How America’s ‘survivalists’ are preparing for a worst-case coronavirus epidemic — ‘beans, bullets and Band-Aids’

  • Written by MarketWatch
  • Published in Economics

James Wesley Rawles is hunkered down at an undisclosed location west of the Rockies[1].

“I’m not at liberty to say what state I live in,” he told MarketWatch via internet phone. “I live in the inland Northwest... more than two hours from any decent shopping. We could lock our gate and say goodbye to the world for two or three years and get along just fine.”

He’s on his ranch with a large family. “I’m not at liberty to discuss it,” says Rawles, a former U.S. Army Intelligence officer. “Let’s just say it is a very large family.”

This is a key moment for “preppers” or “survivalists” like Rawles. While the coronavirus has spooked markets into massive sell-offs[2] and sent shoppers to stores like Costco [3] COST, -0.68%[4] to stock up on supplies[5], survivalists have been prepping for something like this for years. Even decades.

“I was a ‘prepper’ long before that term even came into being,” says Jim Cobb, author of Preppers’ Long-Term Survival Guide and Urban Emergency Survival Plan[6]. “Since I was 16 years old,” says Rawles, when asked when he first started readying himself for a possible apocalypse. “That was in 1976.”

“ ‘Be prepared for whatever life throws at you.’ ”

— —Jim Cobb, author of ‘Preppers’ Long-Term Survival Guide and Urban Emergency Survival Plan’

Nobody knows for sure, but there may be many more[7] preppers in the U.S. The term covers everything from “doomsday preppers” in the northern mountain states to people who just make sure to be stocked up at home in case of disaster.

Rawles, the author of the “Patriots”[8] doomsday novels, and the website survivalblog.com[9],[10] has been living at his undisclosed ranch since 2006. He is a messianic Christian and a controversial[11] figure. “The general public is clueless,” Rawles. “I call them the GDP — the Generally Dumb Public.”

Most people will be unprepared if there are shortages, or if they have to go into quarantine, he says. He’s watched the run on things like N95 face masks[12] — despite health officials’ recommendation that the public not buy them [13]— without surprise. “It is at times like this that the GDP wakes up,” he says. “My motto is panic now and beat the rush.”

“I’ve been doing it my whole life,” says “Doc Montana[14],” a survivalist who asked that MarketWatch not share his real name. “[A] lot of urban people aren’t prepared for a disaster,” he adds.

Cobb, meanwhile, lives in a more mainstream environment in Wisconsin, where he works as a disaster preparedness consultant and a writer. “I’m not an ‘end of the world is coming’...

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