School massacre casts light on US 'prepper' phenomenon

Dec 18, 2012
Charles Laurence

Why so many Americans – including the shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza – are hoarding food and guns

WHO ARE the 'preppers'? The term has burst into the world's headlines as a possible clue to events behind the massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

'Prepper' - as in "prepared for the worst" - is the self-adopted term of the latest variant of that age-old American stalwart, the 'survivalist'.

Survivalists – and preppers - have had a mixed press, but generally speaking the image is not good. They will argue with some truth that the pioneers were the defining preppers. With his trusty gun, and without aid or succour from others, the Daniel Boone archetype was ready and able to deal with everything the world could throw at him.
These days the term 'survivalist' conjours wild-bearded folk living in dingy cabins "off the grid" in the Idaho wilderness and Arizona badlands, or the Michigan Militiamen ready to die to protect their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Timothy McVeigh and John Nichols, the Oklahoma bombers, were survivalists.

Now it turns out that Nancy Lanza, the mother and first victim of 20-year-old Adam Lanza, perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre, was a prepper. Her sister Marsha told reporters that the last time she saw Nancy the conversation turned to disaster preparedness. "Last time we visited with her in person we talked about prepping and, you know, are you ready for what can happen down the line when the economy collapses."

Yet Nancy Lanza was no backwoods cabin-dweller. She was living in a suburban McMansion, with a lawn rather than a cabbage patch, in one of the most affluent corners of the world.

But she was prepping away with stores of canned goods, water, fuel, medicines and so on. And most particularly, she was stocking the armory.

There is something buried deep in the American psyche which says, simply, that if the world falls apart, whether by apocalypse or something more mundane like economic collapse or even individual sickness, there will be no one to help, but plenty to steal whatever you may have left.

The gap between the reality of a threadbare safety net with a medical care system which exploits the sick for profit, and visions of post-apocalyptic anarchy as recently imagined by Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, is narrower in the US than in, say, Britain or France.

No one has yet worked out why Lanza had slipped into prepping, why she was evidently preoccupied with guns, or whether any of this had much bearing on her son Adam. But she was not alone.

Best estimates are that there are tens of thousands of preppers. They have their own organisation, the American Preppers Network (APN), a registered non-profit corporation. They have their own TV show, Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic cable channel, and numerous how-to shows on local radio stations. Then there's Pioneer Living Survival Magazine, and a shelf of books such as Preppers' Home Defence, available from Walmart at a bargain $13.56.

Watchers of the militia and survivalist groups point out two significant differences between the preppers and their recent forebears: the line between them, the Tea Party and the right wing of the Republican party is more blurred than ever, and a much greater number are women.

The APN recognised the potential impact of Lanza's affiliation before most, and issued a statement: "Our members, and others around the globe who share our philosophy of being prepared in times of emergency, are sickened by this event. We too are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and to associate APN or any legitimate organisation that stresses preparing for emergencies with this barbaric act goes against everything we collectively stand for."

But posing as a Women's Institute vegetable-pickling club is disingenuous. Preppers undoubtedly attract a fringe element. "Prepping," says Barry Brummett of the University of Texas, "masks a wide range of stances and ideologies. But the more people are prepared, the more they are likely to have an apocalyptic way of thinking."

The APN website talks about 'The End of the World As We Know It' - or TEOTWAWKI - and the multitude of videos and blogs of preppers arming themselves while touting conspiracies about financial collapse and the coming apocalypse makes it obvious the movement is not only about peace-loving mums hoarding canned food.

Like Lanza, they collect weapons. They are buying into a very American culture of fear and violence, a culture with a proclivity for dreadful deeds proven yet again at Sandy Hook.

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This woman may well have been unhinged and her son was clearly a nutter, but to dismiss all preppers as cranks is a step too far.

Our belief that the government will always care for us, will always print money to stave off a collapse, will never do us any harm is simple living in cloud cuckoo land. We are already seeing plenty of signs around us of economic and social collapse. The answer is certainly not for everyone to hoard weapons, but for anyone who does so legally and can also join the dots and sees the collapse, then in future with hindsight people would say that these people were foresighted and did the right things to plan ahead.

Completely separate is a person's mental health situation. Last week in China a crazed knifeman attacked more than 20 kids. Each week kids on our streets are killed by knives. Millions are killed around the world by cars each year.

Are knives banned? Are cars banned? We are massively selective and whilst we should do everything possible to stop them all, it does make me wonder if there is a hidden agenda to disarm people in the US and make them even more compliant.

We should also examine the role of violent video games which desensitise people to violence and in some cases some of them have difficulty to seperate the virtual world from the real world.

If any of these preppers were to be muslim or other any other culture - in other words anyone other than white - I wonder what would be the hysteric reaction?

Why does not anyone, or any worldwide media, question violent acts by white persons? Why is it that when anyone other than a white person perpetrates heinous mass murders it is not cast as an act of terrorism or insurgence? Or a call for a stop to white immigrants?

Will the US consider banning white immigrants into the "homeland" since it is amply evident from the multiple mass slaughters that there is something about them (the white immigrants) the lends to finally doing something white immigration?

Yes in the UK the carrying of knives is banned. Of course we still have crimes committed using knives - especially (sadly) involving young ethnic minority men and youths. But you do not have to believe a lot of nonsense about the collapse of society in an instant. The security provided by sheer inertia needs to be taken into account. Self-help and social responsibility are great, and there is plenty of it about. In London - a city with a huge immigrant element in the population - people do actually talk to each other and help each other. Nobody has guns in their house. We have knives in the kitchen and leave them there. The way people drive and their state when driving are both regulated closely by the police - which is as it should be. We are free - but we are not crazy about the mutually dependent world we all live in. And England is a very small country tightly packed with a very large population per square mile. We are so lucky to have independent judges and no written constitution - if what they have in the USA (elected judges and a written constitution) explains the madness regularly visited on innocent victims by the perversion that is American libertarianism.

I think it's important to remember that the only definite prepper here is the first victim - Nancy Lanza. We don't know if her son shared her beliefs.

And even if he did, this terrible act has nothing to with prepping (which is about ensuring the survival of yourself and those around you, not murdering innocent children then committing suicide).

My deepest sympathies to all those affected by this tragedy.

I love how they refer to prepping as something bad. Idiots.

Are RPG's and bazookas banned? Yes, so obviously there is a line there that society has chosen to say "an average citizen should not have access to this much firepower". Why not include high capacity magazines and assault-type rifles in that category? Is it really so outrageous to want to move that line?

Unless of course you're advocating for no weapons regulations whatsoever; a nuke for every citizen!

Cars and knives have a purpose other than killing many humans in small amounts of time.

Oh and about that knife attack in China? All 20 kids survived and are alive today. The same can't be said for the children of Sandy Hook.

For sure we should examine the media and cultural influences on society, including video games, but we must also examine the media culture of fear and paranoia that creates an environment where a mother of a mentally ill child could think that it's appropriate to train him in firearms and store such an arsenal in their home.

when awful things like this happen, we all look for a reason why. So the mother was a prepper, the current press on such people can be seen many ways, watch the prepper program on TV and you could think they all want guns and are ready to fight the oncoming zombie horde! This is not the case for them all and definately not in other countries with much harder gun laws. The fact his mother was a prepper has nothing to do with being able to have all those guns, a non prepper in the USA could have also had those guns, this is the problem.
Does anyone need more than one gun per adult in a house, is there a real need for automatic weapons?
These are the questions that need answering, not does the fact that someone wants to be prepared, so they do not have the same trouble that those unfortunate people in New York had, getting food and water very recently.
Automatic weapons and ammo sold in supermarkets are a little more worrying.

This is a joke article. We are no more preppers than we are hoarders. TLC has a habit of dredging the underbelly of America and foisting them upon us as stars. Preppers no more represents Americans than does Honey BooBoo. Kooks do seem to get an inordinate amount of attention but despite what TV wants you to think. They are the very very miniscule minority. Not the rule.

Yes, I have food, water, medicine, and other things stored - because I live in the PacNW where there is a chance for and earthquake and because FEMA and the Red Cross says that I should 'prep' for a disaster. Are they now to be considered 'radical groups'?
Not everyone who 'preps' is doing so because the world is going to end. If people put away a little food, water, candles, etc it is a lot better for them when a disaster (earthquake, flood, hurricane, etc) hits because even the government says it'll be a while before they get there. Here is Portland the city is pushing for individual preparedness, self reliance, and resiliency.
Making preppers sound like nut jobs is only scaring people from doing things that can make thier life better in an emergency.

RPGs and Bazookas are generally classified as explosive devices and not firearms. That is why they can't be owned. Totally different laws.