Bullets, beans and Band-Aids: A growing subculture of ‘preppers’ is getting ready for the end times

by Denis Duclos,  |  published on November 25, 2012

Learning to grow your own vegetables and set aside seed to plant next year, to raise chickens, bake bread and make jam, to medicate yourself with aloe vera, knit a sweater, run a diesel engine on recycled cooking oil, collect rain- or well-water, make your log cabin energy self-sufficient — to most of us these are innocent, even heart-warming, activities. To “preppers” these aren’t pastimes; they are skills needed for the dark days ahead.

This subculture of Americans preparing for civilization’s collapse covers a vast range of fears and extends the idea of being prepared, as it is usually understood in the context of hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters, to all possible crises, local or systemic.

There are now at least three million preppers in the United States making detailed plans for surviving “the end of the world as we know it.” Though there have not been many sociological studies of preppers, they seem to come from all backgrounds, but especially from among the young and heavily indebted suburbanites.

National Geographic’s television channel has a reality show dedicated to prepping. Every month 300,000 people log on to, and many other websites have been created in the United States and Canada (Viking Preparedness, The Survival Mom, Ready Nutrition, Pioneer Living Survival Magazine, Prepper, The Suburban Prepper, The Prepper E-Book) and are now spreading in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Blogs, books and radio shows have produced figureheads, such as the high priest of prepping, James Wesley Rawles, a former U.S. military intelligence officer and a conservative Christian whose books sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Mr. Rawles shrouds himself in mystery, preferring not to reveal the location of the “secret ranch” where he has moved his family to ensure their survival.

There’s always someone predicting the end of the world, including millenarian sects. But, unlike the millenarians, the preppers are not expecting a specific disaster on a particular date. Anything could happen, at any time: a giant meteorite or another planet hitting the Earth, a massive volcanic eruption, a combination of ecological disasters, a nuclear war between China and the West, hyperinflation, the collapse of the world banking system, revolutionary insurrection, martial law — Preppers aren’t choosy.

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