Photograph from National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, courtesy of National Geographic Channel
There’s nothing new under the wingnut sun.
Survivalists are back in the news this week, though now we call them “preppers.” In Alabama the hostage standoff against a doomsday prepper holding a 5-year-old in a bunker he’d been working on in the middle of the night for over a year approaches the end of its first week. Adam Lanza shot up the children of Sandy Hook elementary with weapons his mother was reportedly stockpiling “for the economic and social meltdown.” And the brittle worldview that drives the survivalist mentality—the imagination of one’s one innocent enclave, always ever threatened by siege from dread unnamed Others—was laid bare at the recent congressional hearings on gun control, when Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women’s Forum (incidentally: not independent, not by and for women, not a forum) spun out her delirious fantasy of “a young woman defending her babies in her home” by fending off “three, four, five violent attackers” with one of those lightweight, easy-to-handle assault rifles.
Recently a young blogger, in a nice profile of the diverse subculture as it thrives now, unfortunately described preppers as a “nascent” movement. That ain’t so. As I’ve insisted earlier, “too much of what we observe today on the right we act as if started the day before yesterday. Always, we need to set the clock back further—as a political necessity. We have to establish deeper provenances. Or else we just reinvent, and reinvent and reinvent the wheel.” Let’s think about this: for generations we have shared our America with Americans who fear change, fear difference, fear you and me, fear everything falling apart. So much so that they organize their lives and politics around staving off the fear—which often entails taking political action that only makes America more fearful and dangerous in for everyone; which destroy the trust and love it takes to sustain communities; and who reinforce one another in their fear to such a degree that the less crazy among them surely play a positive role in spurring the more crazy to the kind of awful acts we see around us now. We need to better understand where that comes from, and why it is not going away.
So let’s get down to work.
In the early 1960s there was a group called the “Minutemen,” preparing for the imminent combined Communist and United Nations invasion. Their founder, Robert DePugh, a manufacturer of veterinary phamarceuticals in Misssouri, told the press that while waiting for the final showdown, his men would monitor and check subversive activities in their hometowns. DePugh claimed inspiration from a speech given by John F. Kennedy: “We need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life.”