The American Redoubt Series: Preparedness and Self-Reliance

By Bill Harp
Reader Contributor

Editor’s Note: This first article of the American Redoubt series focuses on the preparedness community and self-reliance — a key principle of the Redoubt as proposed by one of its original proponents, James Wesley, Rawles. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at how Rawles affected the movement. It is written by a contributor with personal experience in the preparedness community. 

The preparedness community is a diverse movement of many types of folks. They are united by the belief that modern society is far less resilient than most people think, that an unexpected calamitous event could sever access to the many systems that we depend on. With electric power, fuel, food, medicine, water and law enforcement cut off, the well-ordered social contract of civilization could slip away. The preparedness community understands how fragile modern society could be under these circumstances and takes steps to ensure a better chance of enduring such a life-changing disaster.

The geographic territory of the so-called American Redoubt, which includes Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and Wyoming. Photo illustration by Ben Olson.

Calamitous Events

Not everyone agrees on the what the calamitous events could be and what type of event is most like to occur. They fall into three general categories: natural, social and hybrid.

Natural events could be floods; wind, snow and ice storms; fires; earthquakes; volcanic eruptions; meteors and electromagnetic pulses from the sun that could disable sensitive electronics and the power grid.

Social events include financial meltdown, war, terrorism, cyber-induced energy grid failure, nuclear events and political instabilities.

And then there are hybrid events such as famine and far-reaching disease outbreaks. In the Inland Northwest, you could add a serious chemical spill on the railroad or highway. Any of these events could have complex and difficult-to-predict effects on communities, regions, states or nations. The event could be short term and local, or it could endure for years and be global in scope. Two popular expressions for defining events are TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) and WTSHTF (when the shit hits the fan).

Response

What might be an appropriate preparation for a calamitous event? Well, that is the source of a lot of debate within the preparedness community. Some might buy a couple of how-to books, store 40 gallons of water and two weeks of freeze dried food in their garage and call it a day. Others might outfit a complete off-grid retreat in the North Idaho back-country along with a year’s supply of food, water, fuel and medicine. And, of course, there’s every combination of in-between responses. Each member of the preparedness community researches and decides exactly how they are going to prepare for a TEOTWAWKI event.

Information Sources

Detailed preparedness resources and discussions are available online as well as in print. One internet site stands out in its quality and scope of information and its political and social philosophy. This is www.survivalblog.com, a web site operated by James Wesley, Rawles (author, founder, owner-operator) and Hugh James Latimer (managing editor).

The more than 1.5 million unique visits per month indicates the massive and global level of interest in this site. Although many folks in the preparedness community may not share all the components of Rawles’s preparedness philosophy, he is widely recognized as a world-class authority on the preparedness subject. The Survival Blog website houses more than 27,000 articles on all aspects of prepping, offering a sort of one-stop shop of information.

Enter the Redoubt

Rawles is credited with the invention of the concept of the Redoubt. The Redoubt identifies a geographic area (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the eastern halves of Washington and Oregon) as meeting the requirements important to maximizing survival in calamitous events.

Requirements include primarily conservative, agrarian communities; low population densities; far from large population centers; good subsistence horticultural potential; affordable property; low taxes; abundant wood-fuel and timber sources; diversified economies; minimum of natural disaster risk; excellent hunting and fishing; good and abundant water; no strategic nuclear strike targets and a minimum of governmental intrusion. North Idaho is one of the surprisingly few areas of the U.S. to meet these criteria.

Many embrace the concept of the Redoubt as a political movement, too, and have moved to the Redoubt. Rawles’s thought leadership and philosophy can be reviewed at: https://survivalblog.com/redoubt/.

In many ways, then, the Redoubt movement is a subset of the preparedness mindset. Many families who consider the threat of a TEOTWAWKI event have relocated to the North Idaho area. Existing residents, too, may consider themselves members of the Redoubt movement because of their preparedness mindset and sympathy for the Redoubt movement’s philosophy.

Movement Genesis

Historically, traditional small-scale cultures and homestead pioneers developed skills and a mindset oriented toward energy efficiency, appropriate technology and local food production. The preparedness movement draws heavily on these traditional skills and technologies.

After World War II, the Cold War impressed on an entire generation the concept of preparing to survive a nuclear holocaust. A wave of blast-resistant bunkers mushroomed in American suburban backyards in the 1960s.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, the term “survivalist” showed up in mainstream culture. It mostly referred to families that moved to rural homesteads to develop the skills and resources to survive life-changing events. The Rogue River in southern Oregon became one of first noted survivalist safe havens, due, in part, to the influence of Mel Tappan, perhaps the intellectual father of modern survivalism. The 1977 book “Survival Guns” by Tappan, along with his other works, influenced a generation of survivalists and thought leaders in the preparedness community.

However, a defining moment came in the buildup to the Y2K event in 2000. As most may remember, there were dire warnings about the many ways that society could crumble if critical systems failed because they depended on a 20th-century year-date system (1900-1999) and were not prepared to accept “2000” as a date. Fortunately, a lot of smart people worked hard to patch critical legacy computer code, and disaster was averted. However, en masse preparations took place, and out of this event came many of publications that supported the modern prepping movement.

The Survival Blog website started up in 2005 when many of the current generation of preppers were scoping out the mountainous Inland Northwest as their potential new home.

Natural and political disturbances on the global scene and disenchantment with the national economy and political systems precipitated this major preparedness social movement that has much in common with the back-to-the-land movement of the hippies in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The many parallels included growing your own food, practicing energy efficiency, reclaiming the mindset and skills of the pioneer generation and honoring the value of hard work and self-determination. The destination of both movements was a parcel of land. As geography would have it, our local community was right in center of what many considered an optimum location to shelter from a WTSHTF storm.

Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” (first published in 1968 and the bible of the back-to-the-land movement) and the Survival Blog web site (the core resource of the Redoubt moment) have a lot in common. Even a cursory review of preparedness websites will reveal articles on organic gardening, solar power and homemade water filters, a topic shared by the New Age back-to-the-land counter culture of the ‘60s and the Redoubt world of preparedness post-2000. Of course, security is an important tenant of modern preparedness, so there are numerous articles on self-defense strategies in almost all the survivalist web sites.

Media Representation

Much of the media representation of the preparedness movement focuses on the process of prepping and some of its more radical, somewhat unhinged practitioners. It is relatively easy for the media to point out the folly of stocking massive amounts of ammo and firearms for an expected Armageddon. Few articles have considered that the broader preparedness community’s inclination toward a more sustainable, independent lifestyle is a reasonable response to potential global societal disruption.

The media also tends to consider the preparedness movement as a relatively homogeneous subculture with its own anti-society worldview. These representations have serious flaws and are based on a superficial analysis of perhaps a small minority of the community. The movement is far larger and more diverse than the majority of media may lead us to believe. Part of the dilemma is that urban media often have little insight into the requirements for living in a rural setting with a self-sustainable strategy of growing and raising a local food supply or generating local energy. They focus on — perhaps exaggerate — the bunker mentality of the more visible practitioners and often ignore the larger group of folks that are, in many cases, friends and neighbors.

Preparedness Culture and its Adaptation to the Redoubt Movement

Preparedness culture crosses educational background, socio-economic class, religious belief, age groups and political philosophy. But the Redoubt movement, a subset of preparedness culture, tends to attract mostly conservative, libertarian, Christian practitioners. Most serious adherents practice very disciplined OPSEC (“operations security,” a military term for not communicating critical information that could be used against you — as in the motto “loose lips sink ships”).

The preparedness community understands that it should not communicate preparedness strategies and intentions except to a very close-knit group of family and like-minded folks. Therefore, preppers cannot be easily identified.

They generally do not speak about their beliefs in open forums and do work hard to ensure the OPSEC of their preparedness strategies. No one wants to be ridiculed or embarrassed because others don’t share their beliefs, but that is not the primary reason for OPSEC. The primary reason is that, in a post-calamitous event scenario, a prepared family could become a target for hungry and desperate groups. Self-proclaimed preppers who do not practice good OPSEC are often ridiculed by others in the community as “armchair preppers.”

Many, such as generations of homesteaders, farmers and ranchers are preppers by family tradition. Many of these folks don’t generally consider themselves an active part of the Redoubt culture.

Another example of the wide diversity of prepping are Mormons, who include disaster preparedness in their religious doctrine.

There are, of course, many outspoken preppers who are involved in other highly visible social movements. They represent a minority of the general community that thrives by ensuring that it stays below the radar. Rawles states that he is a conservative, libertarian Christian. Like Rawles, many who have come to the Redoubt follow a similar philosophy, but the preparedness movement, as a whole, is not constrained by these philosophical beliefs.

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