“Kulafarmer” lives in Hawaii and is gearing up for civil war. He expects leftist mobs to rampage through America come the elections. So he’s readied his Mossberg 590, the pump-action shotgun favored by Navy Seals, and an automatic assault rifle that can hit precisely at long range.
“And that’s the less lethal stuff,” he wrote on a popular chat room for preppers, a baggy term for anyone who strives towards self-sufficiency and prepares for crises. ”If you are afraid of engaging you might as well just go dig a hole and get in now.”
Preppers include urbanites like me who buy emergency radios in case of hurricanes. Preppers include rural people who raise chickens because they live hours from the nearest supermarket. Lately, the broad community of preppers is hearing more from folks like Kulafarmer, a nom de plume, who are stockpiling ammo and weapons, which they fear will run out like toilet paper did at the start of the pandemic. They believe antifa is coming to take over the government—and your jarred tomatoes, too.
Since the pandemic began, the 25 most popular prepper websites have seen a marked uptick in articles like “Top 10 Guns to Buy During a Pandemic.” I see more warnings than usual of “SHTF” (Shit Hits the Fan.) According to Planandprepared.com, everyone should know how to build an AR-15 (to save money on buying one) and which five discreet weapons you can carry almost anywhere. On the homey Prepare Magazine, where talk normally focuses on gardening and healing oils, a recent blog recommended 9mm handguns for self-defense. It’s not enough to forage for mushrooms anymore. You should be locked, loaded, and ready to fight.
“Protection of supplies and loved ones during times of desperation and social unrest is crucial,” wrote Lee Flynn, self-described as a home prep and wilderness expert from the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. “Consequently, no survival kit is complete without lots of 9mm ammo.” He urged haste to obtain a significant cache before the million-plus first-time gun owners who appeared during the pandemic buy it all up. “Without sufficient protection, the hard work of acquiring and storing supplies becomes futile.”
The most extreme preppers are survivalists, who have off-the-grid cabins in the woods for when chaos strikes. The Doomsday among them fear the End of Days. Others simply veer far right, if not outright militia. They believe authority can‘t be trusted to defend them so it’s each man—and they are invariably men—out for himself.
It’s impossible to quantify how many preppers live in America, or what percentage falls in the armed camp. Experts who follow the patriot militia movement believe that radical survivalists tend to gravitate to white supremacist groups. There’s especially cross-pollination with far-right militias like the Three Percenters, says Sam Jackson. He’s an assistant professor at the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at Albany University and just came out with a book about the Oath Keepers, an armed anti-government group.
The founder of the Oath Keepers, Elmer “Stewart” Rhodes, has a strong survivalist bent and links to Alt-market.com, which promotes the idea of small community-based economies that can survive in the mountains with farming and barter. (He himself lives in the wilds of Montana.) Militia sites regularly host ads that appear on prepper sites as well, for stuff like night-vision goggles and emergency food in 5-gallon buckets. At gun shows, you might see a stand selling pickles and supplies to make them yourself. The pickle guy doesn’t fit the extremist mold but is adjacent.
As with the prepper movement, some of these groups are too small and defuse to get a handle on their numbers. Sometimes the “organization” is simply a Facebook page of NRA members mouthing off. The Oath Keepers is among the largest, claiming a membership of 30,000, but it’s hard to say which portion of these anti-government militias is active.
“You have the Baby Boomer retiree who spends all day on Facebook who might be supporting the movement ideologically and then you have more committed people who go out on the streets and do things,” says Jackson. “The same is probably true for preppers.”
Besides, because there’s so much overlap, one individual deploying various usernames may be posting in different online forums at the same time. It could be that the mainstream prepper sites are populated by people who move in more militant circles as well, but the messaging may be different.
Robert H. Churchill, a history professor at Hartford University who wrote a groundbreaking book about homegrown militias, To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant’s Face, notes that bellicose talk is coming from a lot of different directions, including the Republican Party and the right-wing Evangelist movement. “I wouldn’t necessarily read it that the militia movement is infiltrating the more vanilla preppers,” he says. “Violent fears and rhetoric are infusing the whole right side of the political spectrum. It doesn’t surprise me that it would be coming to survivalist prepper groups as well.”
Churchill wonders how much is hot air. Good question. Who knows how many of these Rambos actually have bunkers in the woods. Who knows if they really are Rambos. Maybe they never served in Iraq like they claim. Maybe they are scaredy pants who have taken online identities that talk a big game. Maybe they aren’t involved in any prepping themselves.
But let’s not dismiss the battle cries. Some of these guys are heavily armed and have shown a proclivity to go out with their weapons. They believe “Commies” like Joe Biden threaten America.
That can lead to something ugly if preppers like Kulafarmer actually shoot.
Judith Matloff teaches crisis reporting at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her latest book, How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope to Never Need, shares tricks for surviving all manner of peril.