Pense invites me to imagine a world turned lawless when the ninth transformer blows. Fifteen percent of the New Orleans Police Department deserted during Hurricane Katrina—imagine if the entire force lived where the levees broke. Big box stores killed off regional food distribution centers years ago; all we’ve got is what’s inside Walmart and Sam’s Club, and if you thought Black Friday was bad, imagine the crowds when it’s life or death. Drivers fleeing Springfield will hit roadblocks, where mobs will pull people from their vehicles like the LA rioters did to Reginald Denny. You might commit vehicular manslaughter, the preppers tell me, just to get out alive.
Auckland is a thirteen-hour flight from San Francisco. I arrived in early December, the beginning of New Zealand’s summer: blue skies, mid-seventies, no humidity. Top to bottom, the island chain runs roughly the distance between Maine and Florida, with half the population of New York City. Sheep outnumber people seven to one. In global rankings, New Zealand is in the top ten for democracy, clean government, and security. (Its last encounter with terrorism was in 1985, when French spies bombed a Greenpeace ship.) In a recent World Bank report, New Zealand had supplanted Singapore as the best country in the world to do business.
Pense tells me this sitting beside the fireplace that heats the furnace-less cabin, necessary in the damp 40-degree weather. He wears a Realtree camouflage jacket, circular wire-framed glasses, gray slacks and black leather shoes. A sign above the fireplace reads: “Invest in precious metals. Buy lead.” Carved in a split log on the mantel is, “A country boy can survive.” The guttered roof deposits 30,000 gallons of Ozarks rainwater into storage tanks outside each year. It’s a prepper’s paradise.
He ushered me through, and, in the darkness, I could see the outline of a vast concrete dome, with a metal blast door partly ajar. I was greeted by Larry Hall, the C.E.O. of the Survival Condo Project, a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo. The facility housed a nuclear warhead from 1961 to 1965, when it was decommissioned. At a site conceived for the Soviet nuclear threat, Hall has erected a defense against the fears of a new era. “It’s true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” he said. “They can come out here, they know there are armed guards outside. The kids can run around.”
Élite anxiety cuts across political lines. Even financiers who supported Trump for President, hoping that he would cut taxes and regulations, have been unnerved at the ways his insurgent campaign seems to have hastened a collapse of respect for established institutions. Dugger said, “The media is under attack now. They wonder, Is the court system next? Do we go from ‘fake news’ to ‘fake evidence’? For people whose existence depends on enforceable contracts, this is life or death.”
Border Wars (2010–15) Breakout (2010–13) Python Hunters (2010–11) Fish Warrior (2010–11) Great Migrations (2010) Aftermath (2010) Alaska Wing Men (2011–12) Hard Time (2011–13) Beast Hunter (2011) Rocket City Rednecks (2011–13) Brain Games (2011–16) Viking Apocalypse (2011) Doomsday Preppers (2012–14) American Weed (2012) Comic Store Heroes (2012) American Gypsies (2012) Abandoned (2012) Evacuate Earth (2012–14) Access 360° World Heritage (2012–15) Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? (2013) The Numbers Game (2013) Polygamy, USA (2013) Ultimate Survival Alaska (2013–15) Street Genius (2013–15) Doomsday Castle (2013) Ultimate Airport Dubai (2013–15) Nazi Megastructures (2013) The Legend of Mick Dodge (2014) Duck Quacks Don't Echo (2014) Building Wild (2014–15) Filthy Riches (2014) Going Deep with David Rees (2014) Survive the Tribe (2014–16) Eat: The Story of Food (2014) Crowd Control (2014) Arrepentidos (2014) Underworld, Inc. (2015–16) Remote Survival (2015) The Big Picture with Kal Penn (2015) American Genius (2015) Yukon River Run (2015) China From Above (2015) Breakthrough (2015–16) Saints & Strangers (2015) Asombrosamente (2015) Supercar Megabuild (2016–17) Facing (2016) Years of Living Dangerously (2016) Origins: The Journey of Humankind (2017) The Long Road Home (2017)
After a few days in New Zealand, I could see why one might choose to avoid either question. Under a cerulean blue sky one morning in Auckland, I boarded a helicopter beside a thirty-eight-year-old American named Jim Rohrstaff. After college, in Michigan, Rohrstaff worked as a golf pro, and then in the marketing of luxury golf clubs and property. Upbeat and confident, with shining blue eyes, he moved to New Zealand two and a half years ago, with his wife and two children, to sell property to H.N.W.I. who want to get “far away from all the issues of the world,” he said.
Robert A. Johnson sees his peers’ talk of fleeing as the symptom of a deeper crisis. At fifty-nine, Johnson has tousled silver hair and a soft-spoken, avuncular composure. He earned degrees in electrical engineering and economics at M.I.T., got a Ph.D. in economics at Princeton, and worked on Capitol Hill, before entering finance. He became a managing director at the hedge fund Soros Fund Management. In 2009, after the onset of the financial crisis, he was named head of a think tank, the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
"I had a dream not long ago that was sort of like God said, ‘I will show you these things,’ and that we’d lost both grids on the East and West Coasts, and I saw trains coming in, packed, standing-room only, from both coasts, and they were just releasing them into Mark Twain and everywhere. Those people were then forming little camps—15, 20 people per camp. And I saw a colored boy and a white boy, youngsters, and they were talking. And the white boy is talking, and he says if you steal wood from any of those people, only take one piece, because if you take more than that they’ll miss it.
You can tour this slice of underground history today. After the Southwicks visited the bunker recently, they said they felt even more strongly about the need to prepare. Their family reflects a new preparedness instinct that has been growing since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After that shock, the government urged people to store food, buy duct tape and roll water barrels into their basements.
This week Texas border residents have been warned of “Armed Civilians” along the border as the South American caravan approaches the border. The caravan is about 1,000 miles south of the border and has been reduced in number to about 4,000 as many of them either accepted Mexico’s offer of asylum or turned around. Fox News has reported that Mexico has commandeered buses and trucks to transport the caravan as quickly as possible to their next stop at the U.S. border as well. While President Trump has been vocal about not letting them into the U.S., they will be arriving right around the mid-term voting and I would expect whoever is funding them to withdraw support right about then.
Anarcho-primitivists share many characteristics with survivalists, most notably predictions of a pending ecological disaster. Writers such as Derrick Jensen argue that industrial civilization is not sustainable, and will therefore inevitably bring about its own collapse. Non-anarchist writers such as Daniel Quinn, Joseph Tainter, and Richard Manning also hold this view. Some members of the Men Going Their Own Way subculture also promote off-grid living and believe that modern society is no longer liveable.
Huffman has been a frequent attendee at Burning Man, the annual, clothing-optional festival in the Nevada desert, where artists mingle with moguls. He fell in love with one of its core principles, “radical self-reliance,” which he takes to mean “happy to help others, but not wanting to require others.” (Among survivalists, or “preppers,” as some call themselves, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stands for “Foolishly Expecting Meaningful Aid.”) Huffman has calculated that, in the event of a disaster, he would seek out some form of community: “Being around other people is a good thing. I also have this somewhat egotistical view that I’m a pretty good leader. I will probably be in charge, or at least not a slave, when push comes to shove.”
The morning after I arrived, I was picked up at my hotel by Graham Wall, a cheerful real-estate agent who specializes in what his profession describes as high-net-worth individuals, “H.N.W.I.” Wall, whose clients include Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist, was surprised when Americans told him they were coming precisely because of the country’s remoteness. “Kiwis used to talk about the ‘tyranny of distance,’ ” Wall said, as we crossed town in his Mercedes convertible. “Now the tyranny of distance is our greatest asset.”
“That’s a major problem,” says Gene Louis, a New Jersey expat who attended his first meetup in 2013 after moving to Springfield to begin ventures in real estate brokerage and digital marketing. Plus, Jersey is expensive, and he doesn’t like the fact that its residents don’t pump their own gas. “You don’t know what people are going to define as a threat, don’t know what people at survival meetings are going to talk about,” he says. “You can’t prepare for 100 percent of what’s on that list—well, you’d need to be Donald Trump to afford to.”
What if you could turn virtually any water bottle into an effective water filter? The Lifestraw Universal kit comes with a 2-stage filter, two different sized caps and a leak-proof lid. Compatible with most Nalgene, Camelbak, Klean Kanteen, Hydro Flask, Under Armour, Gatorade and other standard bottles, the replaceable microbiological filter removes 99.999999 percent of waterborne bacteria and 99.999 percent of waterborne protozoan parasites. If that wasn’t enough, a replaceable activated carbon capsule removes a number of chemicals and improves the taste of the water. All materials are FDA approved, made from food grade silicon, Polysulfone and ABS plastic. The kit includes a wide mouth cap, standard mouth cap, sport mouthpiece, standard mouth piece, 2-stage filter, and carry bag.
Car electricity runs on direct current, but almost everything else is alternating current. What you need: an inverter. Some cars have them built in, but you can get one at a store for less than $40. Use the clamps to attach the inverter directly to the terminals on your car battery. Let the car run at idle and you have 110-volt AC power for as long as you have gas. With a 300-watt inverter, you'll have enough amps to run a laptop or even a television.