You may have seen some headlines about a new study that says “doomsday prepping” is increasing in the United States because of our “culture of fear.” There are several things to know about this study to understand that they have it all wrong.
First, they don’t understand who preppers are.
Allow me to start with the description of prepping in general. Here’s how the report on the study opens.
“Doomsday prepping” or stockpiling food, medicine, weapons, and other supplies in case of an apocalyptic scenario has long been considered peculiar behavior only exhibited by conspiracy theorists and other extremists in the United States. (source)
I suppose they’ve never heard of wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or even simple power outages over there in Canterbury, England where they wrote this article. I guess nobody over there ever loses his or her job or has a massive personal financial catastrophe and has to rely on the food that has been put back for a rainy day. I guess in their ivory academic tower they haven’t heard of Brexit but if they have the supply line difficulty that has been predicted, they’re darn sure going to wish they knew more about prepping.
The study seems to focus only on political extremists.
The study itself is out of Cambridge University and it is entitled Obamageddon: Fear, the Far Right, and the Rise of “Doomsday” Prepping in Obama’s America. Here’s the abstract.
This article examines the politics of American “doomsday” prepping during Barack Obama’s presidency. It challenges claims that growing interest in prepping post-2008 arose exclusively from extreme apocalyptic, white supremacist, and anti-government reactions to Obama’s electoral successes – claims that suggest prepping to be politically congruent with previous waves of extreme right-wing American “survivalism.” Drawing on ethnography, this paper argues that, while fears of Obama have been central to many preppers’ activities, much of their prepping under his presidency centred on fears that sit outside survivalist politics. Building on this, the article illuminates connections between prepping and America’s twenty-first-century electoral mainstream. Engaging with discussions about the “remaking” of American conservatism during Obama’s presidency, it particularly frames prepping’s growth as being engaged with, and shaped by, currents of mainstream anti-Obama fear that similarly undergirded the Tea Party’s rise within popular Republicanism at this time. (source)
The bibliography paints quite a picture.
I’m too cheap to pay Cambridge £25 to read the entire thing. And-omg-what-if-I-end-up-on-a-list? (sarc.) You can learn a lot from the bibliography, though. Many of the sources they cite are mainstream sources that have been mocking preppers for decades. Some of the articles I recall reading myself and rolling my eyes.
Tim Murphy, “Preppers Are Getting Ready for the Barackalypse,” Mother Jones, Jan–Feb. 2013, at www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/preppers-survivalist-doomsday-obama;
Caitlin Dewey, “Inside the Fascinating, Bizarre World of ‘Prepper Pinterest’,” Washington Post, 1 Sept. 2015, at www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/09/01/inside-the-fascinating-bizarre-world-of-prepper-pinterest/?utm_term=.54c6ade2cd81.
Chad Huddleston, “‘Doomsday Preppers’: Our New Threat?”, 16 Jan. 2013, at https://blog.americananthro.org/tag/chad-huddleston.
Barkun, Michael, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997)Google Scholar
David Morris, “What I Saw at the Doomsday Prepper Convention,” Fortune, 11 Nov. 2013, at http://fortune.com/2013/11/11/what-i-saw-at-the-doomsday-prepper-convention.
You get the idea. They just went online and searched “crazy doomsday preppers” or something like that and came up with these articles and probably got a hefty grant to do this “research.” And we all know that the mainstream media loves to paint us as lunatics.
How the authors of this study see preppers
First, they seem to feel the need to add the word doomsday in front of the word preppers because that gives them the oomph for which they’re looking. The citations of the study said they chose respondents from six websites.
Respondents were recruited through appeals published on six prominent prepping websites (for example, www.doomandbloom.net). The websites selected were chosen because their content focusses on the practicalities of prepping – including instruction and guidance on various aspects of storing food and practising disaster medicine – rather than promoting particular political ideas.
And the respondents gave the kind of sensible answers most of us would expect. Except the authors still tried to paint them as political wingnuts. (Emphasis mine.)
In references to issues like Benghazi we see how, despite many preppers’ seemingly sincere disavowal of various conspiracy theories, their fears sometimes drew on speculative and pseudo-conspiratorial reporting through right-wing media. In particular, this case demonstrates how the prominence of the Benghazi attack as a story in right-wing media – around which reporting suggested that members of the Obama administration constructed a false narrative of spontaneous protest leading to the attack – fed into participants’ own assessments of the President. (The House Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee have since confirmed that these comments on protest were based on the CIA’s own conclusions at the time.) Here, respondents did not communicate elaborate theories concerning conspiracy related to Benghazi, as has sometimes been the case in right-wing culture. Nevertheless, mentions that, at a more basic level, the continued nature of the “scandal” had exposed the Obama administration’s poor performance in, and lack of proper commitment to, national security and foreign policy seemed to illustrate ways in which such thinking still indirectly resonated in their considerations on some occasions.
They even cited one lady who openly told them her concerns about Fema.
“The one exception to this within the sample was Gloria, a widowed prepper in Florida who at one point claimed, “FEMA … they do things with ulterior motives … In my opinion … and we all know what opinions are … FEMA has the FEMA camps and I truly feel that, at some point in time that, one of the leader’s executive orders … unsuspecting Americans will be put in these camps. It’s like a prisoner of war camp … guards, lights.”
Of course, preppers are white supremacist Christians.
Based on their carefully selected “evidence” that has pretty much nothing to do with the actual preppers they interviewed, they gleaned that as a whole, ‘preppers’ are all white Christian racist Tea Party members who hate former President Obama.
Because why wouldn’t you believe the mainstream media’s portrayal instead of the people you actually interviewed? This is an ideal example of a study set up to support a foregone conclusion.
Here are a few more citation examples. (Emphasis mine.)
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall and Cappella, Joseph, The Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)Google Scholar; Amato and Neiwert, Over the Cliff; Street and DiMaggio; DiMaggio; Press, Bill, The Obama Hate Machine: The Lies, Distortions, and Personal Attacks on the President – And Who Is behind Them (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012)Google Scholar; Skocpol and Williamson; Berry, Jeffrey M. and Sobieraj, Sarah, The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)Google Scholar; Skocpol, Theda and Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism,” Perspectives on Politics, 14, 3 (Sept. 2016), 681–99CrossRef | Google Scholar.
Here’s what the study’s author has to say.
Dr. Michael Mills, lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, was the person heading up the study. In an interview with Th University of Kent, he said his study was more “nuanced.” (Emphasis theirs.)
It found that, though fear of President Obama and his political agenda played a role, those who engaged in the activity were motivated more by the general culture of fear that informs modern mainstream American society. Further, the research argues that a regular flow of recommendations from the US government on how to prepare for potential disasters, including, for example, advice to stockpile water, have, to an extent, helped fuel the growth of ‘prepping’.
Dr Mills’ research presents a more nuanced view of prepping, which has traditionally been portrayed as an apocalyptic belief in imminent disaster or the end of the world. Rather, modern preppers are responding to a general sense of fear and concern about risks including economic collapse, cyber-attacks, terrorism, pandemics and environmental disasters, causing them to seek self-sufficiency ‘just in case’ the worst should happen. Much of this fear is not derived from extreme ideologies, but nevertheless remains connected to established right-wing politics in America, which views Obama and other Democratic Party leaders exclusively through fear.
He said: ‘Fear is now deeply entrenched in modern American culture and is the principal reason that so many citizens are engaging in ‘prepping’. Many believe that the government’s response in the event of a calamity, whether it’s a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, simply won’t be adequate to meet their needs. Many also believe that, under Democrat leadership, America becomes more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, financial collapse, and international hostility.
‘While the media portrays ‘preppers’ as extremists, our view is much more nuanced. Rather than seeing prepping as an exception within America’s right-wing political culture, we ought to see it as being reflective of increasingly established and popular outlooks.’ (source)
Then there are the liberal preppers.
Oh. Wait. There’s no mention of those preppers.
The study is flawed because it left out an entire demographic of new preppers – the ones who think President Trump signals the end of the world. Here are several articles that should have been a part of their mainstream bibliography.
Interestingly, there’s no mention whatsoever in the people who are prepping because they’re concerned about the Trump administration.
To sum it up…
Let’s sum up this study and the commentary around it.
#1) The near-constant use of the phrase “doomsday preppers.” I don’t know a single person in my network who considers themselves a “doomsday prepper. They are using a phrase from a horrible television show developed to make us look like batcrap crazy extremists worrying about the literal end of the world. Most of us are more worried about the literal end of our paycheck than Armageddon.
#2) The research itself was biased. The bibliography shows dozens of references to the Tea Party, white supremacists, the “Christian identity movement,” President Obama, and Republicans. There are no references to leftist, liberal, atheist, agnostic, or pagan preppers, who actually make up a fair number of our ranks.
#3) They say it’s all about politics despite evidence to the contrary. The researchers gave more credence to mainstream articles about prepping than to the interviews with actual preppers. Even though Dr. Mills said, “modern preppers are responding to a general sense of fear and concern about risks including economic collapse, cyber-attacks, terrorism, pandemics, and environmental disasters, causing them to seek self-sufficiency ‘just in case’ the worst should happen” the study focused on political themes. Although preppers who were interviewed talked rationally, they only cited the one who discussed a conspiracy theory in their bibliography.
#4) They completely ignore the politically-motivated liberal preppers. Despite the fact that this study was published during the third year of President Trump’s administration, there was absolutely no commentary on Antifa, Democrats who began prepping when Trump was elected, or any type of left-wing extremists, despite the fact that I was able to pull up dozens of articles within seconds with a quick Google search of “liberal preppers.” In fact, the only mention in the entire bibliography of the current president was “Johnson, 310. See also SPLC, 2017; Neiwert, David, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (London: Bloomsbury, 2017) Google Scholar.”
Real preppers know it isn’t about fear.
If you’re actually a prepper or survivalist, you know that it isn’t about fear. It’s about common sense and preparation for reasonable and realistic threats.
While certainly there are extremists out there, they aren’t limited to the world of preparedness. Preppers are not limited to one political demographic, one religion, one philosophy, or one race. The reasons we prepare are as varied as the number of families preparing. Most of us quite sensibly prepare for a variety of potential emergencies or crises.
And most of all, prepping is not about doom and gloom.
Does this sound familiar? You’re talking to a friend or family member who isn’t on board with preparedness. (And it’s even worse when they think they know what’s going on in the world but garner their so-called “information” from network news sources.) You try for the millionth time to get them to consider stocking up on a few things and they say this:
“Life’s too short for all of this doom and gloom. Live a little! You’re such a pessimist!”
My response to this is that preparedness is the ultimate form of optimism.
One who practices skills, makes dramatic lifestyle changes, and studies current events critically may come across to the uninitiated as a person who has buried himself or herself in negativity, but in fact, one who prepares is saying to life, “Whatever comes, we are not only going to live through it, my family is going to thrive!” (source)
Clearly, the optimistic, well-balanced approach to a prepared life isn’t what they were looking for in England when they examined our “culture of fear.”