“Before the pandemic, I was working on a book about doomsday preppers — people who are actively preparing for the end of the world, or at least major disruptions to our comfortable daily lives. Starting out, my idea of prepping matched the stereotype I’d so often seen: the prepper as a rural, military-minded dude who gathers canned food, guns and ammo, and heads to the hills to wait out the zombie apocalypse.
For the most part, I found the stereotype to be accurate, in spirit if not in detail. A majority of the preppers I encountered were male. They were white, and fearful, though it was masked by a strange facade of pride and bravado. Their prepping was a pre-emptive reaction to what they swore was coming and needed to hide from (in their bunkers) and be ready to fight (with their weapons): civil unrest. There wasn’t a sense of prepping to have enough to share, or to take care of one another. It was more stockpiling ammo along with trail mix. N95 masks next to the powdered milk and pepper spray.
I also spoke to preppers who were professional bunker builders with enormous YouTube followings, who wore MAGA hats through airports, filmed other people’s reactions, then proudly posted them alongside their videos of igniting dynamite next to their bunkers to display their durability. I met preppers who had wine cellars that doubled as safe rooms, pantries with secret doors that stored their automatic rifles. They were positive the end was coming — not from climate change, but from civil unrest, which I sensed to be code for “brown and Black people.” These guys were preparing, all right, but they were also hoarding, and not to save up to share and take care of their communities; they were hoarding so that they wouldn’t have to adapt. I assume they were kind enough to speak to me because, well, I’m a white woman, and they were happy to mansplain. I found little hope of having my assumptions overturned or finding a way to relate to it.
Then I met Lisa Bedford, a woman known in the prepper community (and on her website) as Survival Mom. She told me that the head-for-the-hills scenario bears little relation to what people actually experience in disasters or other disruptions — and because of that she focuses on another type of prepping: ultimate homemaking and community resilience. “We moms have always and quietly thought in terms of what if, Ms. Bedford said. “Instead of thinking, ‘What if my kids get too cold outside?,’ we’re thinking, ‘What if this snowstorm keeps us in the house for a couple of weeks and the roads are closed?’” The most basic rule of prepping, she told me, isn’t having a lot of guns and ammunition to fight marauders. It’s the Rule of Redundancy: Have a backup, and then have a backup for your backup.”