The Armchair Survivalist (SF Chronicle 7/12/08)
Coeur d’alene, Idaho — The Armchair Survivalist believes the nation is falling into chaos, and he wants to help.
He offers practical advice for dealing with riots, wars, natural disasters and food shortages, which he says are imminent because of the worldwide economic meltdown and the incoming Obama administration.
“Too many things are occurring at the same time. It’s upsetting people,” said the Survivalist, whose real name is Kurt Wilson.
So this Martha Stewart for the camo-and-compound crowd provides valuable information on nonperishable foods, portable water purifiers and defensive weapons. His catalog business, Survival Enterprises, sells what you need for the coming hard times.
He operates out of a modest strip mall that is, ironically, on Government Way in Coeur d’Alene. Much of the work is packing and shipping orders for survival supplies such as canned bacon with a camouflage label and cases of military MREs.
Wilson started “The Armchair Survivalist” radio show about a year ago because so many people were asking him for advice on what he considered simple problems. The Saturday show can be heard over his Web site, on shortwave radio, or a few broadcast stations.
The survivalist movement was considered somewhat on the decline since it peaked around 1996, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies fringe movements around the country. But the SPLC warned last week of a rise in “hyper-survivalist paramilitary groups” as a result of the Obama election.
“Some conspiracy theorists and fringe ‘patriot’ radio hosts are seeking to reverse that course by calling on their friends and countrymen to arm themselves, organize and head for the hills in preparation for a fast-approaching second civil war,” the SPLC said on its Web site.
Jim Rawles, editor of survivalblog.com said unique visits to his site are climbing. They’ve doubled to about 107,000 a week, he said. But he doesn’t think Obama’s election is the main reason.
“The main driver right now is the economic situation,” he said. “A lot of people are deeply concerned we are on the cusp of another economic.”
While the term “survivalist” often carries negative connotations of reactionary politics, advocates of the lifestyle say it has a long, proud place in history – see Lewis and Clark – and in fiction such as “The Swiss Family Robinson.”
Barton Biggs, former chief global strategist for Morgan Stanley, recently wrote a book in which he warned that people should anticipate the breakdown of civilized society. He suggested creating a “safe haven” and stocking it with canned food, liquids, medicine, seed, fertilizer and other tools for survival.
In the same vein, Wilson devotes most of his program to topics like vacuum packing of food, generator silencing and fire starting
But his politics are also clear. During a recent program he referred to “low-life interesting creatures that crawl over the border to get on Social Security.” He said Barack Obama was a communist whose election was largely due to his race.
Yet business is booming at levels Wilson has not seen since the Y2K scare.
He attributes that to Americans’ sense of vulnerability because of economic woes and a series of high-profile disasters, most notably Hurricane Katrina. People feel they have to fend for themselves, he said.
Wilson spent part of his childhood living in a log cabin in the woods, where he picked up many of the skills once common among rural Americans but now largely forgotten.
During the Great Depression, for example, many Americans survived by planting gardens, he said.
Wilson said his show is intended for a mainstream audience, but it’s not exactly “Paul Harvey.”
On a recent program, he ripped the Wall Street bailout package, Democrats, rising taxes, disappearing pensions and the possible expansion of welfare. He warned that the worldwide credit crunch may leave cargo ships stranded in ports, making food imports to the U.S. impossible.
During breaks, there were advertisements for a product that can obscure license plates from red light cameras (“when cameras flash, you’ll save some cash”), a cure for intestinal parasites and a device for converting humidity into drinking water.
He doesn’t worry so much about people who live in the country, figuring they can fend for themselves.
“The guy in an apartment has no chance in hell,” he said. “I help people to become more self-sufficient.”
One customer lives in a small Manhattan apartment, where he keeps stacks of canned food covered by tablecloths in his living room so they look like end tables, Wilson said.
Wilson recommends spending whatever it takes to have a year’s worth of food on hand because grocery stores will be immediately stripped bare when disaster strikes.
Survival food and equipment can be expensive, but there are tricks to cutting the costs, such as buying cases of canned food on sale.
“I like yard sales,” he said. “All true survivalists like yard sales.”