When the Sh*t Hits the Fan

Whether it's a coupon-clipping, back-to-nature guy escaping the rat race, or someone certain we're on the brink of war or a future in which Barack Obama has taken away our guns, preppers are ready. The rest of us, maybe not so much.

Check out our pictures of moderate preppers living life off-the-grid in the Texas desert.

In 2007, John Wells quit the rat race. The former fashion photographer and set designer had been living in an old farmhouse in the country outside New York City, working 15-hour days just to eke out his mortgage (at 29 percent interest) and cough up a further $1,000 a month in property taxes.

"It was just killing me," he says. "I worked on a lot of really bad music videos, just to make ends meet." So he got rid of half of what he owned and bought some land in the high desert outside Terlingua, near Big Bend. There, amid some of Texas's most desolate beauty, he embarked on a new life of self-reliance. He bought some cheap land and decided to build a shipping-container house from scratch and by hand, two miles from the nearest paved road. And then he did just that, living in his truck while his creation took shape.

John Wells, a self-described moderate prepper, stands at the door of his shipping-container house outside of Terlingua, Texas. Wells keeps a blog about living off the grid, called The Field Lab, that he updates daily.
Brittanie Shey
John Wells, a self-described moderate prepper, stands at the door of his shipping-container house outside of Terlingua, Texas. Wells keeps a blog about living off the grid, called The Field Lab, that he updates daily.
Wells bought his land outside Terlingua in 2007. Originally from New York, he got sick of the rat race and decided to take on a life of self-sustainability.
Brittanie Shey
Wells bought his land outside Terlingua in 2007. Originally from New York, he got sick of the rat race and decided to take on a life of self-sustainability.

Now debt-free, Wells is trying to see how much food he can grow on his own in the greenhouse he's building out of four more shipping containers. He collects his own rainwater, and his eventual goal is to live on less than $10,000 a year, which he plans to raise through merchandise sales on his blog, The Field Lab.

Wells is a self-described moderate prepper, one of a growing group of self-reliance enthusiasts who face the uncertainty of modern times by learning to garden, build, hunt, sew, hoard food and precious metals, and manage livestock. (Especially fertile rabbits, advises one prepping guru. The fecund little creatures can reproduce 1,000 percent of their body weight each year.)

It is no little irony that preppers — striving for a low-tech life — gather largely on blogs and in online forums and toss around prepper jargon while they show off their work ("preps"), discuss what the end of the world as we know it ("EOTWAWKI") might look like and form alliances for when the shit hits the fan ("SHTF"). And it's not all canning tips.

Some, like Wells, are motivated by economic uncertainty and a need for self-sufficiency. Weather catastrophes such as wildfires and the televised anarchy that followed in Hurricane Katrina's wake spurred some into action. Others see the approaching election and Barack Obama's presidency as a harbinger of worsening tension between the races and other opposing groups in the United States, as illustrated by both the Tea Party on one extreme and the Occupy movement on the other.

For every stay-at-home, Internet-savvy mom, for every aesthetic, Thoreau-like solitude-seeker in the Texas desert, there is also a darker, more fearful and, some would say, nuttier side to prepping. Some of John Wells's neighbors in the middle of nowhere have safe rooms. One is building a Faraday cage to protect his possessions from an electromagnetic pulse, either natural or manmade.

Mark Potok edits the Southern Poverty Law Center's quarterly Intelligence Report and is an expert on extremism and radicalism. When the Houston Press asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a comment on the rise of militant prepper groups, they declined and directed us to Potok.

Lately, much of his focus has fixed on "Patriot" groups, which in some but not all cases constitute the militant fringe of the prepper movement. "There is a huge overlap between those people who think the world is coming to an end for secular or religious reasons and the political radical right," Potok says. "And that's been true for a very long time."

Many, he says, have fixated on Barack Hussein Obama, "the secret Muslim," "the Kenyan," "the Indonesian," the "crypto-socialist bent on bringing about the one-world government." Potok believes that a great many of the members in these groups think that Obama wants to take their guns, and that the National Rifle Association has fanned the flames of their paranoia.

"The NRA has played a really noxious role in all this," says Potok, with real ire in his voice. "They have ginned up out of thin air fears that Obama has a secret plan to seize all our guns. It is the most ludicrous thing. The reality is that Obama has done nothing but relax gun control. He's given no indication at all that he would in any way tighten gun control, but the NRA is still out there selling the conspiracy theory that Obama has a secret plan to strip our guns away from us once he gets his second term. This is not some arcane thing. This is [NRA Executive Vice President] Wayne LaPierre running around the country and sending millions of pieces of mail, trying to raise money on this."

Where passions swirl, commerce is not far behind. Charley Hogwood, who lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, owns a company called Ready Go Prep that aims to teach prepping skills to beginners.

"Prepping is really just being less dependent on someone else," he says. "We help you learn strategic shopping, extreme couponing. We teach you to shop at a restaurant-supply store instead of a grocery store. We help you develop a tiered food strategy...We teach you to prepare for five days, 30 days and longer disasters. None of these are new techniques. A lot of them are Depression-era techniques."

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8 comments
David Houston
David Houston

And by the way. Can I state the obvious here? If you paid $50,000 MORE for your home (as you stated down the page) than the tax appraiser valued it, then you might have paid too much! In this economy, all I can do is shake my head after reading your comment. It's a buyers-market right now. Hate to break it to you, but it sounds like the Seller/Real-Estate agent saw you coming....

David Houston
David Houston

Erm. Can I state the obvious here? If you paid $50,000 more for your home than the tax appraiser valued it, you might have paid too much!

David Houston
David Houston

Neartown/Montrose area, the tax appraisal has been stuck at the same rate for 3 years, yet the houses have dropped in value by typically figures of $100,000+. The city of Houston however have not reduced their taxes. Clearly you live miles from town. I gave you a real example already, go look a Zillow, examples are easy to find as you approach Downtown Houston.

David Houston
David Houston

Well someone has to dig in the dirt in the 100 degree heat to keep you safe doncha know? Whether it's The National Guard or just plain volunteers like you or me. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, to work out the problems. You have to contribute something to the greater good. Otherwise you're just a burden on the rest of the people. Katrina, Ike, need I say more? During Katrina, some people were happy to pee in holes and live in tents, trailers, cars, or whatever would save their lives. You aid society by not being a burden on it, that way the people who really do need the help get the help they need. Don't be a burden on the rest of us, if that day ever comes, next hurricane or whatever... At least prepare for that, as the News & Weather Channels and Government suggests you should.

Erik
Erik

like Jeffrey explained I didnt even know that a single mom able to earn $6503 in one month on the computer. have you seen this webpage lazycash42.c()m

Anse
Anse

Eh...I just bought a house and the county's appraisal is a good $50,000 less than what I paid for it. In fact I don't think I know anybody whose tax appraisal is actually above their real market value, and most folks I know have a tax appraisal that's less.

Anse
Anse

These folks can do as they like. The 95% of us who enjoy buying our groceries at the market so we don't have to break our backs in 100 degree heat digging in the dirt for our very survival are gonna go ahead and try to work out our problems so we don't ever have to live in tents and pee in holes.

Anse
Anse

Is there any political argument that cannot exploit Hitler in some way? I'm calling foul and charging you with breaking the Lame and Predictable Talking Points Rule. I just made it up. The penalty is me and approximately half the readers of this thread groaning and rolling our eyes.

 
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