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Survivalism is a movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or sometimes preppers) who are actively preparing for future possible disruptions in local, regional, national, or international social or political order. Survivalists often prepare for this anticipated disruption by having emergency medical training, stockpiling food and water, preparing for self-defense and self-sufficiency, and/or building structures that will help them survive or “disappear” (e.g., a survival retreat or underground shelter).

Anticipated disruptions include the following:

• Clusters of natural disasters, patterns of apocalyptic planetary crises, or Earth Changes (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, severe thunderstorms, etc.)
• A disaster caused by the activities of humankind (chemical spills, release of radioactive materials, nuclear or conventional war, oppressive governments, etc.)
• The general collapse of society (caused by the shortage or unavailability of electricity, fuel, food, water, etc.)
• Financial disruption or economic collapse (caused by monetary manipulation, hyperinflation, deflation, depression, etc.)
• A sudden pandemic spreading through the world population
• Widespread chaos or some other unexplained apocalyptic event

The third and most recent wave of the Survivalist movement began after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 and similar attacks in Bali, Madrid, and London. This resurgence of interest in survivalism appears to be as strong as the first wave in the 1970s. The fear of war, combined with an increase in awareness of environmental disasters and global climate change, energy shortages, economic uncertainty, coupled with the vulnerability of humanity after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast and avian influenza has once again made survivalism popular. Preparedness is once more paramount in the concerns of many people, who now seek to stockpile or cache supplies, gain useful skills, develop contacts with others of similar outlooks and gather as much advice and information as possible.

Many books have been published in the past few years offering survival advice for various potential disasters, ranging from an energy shortage and crash to nuclear or biological terrorism. In addition to reading the 1970s-era books on survivalism, blogs and Internet forums are popular ways of disseminating survivalism information. Online survival websites and blogs discuss survival vehicles, survival retreats and emerging threats, and list survivalist groups.

Economic troubles emerging from the credit collapse triggered by the 2007 US subprime mortgage lending crisis and global grain shortages have prompted a wider cross-section of the populace to get prepared. James Wesley Rawles, the editor of SurvivalBlog and author of the survivalist novel Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse was quoted by the New York Times in April 2008 as saying that “interest in the survivalist movement ‘is experiencing its largest growth since the late 1970s’”. In 2009, he was also quoted by the Associated Press as stating: “There’s so many people who are concerned about the economy that there’s a huge interest in preparedness, and it pretty much crosses all lines, social, economic, political and religious. There’s a steep learning curve going on right now.”

The advent of H1N1 Swine Flu in 2009 ratcheted up interest in survivalism even further, and significantly boosted sales of preparedness books, and made survivalism more mainstream. Recent events such as the Haitian earthquake, the BP oil spill, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami have revitalized the survivalist community.

These developments led Gerald Celente, founder of the Trends Research Institute, to identify a trend that he calls “Neo-Survivalism”. He explained this phenomenon in a radio interview with Jim Puplava on December 18, 2009 :

“When you go back to the last depressing days when we were in a survival mode, the last one the Y2K of course, before the 1970’s, what had happened was you only saw this one element of survivalist, you know, the caricature, the guy with the AK-47 heading to the hills with enough ammunition and pork and beans to ride out the storm. This is a very different one from that : you’re seeing average people taking smart moves and moving in intelligent directions to prepare for the worst. (…) So survivalism in every way possible. Growing your own, self-sustaining, doing as much as you can to make it as best as you can on your own and it can happen in urban area, sub-urban area or the ex-urbans. And it also means becoming more and more tightly committed to your neighbours, your neighbourhood, working together and understanding that we’re all in this together and that when we help each other out that’s going to be the best way forward.”

This last aspect is highlighted in The Trends Research Journal: “Communal spirit intelligently deployed is the core value of Neo-Survivalism”.

Survivalist scenarios and outlooks

Survivalism is approached by its adherents in different ways, depending on their circumstances, their mindsets, and their particular concerns for the future. The following are some examples, although many survivalists fit into more than one category or orientation:

Safety Preparedness Oriented

Learns principles and techniques needed for surviving life-threatening situations that can occur anytime or anywhere. Makes preparations for such common calamities as structure fires, dog attacks, physical confrontations, snake bites, lightning strikes, car breakdowns, Third World travel problems, bear encounters, flash floods, home invasions and even train wrecks.

Wilderness Survival Emphasis

Stresses being able to stay alive for indefinite periods in life threatening wilderness scenarios. These can include: plane crashes, shipwrecks, being lost in the woods. Concerns are: thirst, hunger, climate, terrain, health, stress, fear. Prepares with: knowledge, training and practice. Survival kit often includes: water purifiers, shelter, fire starters, clothing, food, medical supplies, navigation, signaling gear and a heavy-duty survival knife.

Self-Defense Driven

Individuals concerned with surviving brief encounters of violent activity. Focus is on personal protection and its legal ramifications, danger awareness, John Boyd‘s cycle (also known as the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act), martial arts, self defense tactics and tools (both lethal and less-than-lethal).

Natural Disaster, Brief

People that live in tornado, hurricane, flood, wildfire, earthquake or heavy snowfall areas and want to be prepared for the inevitable. Investment in material for fortifying structures and tools for rebuilding and constructing temporary shelter, perhaps have a custom built shelter, food, water, medicine, and supplies, enough to get by until contact with the rest of the world resumes.

Natural Disaster, Years Long

Concerned about long term weather cycles of 2–10 years, unusually cold or warm periods, that have happened on and off for thousands of years, and that cause crop failures. Might stock several tons of food per family member and have a heavy duty greenhouse with canned non-hybrid seeds.

Natural Disaster, Indefinite/Multi-Generational

Possible scenarios include: global warming, global cooling, environmental degradation, warming/cooling of gulf stream waters, large meteor strike.

Bio-Chem Scenario

Concerned with the spread of fatal diseases and terrorist use of biological agents and nerve gases. Examples: Swine flu, E. coli 0157, botulism, Dengue Fever, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, SARS, rabies, Hantavirus, anthrax, Plague, cholera, HIV, Ebola, Marburg virus, Lhasa virus, sarin, and VX. Might own NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) full-face respirators, polyethylene coveralls, PVC boots, Nitrile gloves, plastic sheeting and duct tape.

Malthusian

Soaring increase in world’s uncontrolled human population growth impacts available fresh water, food, health-care, environment, economics, consumerism, spread of diseases and just about every other facet of life. Projections indicate that world population of 6.6 billion may again double in fifty years. Some warn that this will result in a Malthusian population crash.

Monetary Disaster Investors

Believe the Federal Reserve system is fundamentally flawed. Newsletters suggest hard assets of gold and silver bullion or coins and in some cases other precious-metal oriented investments such as mining shares. They are preparing for paper money to become worthless through hyperinflation. As of late 2009 this is presently a very popular scenario.

Biblical Eschatologist

These individuals study End Times prophecy and believe the Savior is going to return soon, and that the final battle with Satan on the Plains of Megiddo might occur in their lifetime. Most believe that the rapture will follow a period of Tribulation, though a smaller number believe that the rapture is imminent and will precede the Tribulation (“Pre-Trib rapture”). There is a very wide range of beliefs and attitudes in this group. They run the gamut from pacifist to armed camp, and from no food stockpiles (leaving their sustenance up to God’s providence) to decades of food storage. A small subset are Messianic Jews, and an even smaller fringe subset follow a charismatic leader’s interpretations of the Bible. The Branch Davidians are one such sect.

Peak Oil Doomers

The Doomers are convinced that Peak Oil is a genuine threat, and take appropriate measures, usually involving relocation to a survival retreat region that is agriculturally self-sufficient.

Rawlesian

Followers of James Wesley Rawles, the best-selling author of survivalist fiction and non-fiction books. Adherents often prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped remote rural survival retreats. Most are politically conservative. Nearly all place an emphasis on both being well-armed as well as being ready to dispense charity in the event of a disaster. Most take a “deep larder” approach and store multiple years of food. They also emphasize practical self-sufficiency and homesteading skills.

Medical Crisis Oriented

Has very complete medical pack in house and in car. Donates blood and is active in the Red Cross. Has taken CERT, paramedic EMT, and CPR courses, knows vital signs, stockpiles medicines, etc. Concerned with vehicle accidents and emergencies involving injuries. Focus is on helping family, friends and community survive medical emergencies.