It was already too late to blend in, though

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Lauren Groff of Harper’s decided to attend Prepper Camp — and didn’t fit in:

They were mostly male, between their late fifties and early seventies, with such an abundance of paunch that the only possible reaction was to marvel. These men were straight-up gravid. They seemed proudly working-class and most were former military, a fact made clear by the patches and medals they wore like over-the-hill Eagle Scouts. Nearly everyone was white. Over the weekend, I would count exactly nine visibly non-white preppers, three of whom were presenters.


As the day came on around me, I listened to the human parking cone cheerfully directing traffic. “You handicap?” he shouted toward a giant pickup.

From the truck there was a hemming. At last, one of the men inside shouted, “He’s too proud to tell you he’s a wounded veteran.”

“Aren’t we all!” said Parking Cone.

A river of grim and portly old men flowed by, and I felt shy in my civilian womanhood and comparative youth. I waited until I saw a pair of women in hiking boots and flak vests, and gathered my courage to follow them out into the cluster of tents optimistically called the Prepper Camp Shopping Mall.


Prevalent iconography included eagles, crosses both Celtic and Latin, the Don’t Tread on Me snake flag (aka the Gadsden flag), and the Confederate Stars and Bars. There were MAGA hats galore, so many that by Sunday I would lose the thrill of fury at seeing one. There were T-shirts bearing such phrases as: we are the virus they want to destroy; pro-god, pro-gun; live free or die hard; the calm before the storm. The right shoulder sleeves of many shirts featured backward flags, which I took to have sinister intent until I discovered that this was a convention of military uniforms, meant to show the banner flying as though in a breeze. My favorite tee depicted Ronald Reagan unbuttoning his dress shirt to reveal a chest made out of the American flag.


It was already too late to blend in, though. I hadn’t known before I arrived that at Prepper Camp camo and olive drab were the markers of belonging. Even very old ladies who certainly had never seen active duty wore camouflage sun hats and plastic clogs. I watched the people around me with a creeping sense of dismay. With a jolt, I saw that I was also being watched in return. I understood then that being a woman alone in this place was already unusual; far worse, I was wearing East Coast liberal-arts-college clothes, a Patagonia fleece, and a North Face backpack. I looked like a good bourgeoise, the kind of woman who drinks kombucha and does yoga and reads Harper’s before bed.


Perhaps I should have expected to feel wildly out of place at Prepper Camp. I am a vegetarian agnostic feminist in a creative field who sits to the left of most American socialists: I want immediate and radical action to halt climate change; Medicare and free public higher education for all; abortion pills offered for pennies in pharmacies and gas stations; the eradication of billionaires; the destruction of capitalism; and the rocketing of all the planet’s firearms into the sun.

And yet I am also, in the darkest corners of my heart, a doomsday prepper myself.


  1. McChuck says:

    Sounds like she needs to be “rocketed into the heart of the sun.”

  2. Aetherczar says:

    Sounds like someone had a really bad attitude. She was received with a hospitality she did not deserve.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    She seems to be trying to understand people different from her, but she’s not good at it.

    Setting aside bias: easier said than done.

  4. Neovictorian says:

    She’s a pretty good writer, and in the end she does some self-examination that’s deeper than most ever do. But she’s so far gone in ClimatechangeLand that she can only see a sliver of the big picture.

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