid. What’s not to turn somebody Prepper?
So – let me explain the world of Preppers to you!
The 2012 NBC two-season drama series Revolution imagined a post-apocalyptic future fifteen years after a global electricity black-out. The video clip here shows the moment when the world’s power blacked out. (Article continues below).
So, what is a Prepper?
Preppers are keen to emphasise that they’re not lone crazies. Or living in a shack in the forest. Rather, they’re ordinary concerned people working collaboratively to get ready for civilisational collapse. Using social media and networking with like minds, they’re amassing all the things they’ll need to survive some kind of apocalypse. Food, fuel, and sad to say – guns and weapons.
They are going “off grid” to become self-reliant and empowered. Learning how to kill and prepare their own food. Grow crops. Raise their children without help from the state. Defend their home against perceived enemies. Because the future world will be a dark place. Full of risks and terrors.
But human connections will still be needed. No man or woman is an island. So before the calamity that’s going to end it all, Preppers believe they must find others they can trust now. Because total isolation isn’t good for mental or physical wellbeing. And communities will still to form as the dust settles after whatever kind of catastrophe is about to befall us all.
Plus, right here and right now, some Preppers need to raise money if they’re giving up their jobs in anticipation of societal collapse. To do that, they need networks. If they’ve developed a skill like brewing beer or making pottery, they might want to start selling these things to like minded folk today. Learning how to barter and haggle now will be vital because soon, we will be reverting to a pre-capitalist economy.
So what do Preppers think is about to happen?
Preppers are not a monolithic block. They come in all shapes and sizes. And they’re located across the political spectrum – which means they can be hostile to each other’s underlying ideologies. It’s sometimes assumed that Preppers live solely on the extreme Right but you can find environmentalist and anarchist Preppers who regard themselves as being on the political Left.
So, for example, there are Preppers among environmentalists stating that climate change has now reached such a point that societal collapse can’t be avoided. Professor Jem Bendell argues for what he calls Deep Adaptation. Bendell has influenced the thinking of the pressure group Extinction Rebellion. And a website, the Deep Adaptation Forum, is a space for activists to share ideas and resources for the forthcoming collapse.
In this hypothesis, all the ills of the world from Covid to inflation and the mental health crisis are being massively exacerbated by climate change, which combined together is destroying the foundations of modern society. This view is called ‘collapsology‘ – arguing that we have reached a point of no return and the only question is when society is going to fall over and what will be the catalyst.
Then there are liberal left Preppers who bemoan the rise of isolationism and nativism, which they believe will end the benefits of our civilisation. Though they would never put it like this themselves, they are effectively cheerleaders for economic globalisation. They see the unravelling of global and regional institutions like the European Union, as shown by the Brexit referendum, leading to shortages of goods as markets close to us. It’s rather like the end of the Roman Empire when the interconnectedness of the imperial system stretching from Iraq to Scotland gave way to petty, backward fiefdoms.
As we become more distant from our neighbours – supplies of Focaccia and Prosecco will be threatened. Imagine the howls of anguish from the petit-bourgeoisie. I’m being sarcastic. But goods we took for granted will disappear. In the years after the United Kingdom voted to leave Brexit, some anti-Brexiteers feared Britain would go down the plughole as trade deals failed to be signed with countries around the world to replace the benefits of European Union membership. The 48% Preppers even had a Facebook page advising on looming food shortages and how to cope with empty supermarket shelves.
Some Preppers are clearly horrified at the prospect of modern capitalism being extinguished. Others can’t wait. Either they yearn for a pre-capitalist society of rural subsistence that they imagine was pure of heart and deed, or they hope for a new kind of society where production and consumption will be more in tune with nature and the needs of the mass of humanity.
There is a strong streak of nihilism in the Prepper world – a belief that we’ve got everything wrong and we need to reboot the planet and start all over again. The trouble is that like some kind of Greek curse, we’d more than likely be doomed to go through all the same social and economic processes all over again from creating a surplus, a ruling class to own it, the notion of profit, exploitation and class – and hey presto, we’d be back where we started!
Undeniably, the extreme-Right looms over the Prepper universe. Groups like The Base, The Oath Keepers, and The Three Percenters have Prepperism and survivalism baked into their white supremacist ideology. For them, this isn’t so much a reaction to an impending catastrophe as preparing for a future insurgency. Among those who participated in the violent and illegal Capital Hill Riots of January 6, 2021, in Washington DC were Preppers of an extreme-Right ilk.
In February 2023, German police raided several properties being used by groups linked to the extreme-Right Reichsbürger movement. They were planning a coup d’etat against the German government that would involve seizing key locations and arresting ministers and other leading figures. These violent Preppers had been influenced by various QAnon conspiracy theories. German experts estimate that the country has about 100,000 Preppers, with a hard core of extreme Right operatives within that group of people.
Preppers on social media and in popular culture
Preppers are on social media sharing tips with each other on how to survive the thing that is about to happen. Whatever that thing is. Forming networks now using Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. Because of course social media may fall victim to the looming catastrophe.
So on Pinterest, it’s not just cake recipes being shared on Prepper sites, but how to build a bomb shelter for example. I checked out Prepper Pinterest today and found pins on “items to stockpile for bartering” (including bullets), the “urban survival toilet”, the first hundred items that will disappear in a crisis, and how to build a seed bank and grow trees. There are even courses aimed at mothers to teach their children what to do in an emergency.
TV has recognised the Preppers in recent years. A decade ago, National Geographic broadcast a series, Doomsday Preppers, finding out why some people are stockpiling provisions – and weapons – for a post-apocalyptic environment. No two Preppers had exactly the same fears for the future. Some thought a super-volcano would cause chaos. For others, it was a terrorist wave of attacks that would end our relatively peaceful existence. (Article continues below this video).
In 2012, British viewers were treated to Preppers UK; Surviving Armageddon, again made by National Geographic. That year saw a surge in interest in global catastrophe as it coincided with the apocalypse allegedly predicted by the Mayan calendar. Mercifully, the Mayas turned out to have got it wrong.
Prepping in the UK taps into a very British belief in stockpiling and being prepared for the enemy that goes back to the airborne bombings of the Blitz in the Second World War that laid waste to the country’s cities. However, when the UK government tried to rekindle that spirit in the 1970s with its Protect and Survive public information films about how to withstand a nuclear war – it was greeted with derision by the public.
But the United States government still offers advice to families on carrying on after a nuclear explosion as this leaflet shows. (Article continues below).
Fears of nuclear war from the 1950s to the 1980s created proto-Prepper groups hatching plans to escape to the wilderness or underground in the event of the Soviet Union and United States launching nuclear missiles at each other. But the perceived threat in that era emanated from other sources – including outer space.
The 1951 novel, The Day of the Triffids, by author John Wyndham, has a meteor shower bringing a killer species of plant to our planet, which causes civilisation to collapse. Depressingly what emerges in response is a thuggish, militaristic dictatorship to deal with the breakdown in law and order.
That very plausible eventuality is explored in the Ubisoft video game Far Cry 5. If Preppers are hoping that the end of civilisation will herald in a society based on peace and love, then the warnings against that view have been explored in popular culture for a long while. And Far Cry 5 doesn’t pull its punches. Or spare its bullets. This is a “first person shooter” video game where everybody in the post-apocalyptic world is armed and ready.
The made-up territory of Hope County in Montana is home to a Prepper community who yearn for freedom in their new world. But there is a fanatical doomsday cult led by psychotic rich boy Joseph Seed who are out to impose total control. Let’s just say that for those Preppers hoping a global catastrophe will cleanse our society of all evil – this video game provides a wake-up call.
Part of the game involves a series of “mini-quests” locating so-called Prepper Stashes. These concealed supplies include money, weapons, ammunition, and “perk magazines” that are best described as survival skills manuals – unless anybody wants to challenge that!
(Article continues below Far Cry 5 trailer).
So what are Preppers thinking right now?
Prepper acronyms and terminology give an insight into the mindset and activity of this movement. To “bug out” is to drop off the grid and this will require a BOB (Bug Out Bag) and BOL (Bug Out Location). You might then declare that INCH (I’m Never Coming Home). And join a MAG (Mutual Assistance Group). You’ll be learning how to prepare an MRE (Meal Ready-To-Eat) which will be useful when we experience TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know it). Or simply put, when the SHTF (Shit Hits The Fan).
After which there will be a society WROL (Without the Rule of Law). Best to remove yourself from strife-ridden urban centres or GOOD (Get Out of Dodge). In which case you’ll want to be BSTS (Better Safe than Sorry). Many Preppers in the United States are clearly influenced by a Christianity that emphasises the imminent return of Christ and all the evils that will attend before that cosmic event. So look out for the EOD (End of Days). Avoid the TPTB (The Powers That Be) and you might find yourself YOYO (You’re On You’re Own). And so it goes on…
DISCOVER: Dystopia in the history of literature
Do Preppers want a disaster?
Post-Covid, the conventional wisdom has been that people in advanced economies not only appreciate well-run public services but want better and more. In other words, a greater role for the state in their lives. They don’t want to be left to fend for their own health, housing, and education. Most people are not libertarians or seeking to avoid the authorities.
But clearly, some have given up on the state. Either because they think it can’t defend us against future catastrophes or because they view it as a hostile force whose involvement in our lives is very unwelcome. To them, the government is a malign entity. The state is at war with the people. It’s time to go off grid.
Looking at the full spectrum of Preppers from environmentalists and their climate and biosphere doomsday scenarios through to white supremacists and their desire to create a racial utopia – one can’t help suspecting these people positively want the collapse of civilisation. Anything else would be a big letdown. If nothing happened, it would remove their sense of moral and political superiority over the rest of us. To be validated, they need a global catastrophe.
End times cults are nothing new. They used to have a religious flavour – and still do – but most Preppers today explain their worldview in secular and scientific (and pseudo-scientific) terms. We as a species have long been susceptible to the view that a day of reckoning is approaching. But somehow, and maybe it boils down to gut instinct, I’m sure humanity will wise up just in time and muddle through to the next phase of our existence on planet Earth.
The Preppers, meanwhile, will be left with a lot of tins of beans to shift.