He points to the cash registers over his left shoulder. “I’ll bet you there’s not one thing you bought today that didn’t use electricity in the transaction,” he says. Before Y2K, Finelli says he owned a small computer manufacturing company and personally upgraded 8,000 operating systems so the dates would roll over from 1999 to 2000. “Because they wouldn’t,” he says. “There was a defect. I know that computer systems are frail because I built them.” He says a widespread power outage would cripple us—no electricity, no trading debt portfolios, no buying wholesale taquitos on credit.
Bob Kay, a nutritional scientist in Southern California, is prepping for environmental destruction due to massive earthquakes; politician Joshua Wander is preparing for a terrorist attack, teaching others about prepping and stocking up kosher foods (matzos and mre's); Ryan Croft is prepping for a global financial crisis by cultivating alternative food sources like spirulina and earthworms.
Most preppers don’t actually have bunkers; hardened shelters are expensive and complicated to build. The original silo of Hall’s complex was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to withstand a nuclear strike. The interior can support a total of seventy-five people. It has enough food and fuel for five years off the grid; by raising tilapia in fish tanks, and hydroponic vegetables under grow lamps, with renewable power, it could function indefinitely, Hall said. In a crisis, his SWAT-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away. In his view, the Army Corps did the hardest work by choosing the location. “They looked at height above sea level, the seismology of an area, how close it is to large population centers,” he said.
“I’m actually responsible, indirectly, for the end of the meetups,” Dr. Shealy tells me inside his Springfield clinic off Chestnut Expressway, and not just because he thinks the earth is more than 6,000 years old. (Andrew: says you can’t trust anyone who believes that.) He sports a red crewneck, navy blue sweatpants, a stretchy metal watch and rectangular glasses. The 85-year-old—he’s more energetic than most people half his age—specializes in holistic medicine; the first thing he asks me is my birthday, and do I know what my astrological sign means. On my way out, he asks if he can hug me, and when I oblige, a toothy grin pulls wide the spritely doctor’s cheeks. “I believe it’s an important part of human contact,” he says.
Since then, the direction has been inauspicious. In January, 2016, after increasing military tensions between Russia and NATO, and the Earth’s warmest year on record, the Bulletin set the clock at three minutes to midnight, the same level it held at the height of the Cold War. In November, after Trump’s election, the panel convened once more to conduct its annual confidential discussion. If it chooses to move the clock forward by one minute, that will signal a level of alarm not witnessed since 1953, after America’s first test of the hydrogen bomb. (The result will be released January 26th.)
Experts worry most about the grid’s nervous system: 2,000 extra-high voltage transformers. They’re 200- and 300-ton behemoths, individually engineered to meet specific power demands, and on average, they’re 40 years old. Notwithstanding the fact that 85 percent of transformers are imported, the U.S. Department of Energy says it takes between 5 and 16 months to replace a single one. According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, an attack that destroyed nine of the 2,000 transformers would “cause a protracted nationwide blackout.” There’s no national cache of spare transformers.
For a time in the 1970s, the terms survivalist and retreater were used interchangeably. While the term retreater eventually fell into disuse, many who subscribed to it saw retreating as the more rational approach to conflict-avoidance and remote "invisibility". Survivalism, on the other hand, tended to take on a more media-sensationalized, combative, "shoot-it-out-with-the-looters" image.
Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee, was the C.E.O. of Reddit from 2012 to 2014. He, too, had eye surgery for survival purposes, eliminating his dependence, as he put it, “on a nonsustainable external aid for perfect vision.” In an e-mail, Wong told me, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”
The magazine’s issues, many of which are retained at the British Library in London, present a very clear picture of what its makers thought the future looked like. A family dressed in protective suits and gas masks, outside an English country house, was featured on the cover of the first edition. A later issue showed a happy mother tending her baby – in a fallout shelter. And another presented huge missiles waiting to be launched somewhere in the middle of decimated nuclear waste. The surroundings are red and black. On the horizon, a mushroom cloud glows.
Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal. Philanthropy in America is still three times as large, as a share of G.D.P., as philanthropy in the next closest country, the United Kingdom. But it is now accompanied by a gesture of surrender, a quiet disinvestment by some of America’s most successful and powerful people. Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair.
James Patrick Douglas, a man of the land in Maine, shows off homesteading techniques he believes will become necessary based upon overpopulation fears; Larry Hall turns an underground missile silo into a bunker to make sure his family is safe during any event; Becky Brown (of Grab n Go Food Storage) is making sure she and others are ready for martial law.
When bands of marauders start roaming the streets, how are you going to keep them out? Tear down a few walls, says Timothy Ferraro, a twenty-five-year construction veteran who's thought about this situation plenty while watching The Walking Dead. "Assuming the attackers don't have a battering ram, you should be able to keep them out using the lumber and drywall already in your home," he says.