Survival of the Fittest

Survivalism isn’t just for white right-wingers anymore.

Steven Wells
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 30 | Posted May. 26, 2009

Share this Story:

You don't want to meet this guy at the end of the world.

This all comes against the background rumble of hundreds of competing and complementary conspiracy theories, all given new life and an all but guaranteed audience by the Internet. 

“When people stop believing in God,” wrote the devout Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, “they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.”

Switch out “God” for “the Soviet Union” in that sentence and you’ve got a pretty decent description of the confused post-Cold War survivalist zeitgeist. 

Salguero thinks all religions contain “seeds of truth.” And so, he says, do all conspiracy theories. When asked to list some of the reasons people have joined Survive and Thrive, Salguero starts with the Mayan calendar (which predicts major, possibly universe-ending change in 2012) and ends with the H1N1 virus. 

In between he mentions the 9/11 Truthers, “martial law lite,” something called Time Wave Zero, “war and rumors of war, economic distress, Posse Comitatus, solar flares and Hopi Indian predictions (they give us till 2040).” 

Salguero argues that the neo-survivalists, whatever the reasoning behind them choosing to learn hardcore survival skills (“bee colony collapse or planetary disruptions or heavy metal contamination in the food supply”), are responding to “a visceral, gut instinct” that everything they know and rely upon could disappear at any moment. 

In a photo on the Survive and Thrive site, Salguero is holding a German shepherd by a harness and wearing a T-shirt that manages to combine both death metal and Native American imagery. He also admits to owning a T-shirt that says “SURVIVOR OF THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.”

“It’s a joke,” he says. 

Then there’s 38-year-old lay preacher and rock singer Donald “Donno” Layton, whose dad is a “hardcore, old-school survivalist” who’s “locked and loaded,” should the apocalypse ever hit the Jersey ’burbs. Layton himself shares a West Philly house with his wife, his son Uzi, a Glock pistol, a Remington pump-action shotgun and an AK-47 assault rifle. 

Layton chose the AK (the weapon of choice for terrorists everywhere) for its punk-rock shock value. But the Remington and the Glock, he says, were purely practical choices, both being popular enough with urban gun-owners that ammo and spares would be easily available, even after EOTWAA, (the End of the World Armageddon Apocalypse).

“I don’t want the world to come to an end,” says Layton, “but if there’s zombies in the street or rioters or whatever, trying to get in here, they’re going to have a hell of a time doing it.” And then he laughs. 

When I first meet 32-year-old AIDS activist Val Sowell, she’s sitting on the sofa in a West Philly lefty-nerd commune, playing the zombie apocalypse game Fall Out on XBox. Sowell says she has a “go bag” packed, which is “part semiserious zombie survivalist and part me taking the advice of civic emergency planning people (and SEPTA ads).”

The coming apocalypse is a common topic of conversation in the commune. “I don’t think we’re unique in this at all, actually,” says Sowell. “I mean, the apocalypse looms large in the public imagination; we admit the potential for multiple apocalypse scenarios. There’s the obvious zombie apocalypse, but there’s also potential for alien apocalypse, shadow-government-overthrowing-everything apocalypse, the ‘Jesus comes back as a zombie and raises his army of zombies’ apocalypse, peak oil/global-economic-instability apocalypse, the whole 2012 Mayan apocalypse … ”

She goes on to catalog the nonstop, drip-drip-drip of the world-gone-to-hell/zombie movies, books, balls, crawls, comics and other apocalyptic paraphernalia, most with images of the fly-blown dispossessed munching vengefully and with righteousness on the bloated faces of the bourgeoisie. 

A Pride and Prejudice zombie mashup stormed the bestseller list; Will Smith and his dog desperately sought the antidote to the to the super serum that cured cancer but turned everyone it touched into hyperventilating zombie vampires. They roamed a New York presumably already well-picked-over by the hyper-rabid face-munchers of the 28 Days Later franchise and then stomped into flaming rubble by the civilization-crushing clumsy teenager from outer-space code name: Cloverfield . 

Every week the reality-based news media conjures up a hundred new ways that civilization as we know it might go splat. And every week thousands of filmmakers, novelists, comic writers and artists try to come up with a thousand more. It’s almost as if Western culture—the freest, cutest, sexiest, cleanest, least intestinal parasitic worm-ridden and most affluent culture the world has ever seen—has a death wish. 

Then, of course, there’s the relatively recent example of an American city undergoing meltdown. The lessons of New Orleans during Katrina seem obvious. Despite all the fabricated, sensationalist and racist news reports about mass murders, rapes and beatings, when human beings find themselves in extremis—as happened at the Superdome—the strong looked after the weak and civilization of a sort was restored. 

That’s not how 39-year-old Jason Lawrence sees it. A Philly native, he’s been organizing his Northwest Philly neighbors for the economic collapse he thinks is imminent. He thinks the big lesson of Katrina (and of the collapse of the Argentinean economy in 2001) is that when push comes to shove, well-armed neighborhoods will have to fight off mobs of looters. 

“Traditionally, the stereotypical survivalist is the guy out in the woods,” he says, “ready to bug out if society collapses. But my take on this is that we live in the city, in neighborhoods where lots of different people have different skills.”

Harking back to the Great Depression, Lawrence says: “They were tougher people back then, we’re a little more sissified. Maybe all the trouble we are going through now, we might learn some vital lessons such as self-sufficiency. Maybe we’re getting fat and lazy and maybe we need to go on a diet.”

Prev| Page: 1 2 3 |Next
Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 30 of 30
Report Violation

1. Alfie from the council flat said... on May 27, 2009 at 12:58PM

“Thank you Mr. Anti-Septic. What a bunch of silly, paranoid Yank howler monkeys. Eh Steven? They're clueless. The whole country's filled with gun nuts, Jesus freaks, zombie zeitgeist goatfuckers, fascist-minded canned goods-hoarding Glenn Beck-worshipping ammunition-stocking Shoney's-slurping fattos who deserve nothing but our eternal derision. Well done!”

Report Violation

2. Anonymous said... on May 27, 2009 at 04:30PM

“well written”

Report Violation

3. greg said... on May 27, 2009 at 08:18PM

“don't discredit this article until reading up on some of the facts yourself”

Report Violation

4. C. Guggenheim said... on May 28, 2009 at 04:09AM

“I've got two jars of marmalade and some Scotch tape to get me over any rough patches. They'll have to pry my Blu-Ray remote from my cold dead hands!”

Report Violation

5. b.0.b the uFo hunting HP said... on May 29, 2009 at 08:08PM

“Stephen Wells once again did a great job as usual going where the main streamed media won't go...reporting as reporting should be done by writing about the Truth. I am a member of this group, but due to work & family haven't been able to attend any meetups yet, but do read the very valuable posts on the group's site and uses them as a guide to prepare for what will be our future. I tell my friends & family to prepare for what lies ahead and what started out to be alot of giggles & eye rolling now is nods of agreement. The NWO that is trying to run this country into the ground is actually opening people's eyes open & getting them prepared for the worst. Keep up the GREAT work Fernando & hopefully I can make one of the upcoming meetups and contribute some ideas & share how I am prepared. Thanks again Stephen for the straight & to the point reporting!”

Report Violation

6. FERNANDO ANTONIO SALGUERO said... on May 29, 2009 at 10:45PM

“Responsible Citizen, I am no Obama koolaid consumer and I say this without reservation; there is not a single piont in this article where the author pushes an anti gun mindset. Just the opposite, most of his interviewees are firearm advocates. He was simply pointing out that they are not the primary focal point for many urban survivalists. But I and many others are fierce protectors of the 2nd amendment . Steven did a soild job and was fair all around.”

Report Violation

7. Richie Balance said... on May 29, 2009 at 11:39PM

“Wow. I am surprised to see members of the group standing behind this interpretation.
Do they really feel their intentions and motivations come through in an article that spends so much time on zombie nightmares and one paragraph on Katrina?
All I can think is- way to take a great subject- pertinent and interesting, and totally botch it. The redeeming reporting and elements of writing are so far outweighed by the useless and obligatory whackyness and status quo bolstering that this really pushes me away from PWI will have a heard time trying to justify digging into the yellow box in the future.
You blew it, big time.”

Report Violation

8. Alfie from the council flat said... on May 30, 2009 at 11:53AM

“Yanks are stupid! Steven Wells is our god!”

Report Violation

9. Dr. Elektrika said... on May 30, 2009 at 11:21PM

“Very well written article; informative and unbiased about the subject matter and Mr. Salguero. On a personal note, if the world goes to hell, the dead arise, the mountains shake and crumble, the seas turn to blood and dogs and cats begin to live peacefully together, I'll be right here in Montana watching from on high with a rifle, six tubes of antiseptic, a Britta container and some gauze pads....and I'll miss my Phillies. Good night and good luck.”

Report Violation

10. Seawolf1090 said... on Jun 4, 2009 at 05:39AM

“An okay article, and good to see even a few Liberals actually 'get it'. But, there is a LOT of misinformation and 'squirreliness' in there too, derision for a segment of this nation's population the author has little real knowledge of. The 'survivalists' are only a tiny percentage of true 'Preppers'.
Lots of Moonbats int his response section too - many who will be simply GONE a month after SHTF day. Thank Goodness.”

Report Violation

11. FERNANDO ANTONIO SALGUERO said... on Jun 4, 2009 at 04:37PM

“Seawolf, I am only "Liberal" in that I have a deep respect for liberty and the soveriegnty of every person. There are quite a few moonbats that come out from the fringe, however they too have a right to self determination, even if their life involves aliens or gay sex. It's not my business, it's their liberty. That is the Constitutional ground on which we all stand for now. I am teaching true survival skills that have been largely forgotten in this culture. I hope that you live just long enough to have your heart and mind opened to love and inclusion. That is the strength required to lead. Because you just blindly swinging your balls around like that does none of us any good.”

Report Violation

12. CrafT1 said... on Jun 4, 2009 at 05:32PM

“I have to agree with the sentiment that this article is written more than just a little tongue-in-cheek. So predictable and status-quo (yawn). Wells seems so sure that Western culture is eternal and unbreachable. What hubris. He paints a picture in the minds of his audience that survival-minded individuals are so strange for being prepared in the event of a societal breakdown. When excrement and fan meet headlong, someone like Wells will be among the first to go begging to Big Brother to bail him out and be his savior. And that's just were they want you.”

Report Violation

13. bonesmuggler said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 10:06AM

“Unbelievable.. Must have been a slow news day..Frank had a rough life no doubt, but he continues to exagerate his struggles.. Hopefully he can find some inner peace and a hot shower in his life”

Report Violation

14. bonesmuggler said... on Jan 6, 2010 at 02:52PM

“For a guy who is involved with the crowd and many left wing idealogy of regulation and big government, survivalism seems to be the total opposite.

I'm glad his survival stock includes mountian Dew and hawian Punch..What a doofus”

Report Violation

15. Wilburn said... on Jan 26, 2010 at 07:18PM

“Yo Meatloaf, thats nasty”

Report Violation

16. Blankets said... on Aug 19, 2010 at 08:38AM

“Nice post — this really hits home for me.embroidered caps.The message here is super helpful.I believe you might like what I came across on this internet site today.custom hats. I will return to check on upcoming articles.this is a splendid post and I would give a five out of five rating to it.caps. Need some more posts like this to be coming out Thank you and looking for more of this kind.He paints a picture in the minds of his audience that survival-minded individuals are so strange for being prepared in the event of a societal breakdown.”

Report Violation

17. shadowboxer said... on Nov 22, 2010 at 10:57PM

“can't believe i tripped across this article, does he really have hawian punch and mountian dew for his survival needs? is this guy a survivalist or someone who likes to shop at BJ's , I feel dumber after reading this article”

Report Violation

18. Otter said... on Dec 2, 2010 at 05:34PM

“I attended Survive and Thrive for awhile, but I finally left an hour into a meeting during which a speaker who was off his antipsychotics shouted at us about Illuminati mind control and how we had the right to kill cops if thery violated our rights. The meetings basically went from being about making fires and purifying water, to about Redemptionism, 9/11 truthing, and how anyone who doesn't agree with the speaker is mind controlled. I walked out, and will not return.”

Report Violation

19. Fernando Antonio Salguero said... on Dec 31, 2010 at 11:49AM

“Otter is a liar. The group clapped when he left. Otter was BANNED from the group for his months of piss poor behavior. Otter is a liar.”

Report Violation

20. Fernando Antonio Salguero said... on Dec 31, 2010 at 02:08PM

“Otter is a liar. He was BANNED from Survive and Thrive because of his piss poor social skills. No presenter ever metioned 9/11 or Illuminati. No one ever said he was under mind control. His is now as he has always been. A sad and angry little man.”

Report Violation

21. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2011 at 10:00PM

“I was at that meeting that Otter speaks of, he is not telling the truth! Otter was always intrusive and annoying to this group, never an asset as most members are!”

Report Violation

22. Shame on Otter said... on Mar 25, 2012 at 12:23PM

“Shame on you Otter. I was sitting several seats away from Otter at the "Natural Law" meetup and he was being very disruptive. Your tactic to discredit the group didn't work. You spent all that time trying to get credit and a reputation in the group and then picked the most opportune time to pull your walk out. Right when were having one of the most important subjects of Natural Law covered you go and pull your tricks. It didn't work Otter. Nobody fell for it. Find a new job pal.”

Report Violation

23. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2012 at 12:43PM

“The article was very well written. I commend Mr. Salguero for his positive contribution to society. There aren't many individuals, or groups out there who are are teaching skills, and discussing issues that will possibly effect the U.S.. I'm sure other countries that are facing hard economic times, riots, and food shortages, would have loved to have this information available to them, in retrospect. Everyone has their own reasons as to why they would choose to prepare for the unknown. Believe it or not folks, that used to be the American way! Our forefathers and mothers, had many months worth of food. Only in recent times have we lived in the manner ,that there will be no rainy day's. Keep on doing what you are doing Mr. Salguero, the world needs more men like you!”

Report Violation

24. James Babb said... on Apr 27, 2012 at 01:52PM

“Why are survivalists associated with doomsday? Natural disasters happen all the time, that result in extended periods without modern necessities. We need practical skills that literally could save our lives in the event of an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, forrest fire or blizzard, not to mention hiking mishaps in the wilderness.

Kudos to Salguero for sharing his knowledge so freely.

Report Violation

25. Scorpio said... on Apr 28, 2012 at 10:24AM

“Fernando is a rock star! I met him through a mutual friend and he is a storehouse of information in his own right. Ask him about the political machinations of anything from vitamins (the push to have them regulated and require prescriptions)to plumbing (plastic instead of copper, chemical leaching be damned)he'll give you accurate information, chapter and verse, on who is pushing their agenda, why they're doing it and what we can do to protect our freedom.

The tag line of "Survivalism isn’t just for white right-wingers anymore." I find a little racist though. If you want to promote social equality, you might want to change things like that to something less offensive
, not bringing politics or race into it.”

Report Violation

26. Anonymous said... on May 1, 2012 at 03:46PM

“I think that we all need more of this sort of thinking. Inclusive thinking and doing.”

Report Violation

27. Otter said... on Aug 31, 2012 at 03:21AM

“I otter check back here for sockpuppets more often! Clearly, I attended a different meeting then Fernando remembers. At any rate, if you check out , you can enjoy a wide range of kook lit, especially Sovereign Citizen material. Is the slides of the meeting in question; anyone can view them. Slide 92 is an Illuminati reference - in fact, it's the cover of a game named... Illuminati. The speaker mentioned the Illuminati several times. There are enough eyes-in-pyramids scattered thru the rest of the presentation.”

Report Violation

28. Otter said... on Aug 31, 2012 at 03:25AM

“Yup, I was banned. After walking out, disgusted, I was banned. I certainly hope that when someone in the group decides to apply his Sovereign Rights to a cop, the grand jury takes into account that I left the organization long before. :)”

Report Violation

29. Anonymous said... on Sep 1, 2012 at 03:09AM

“Otter here again, showing how I can post anonymously, or with any other name I'd like to use. If I was using it to make people think I was someone else, I'd be 'sockpuppeting'.”

Report Violation

30. Anonymous said... on Feb 14, 2013 at 03:18PM

“ Fernando arrested recently. Traces of explosives in his car.”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)

Related Content

The Strange Odyssey of the Ron Paul Tent at Occupy Philly
By Tara Murtha

Ron Paul supporters and Occupiers make for strange bedfellows: While Paul’s supporters and Occupiers agree that this country is in big trouble, they advocate wildly different solutions.

RELATED: Occupy Philly: The Evolution of Tent City

Related Content

Steven Wells Remembered
By Steven Wells

Our friend and colleague Steven Wells died two years ago today of the cancer he had documented so well in two cover stories for Philadelphia Weekly. On June 14, he submitted this column.

RELATED: Cell Out The English Patient Save the Straights Newspapers Are Not Toilet Roll Manufacturers Scene But Not Nerd Tributes to Steven Wells More Tributes to Steven Wells Goodbye, Anti-Sacred and Profane Writing Machine Steven Wells’ contrarianism wasn’t just an act Even More Tributes to Steven Wells Steven Wells' America Memorials for Steven Wells Steven Wells: "Arguably, The Last Great British Rock Writer" The Quietus Tribute to Steven Wells Steven Wells: In Memoriam