A West Virginia survivalist camp gets preppers ready - The Washington Post
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Bio Follow October 9 at 7:00 AM LOST CITY, W.Va. — Drew Miller, who heads a survivalist camp here, sometimes talks as if time is divided into two periods. There are the good days, which are generally now. And there are the bad days, which could come anytime through deadly epidemics, economic collapse, nuclear war or political upheaval. In good times, the treehouse at Fortitude Ranch is a place for children to play. In bad times, Miller said, it would become a guard tower. In good times, the mountainous landscape offers an inviting place for hiking, ziplining or disc golf. Bad times: The ranch’s wooded slopes would become fields of fire to protect the camp’s inhabitants from their most dangerous threat — other people. “It’s just human nature,” Miller said. “The worst enemy you face in a pandemic could well be your neighbor.” Miller, along with about 100 other people who he says have purchased Fortitude Ranch memberships, believes that underground bunkers, stockpiled food, and semiautomatic weapons will see them through an apocalypse, however it may come. Some preppers — people who invest significant amounts of money and time in preparing for anything from a natural disaster to the collapse of civilization — think the end may come sooner than later. In addition to worrying about overpopulation, climate change, economic collapse and war, some also fret about politics. With impeachment in the air and tensions building toward the 2020 presidential race, preppers warn that violence could erupt in this fiercely polarized nation. “You know, people use the term ‘civil war,’ and that seems hard to imagine, but what started World War I? Some guy assassinated a minor archduke ,” Miller said. “. . . Stuff escalates unpredictably.” The scenario most often advanced by ranch members concerns the possibility of a disputed election. There’s fear by some members that if President Trump loses, he might blame cheating and refuse to step down. Others believe that if Trump wins, his opponents might also blame the outcome on fraud, triggering unrest.It’s not a scenario Miller thinks likely, but he’s heard it from both sides. Trump, in one of a series of tweets trying to discredit the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats, has stoked tensions further, suggesting his removal from office could trigger a “ Civil War like fracture .” That’s the scenario David L. Jones, a Fortitude Ranch member who’s also something of a celebrity prepper, believes could set off unrest. Jones, 62, a former Alaska state trooper and Army veteran, is known as the “ NBC Guy ” because of his military background in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare . He has also worked in state and federal emergency management agencies. He has a podcast and was one of this year’s featured speakers at Prepper Camp , a three-day symposium that attracted more than 1,000 off-the-gridders, survivalists and homesteaders to a private campsite last month in North Carolina. Jones said he foresees turmoil, and perhaps violence, whether Trump wins or loses. “You see, the veneer of civilization is very thin,” Jones said. [ How I stopped worrying about a second civil war ] Fortitude Ranch occupies more than 50 acres within the George Washington National Forest. Its serene setting belies talk of catastrophe. On a recent tour, there were green mountain vistas just below the clouds and a stillness broken only by the soft patter of rain on leaves. Drew Miller walks the heavily wooded Fortitude Ranch grounds followed by a guard dog. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post) Members, who pay about $1,000 per person per year to be a part of the community, are encouraged to use the ranch’s two large rustic cabins here as vacation lodgings. In the event of emergency, however, they would head to 10-by-10-foot, claustrophobia-inducing rooms in underground shelters, some of which are constructed of metal culverts. Altogether, the compound here can hold up to 500 people. The organization also has two sites in Colorado. It’s working to set up a fourth in Wisconsin. The motto: “Prepare for the Worst — Enjoy the Present.” The camp is a reflection of a survivalist movement that has grown in recent years, although reliable numbers are hard to find. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which analyzes community preparedness, doesn’t track survivalists. And many preppers are reluctant to identify as such or discuss their activities, fearing that attention could attract marauders when things go south — or “s--- hits the fan,” in prepper parlance. The number of preppers also tends to expand and recede in sync with social crises, both real and imagined. ( Remember Y2K? ) But interest appears to have grown since the Great Recession. Google searches for terms such as “survivalist” began ticking upward in mid-2008 as the economic crisis deepened. Reality TV — “Doomsday Preppers” on the National Geographic Channel in 2011 and “Apocalypse Preppers” on the Discovery Channel in 2013 — fed the end-...