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The American Redoubt, where survivalists plan to survive

When society collapses, they intend to be armed and well fed in the high country of the Northwest. James Wesley Rawles is their guru on the subject.

February 08, 2012|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
  • Chuck Baldwin, speaking in Reno in 2011, is a conservative preacher and radio host who has bought into the survivalist message of James Wesley Rawles.
Chuck Baldwin, speaking in Reno in 2011, is a conservative preacher and… (Gage Skidmore )

Reporting from Spokane, Wash. — The American Redoubt: It lies in the rural high country of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington and Oregon.

For a growing number of people, it's the designated point of retreat when the American economy hits the fan. When banks fail, the government declares martial law, the power grid goes down. When warming oceans flood the coasts and a resurgent Russia takes out targets on the Eastern Seaboard.

Though white separatists for years have called for a racial homeland in the inland Pacific Northwest, an even bigger movement of survivalists, Christian fundamentalists and political doomsayers is fueling the idea of a defensible retreat in the high country west of the Rockies.

Armed with stocks of brown rice, weapons, battery-operated radios and razor wire, many are preparing isolated homesteads that can quickly be turned into armed fortifications when groceries disappear from stores and hordes of desperate city-dwellers flee a flu pandemic or run out of oil.

The guru of the movement is James Wesley Rawles, a former Army intelligence officer and author of the bestselling novel "Survivors: A Novel of the Coming Collapse." The book tells of military veterans who lead bands of tough-minded Americans through a period of marauding rioters and the collapse of the supply chain and technology, and of a provisional government "determined to take over America and destroy the freedoms upon which it was built."

Rawles, who got his start as an editor at Defense Electronics magazine and a technical writer at Oracle Corp., in 2005 started what has become one of the country's most widely read survival blogs, which claims to attract up to 300,000 unique visitors a week. He published one of the bibles of modern survivalist tactics, "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It," in 2009.

Places like northern Idaho and western Montana have always been ripe territory; the low mountains around Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and Montana's Flathead Valley have long had more than their share of cabins populated by wary loners. But now Rawles has given a name to this idealized retreat — the American Redoubt — and framed the geography.

It's impossible to say how many have heeded the call — analysts say it's probably not all that many so far — but adherents say that's because the need is only now becoming apparent. Boise was home to a survivalist trade show last year featuring electric generators, dehydrated food and water-purification devices.

With the rising federal debt and prospects for another credit crisis, Rawles said in a telephone interview, "it could turn into a full-scale economic rout in short order. And under circumstances like that, I have encouraged my readers for many years to relocate themselves in lightly populated agricultural regions that are well removed from major population centers, where there'll be large-scale rioting and possibly looting in the event of an economic crisis."

Rawles has already beaten his retreat, but don't ask him to where.

The most he'll say is he lives on a ranch — presumably in Redoubt territory — west of the Rocky Mountains. He has livestock, he has three years' worth of food stockpiled, he has a functioning garden and he's got the weapons he needs to hold back the hordes if they find him.

"Because of the nature of my blog, I'm in an almost unique situation, in that I might be considered the go-to guy for 160,000 survival blog readers," Rawles, 51, said of the secrecy surrounding his location.

"I don't want to be that guy. I don't want anyone knowing where I live, because some morning I may wake up and find my barnyard full of tents and yurts and RVs."

A 'crossover' following

On his blog, one of a large and growing number of survivalist websites, Rawles emphasizes that he is a "non-racist" — that Christians, Messianic Jews and Orthodox Jews are welcome to join the retreat, no matter what their race. Buddhists and "New Age crystal channelers," on the other hand, would be better advised to retreat elsewhere. He pays homage to "Galt's Gulch," novelist Ayn Rand's concept of a hidden retreat for disaffected capitalists.

"The preparedness movement has grown at the fastest rate I have seen in my entire lifetime — faster than in the late '70s, when the Iran hostage crisis had people very concerned, much faster than in the late '90s, when people were concerned about Y2K," Rawles said. The interview was conducted on a phone with the area code he had when he lived in Livermore, Calif.

"I think a substantial amount of society, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and nuclear meltdowns, people have definitely recognized the fragility of society and they're taking rational steps to mitigate the risks," he said.

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