What’s a “prepper”?

With reports circulating that Nancy Lanza was a survivalist, questions emerge about the movement

Topics: Sandy Hook, Newtown school shooting, prepper, doomsday preppers, Adam Lanza, Nancy Lanza, Gun Control, survivalists, preppers, , ,

What's a "prepper"? (Credit: American Prepper Network)

In an interview with local NBC affiliate WHDH 7 in New Hampshire this weekend, Marsha Lanza recalled that the last time she saw her sister Nancy, the conversation turned to disaster preparedness.

“Last time we visited with her in person we talked about prepping and, you know, are you ready for what can happen down the line when the economy collapses.”

Since then, subsequent reports have suggested Nancy Lanza — the mother and first victim of Newtown, Conn., shooter Adam Lanza — may have been part of a survivalist movement known as “preppers.”  And while it may prove impossible to confirm her affiliation in this loosely organized network of gun enthusiasts, back-to-the-land types and the generically cautious, the tragedy at Sandy Hook has invited increased scrutiny.

According to the American Prepper Network (APN) website, preppers take “personal responsibility and self reliance seriously.”  They follow the Five Principles of Preparedness, a fairly innocuous edict preaching self-reliance, thrift and keeping at least a year’s supply of “every needful thing” at the ready. But they aren’t just preparing for Cormac McCarthy-style end times; the APN considers short-term economic instability just as dangerous a threat.

Preppers focus much more on being prepared for things that will more likely be an issue – such as the family bread-winner losing their job, passing away or being incapacitated.  Other primary concerns for Preppers are: death or serious illness/injury to a family member, all-consuming house fire, flooding or other natural and man-made disasters.

The APN website rejects the “doomsday” label outright, suggesting they are simply being cautious and promoting what they see as the deeply American virtue of independence above all else. They were also quick to respond after news of a possible link to their movement emerged out of Newtown.

Our members, and others around the globe who share our philosophy of being prepared in times of emergency, are sickened by this event.  We too are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and to associate APN or any legitimate organization that stresses preparing for emergencies with this barbaric act goes against everything we collectively stand for.

Statements aside, preppers undoubtedly attract a fringe element. The APN site talks often and explicitly about “The End of the World As We Know It,” which it refer to as TEOTWAWKI. And judging from the abundance of videos and blogs of self-identified preppers arming themselves while touting conspiracies about government, financial collapse and the apocalypse, it’s clear this isn’t strictly a peaceful movement of people hoarding canned goods.

Preppers don’t just stockpile nonperishables — they collect weapons. Like Nancy Lanza, who owned five guns — three of which were used in the Sandy Hook massacre — preppers believe having weapons is just as important as having enough water. They are also deeply suspicious of government overreach, sounding Tea Party-like in this statement on Christianity and the Constitution.

The prepper mindset is focused on Self-Reliance and Personal Responsibility, which also happens to lead right into a strong belief in the Constitution and that we need less, not more, government.  Christianity also promotes Self-Reliance and Personal Responsibility.

It is difficult to say what, if any, role Nancy Lanza’s worldview played in her son’s murderous rampage last Friday. But as a public portrait of this fractured movement emerges, it’s fair to wonder if a culture increasingly equating safety and self-reliance with self-arming will see more of this kind of tragedy.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>