Next weekend at a picnic shelter at Umstead State Park in Raleigh, they plan to gather and trade notes about preparing for a disaster.
These are not FEMA or EMS folks. FEMA and local government services will be useless when this trouble comes. This will be big: a collapse of the government, nationwide riots, famine, plagues, nuclear war, sudden climate change. All will fall apart and people will be on their own.
The wise ones will be ready to survive. They'll have a secure, often remote or hidden shelter known as a BOL (a Bug Out Location). They'll have months or years worth of supplies, including food, fuel and guns and piles of ammo.
This is the creed of survivalists known by the oddly perky term preppers. It's a group whose numbers have been fed by terrorism, the bursting of the housing bubble, the ballooning federal deficit, global warming and the increasing dependence on a vast, but vulnerable power and communications grid that could collapse due to a massive electromagnetic pulse.
A dose of paranoia contributes, too.
William Bradford, who formed his North Carolina group a year ago and quickly drew 100 members, said he's ready for disruptions ranging from a power outage to the collapse of the United States.
Most are preparing like myself, preparing for anything, he says.
There is a certain fascination in watching people prepare for who knows what. The National Geographic channels reality show Doomsday Preppers is one of its most popular.
There is also a certain gloom about the movement that only deepens as it grows. Its followers expect the worst from fate. Some expect the worst from people, too. After the disaster, the desperate and unprepared will roam and try to take. It sounds like a Stephen King version of a joint Romney-Ryan nightmare, the ultimate conflict between the haves and the moochers. Thats why the preparation includes guns, sometimes lots of them.
Preppers, who tend to be private, gained unwanted attention in connection with the Newtown shootings. Nancy Lanza, the mother and first victim of Adam Lanza, was drawn to survivalist ideas, her sister told reporters. Apparently, that included stockpiling supplies, including two handguns and the assault rifle her son used at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
But Bradford, a 40-year-old information technology consultant who lives near Fayetteville, says that link is a bad rap, one that plays to stereotypes of survivalists.
Not all of us are sitting in concrete bunkers, 30-feet below ground with pork and beans and toilet paper for the next 15 years and enough arms to arm a Third World country, he says.
Online, Bradford goes by Orion Darkwood, but he says in a phone interview that hes not a bearded, wild-eyed, the-end-is-nigh type.
I basically look like your cable guy, he says.
Preppers are not anti-social, he says. Indeed their aim is to preserve society. After civilization is badly disrupted, it will spring back from the seeds of those groups that know the fundamentals of surviving and have the will to endure.
Prepping at its core is learning how to get back to what our ancestors did, learning how to be self-sufficient, Bradford says. If something happens, its having that mental, physical and spiritual state of mind, that, OK, I can survive this. I have what I need to survive.
Bradford formed his group to promote social interaction and information swapping.
But its not easy pulling together a group around an activity that attracts loners and zealots.
The tendency for for lack of a better term eccentric personalities is higher in the prepper community than on average, he says. There are going to be arguments. We have three rules: no religion, no politics and no pushing your business.
Bradford emphasizes that preppers generally are not doomsday preppers piling up guns.
I have less than five weapons, and Im not a gun nut, he says. I believe in having the right gun for the right situation.
While others look at survivalists gun stockpiles with alarm and call for gun control, bans on assault rifles and limits on ammo clips, Bradford says the real problem is that too many people are ignorant about guns.
The nation would be a safer place, he says, if every high school offered gun safety courses the same way they offer drivers education.
Buying a gun doesnt make you proficient with it, he says. People who dont know how to use it and are putting that gun in a closet, Im more afraid of them than someone who respects and knows how to use that weapon.
Thats the mantra. Prepare for the worst by learning the basics that will keep you and your family alive. Politics may be polarized, the economy may go off a cliff, the terrorists may strike, the oceans may rise. Thats the bad news. The good news is that in North Carolina and across the U.S. preppers are prepping more than ever.
Its both disturbing and oddly reassuring that theyre out there. But after the disaster, remember to be careful how you approach their BOLs.
Editorial page editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-829-4512 or firstname.lastname@example.org