Mark Rinke — a 32-year-old, married father of two in Olathe who worries about TEOTWAYKI (The End of the World As You Know It) — declined to be interviewed at his home for a strategic reason.
“OPSEC,” said Rinke, floating the military jargon for operations security.
In other words, should the United States ever fall into social chaos through war, economic collapse or some other calamity, Rinke would rather, for security’s sake, not reveal too much regarding the details of his stockpiled energy, arms, water and food.
He’s got plenty. Under his queen-size bed, custom-made to stand 33 inches off the floor, he stores enough food in rows of five-gallon plastic buckets and stacked flats of No. 10, Costco-size cans to feed his family of four for a year.
His provisions include rice, beans, sugar, flour, freeze-dried meats, textured vegetable protein, lots of salt for curing and more. In the basement, he keeps 55-gallon drums of water. He has three more months’ worth of food in his pantry, multiple water filters, medical supplies, portable generators, kerosene and gasoline.
“The troops are going to come after your supplies because you’re a supply line,” Rinke said of his desire for security. “The enemy will also come after it because you’re a supply line.”
Rinke, who is stoutly built with a reddish, mountain-man beard and a pistol on his right hip, is a “prepper.”
He’s the co-organizer of the Kansas City Area Preppers Network, a Meetup group that has grown from 30 members three years ago to more than 500 today. It is also part of an ever more visible movement of individuals throughout the United States who think it’s prudent to embrace survivalist techniques to prepare for everything from natural disasters to the end of civilization.
30members three years ago
This weekend, some like-minded individuals are heading to the RK Prepper Show at the KCI Expo Center near the airport. Vendors are hawking items from weapons to water filters, and the schedule included workshops led by author Matt Stein and Vincent Finelli, the host of a prepper podcast and radio program on USAPrepares.com out of southern Missouri.
“It’s a movement that kind of comes and goes in waves,” said Stein, the author of “When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability & Surviving the Long Emergency.”
“People get really concerned, like after a Hurricane Katrina or Fukushima (nuclear power plant disaster), that they really ought to be preparing,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Lake Tahoe, Calif.
But instead of focusing on what he calls waste-of-time, “once-in-50-million-year events” like an asteroid hitting Earth or “end-day” scenarios, Stein focuses on preparing for “more likely” events such as pandemics and violent solar storms that might one day fry the electrical grid and send civilization into near darkness.
“It could be next week. It could be 30 years from now,” he said. “Statistically, we’re overdue.”
From fringe toward mainstream
To be sure, doomsday predictions have long dotted the human timeline. Whereas in the past, most end-of-days scenarios sprang from religious beliefs or mysticism — the 2012 interpretation of the Mayan calendar, or the biblical book of Revelation, or the prophecies of 16th-century French seer Nostradamus — they are now just as rooted in believers’ interpretations of climate change (environment run amok), economics (stock market collapse) or geopolitics (war or terrorist attacks).
“Obviously, there have always been some nonreligious expectations of calamity, but not on the scale of what we hear about now,” said Michael Barkun, Syracuse University professor emeritus of political science and author of “Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America.”
“In the past, at least, some of this material was segregated on fringes of subcultures,” he said. “It didn’t really get into the mainstream very easily.”
Now it’s everywhere. Adherents meet online, talk, share, organize.
What we’ve seen is not only the proliferation of apocalyptic ideas by the Internet, but their proliferation in popular culture in all forms.
Michael Barkun, Syracuse University
Recent examples include the best-selling book and movie “World War Z,” a chronicle of the near-end of humankind from a zombie pandemic, and the film “Interstellar,” in which astronauts travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity as Earth endures environmental collapse.
Prepper networks can be found in every state, as can online real estate sites offering prepper homes for those wanting to live off the grid in rural America. Sites hawking supplies for prepper families abound.
“Put it this way,” reads one site suggesting storage options to prepper women, “if your spouse has to move your provisions to get to their underwear, then you may be a prepper. But there is a better way to store food for the apocalypse than in the lingerie drawer.”
National Geographic TV’s reality series “Doomsday Preppers” has provided notoriety that Rinke, for one, thinks both helped and hurt the movement.
“It woke people up to the fact that there are things out there that you might want to prepare for,” he said. “It also made some people look a little wackadoo.”
Rob Kreager, 59, of North Kansas City, suggested that the line between cautious and crazy, prudent and paranoid depends on one’s perspective. He described himself as a former Boy Scout who believes in being prepared. He showed up at the expo on Friday afternoon while vendors were still setting up.
“I don’t know if I’m a prepper, as the saying goes,” Kreager said, “but I do believe in backup plans and do think this is a viable one.”
Not one to completely discount the possibility of large-scale calamities such as economic collapse, he had come to the show looking for options for food storage and shelter.
“I do have some small arms, some ammunition, some gold, some plans to get out of the city if things go bad,” he said. “It’s an option. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use that option. But I think it is wise to have options. The more you have, this being one of them, the better off you can be.”
‘Bug-out’ bag, mini gold bars
Rinke agreed to meet to talk at an Olathe diner, expressing only mild concern later that he’d come to the interview in a truck that did not contain his “bug-out” bag, a backpack stuffed with food, utensils and other supplies in case a calamity necessitates a sudden need to get away.
The movement, Rinke said, is far broader than that of the doomsdayers often portrayed in the media. These days, he said, many preppers are more interested in being ready for ice storms or tornadoes, like the one that destroyed a third of Joplin, Mo., in May 2011, than for short-term or long-term societal breakdown.
“Everyone has their own reasons. It’s eclectic,” Rinke said.
The “you” aspect in The End of the World As You Know It, he said, is vitally important in understanding the movement.
“It’s as you know it, as you know it,” Rinke said. “It could be the end of the world as everybody else knows it, too. But it could also be personal.”
For some, he said, the loss of a job or a home could spell the “end of the world.”
Rinke is preparing for larger than that. His initial “wake-up call,” he said, came in January 2001 when a massive ice storm walloped Kansas City and cut power to nearly 300,000 people. Rinke was a senior at Olathe North High School then, raised by a grandfather and mother who kept a full pantry.
“We were always camping and stuff like that,” he said. “When the power went out, we had propane heaters. We had food. We had camping stoves. We had friends coming over to take baths and stuff like that. Our house was warm.”
Politically active, Rinke is a registered Republican and an elected Olathe precinct committeeman who works from home for candidates. His wife, Rebecca, is a precinct committeewoman. Rinke has what he calls “small l” libertarian leanings. He worked to support Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential bid. He has strong sentiments regarding the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.
Should society ever crumble, he assures us that he has more than the 9 mm handgun on his hip to protect his family.
It was family, the birth of his daughter four years ago in December, he said, that truly solidified his belief in preparedness. His son will turn 1 in November.
“Having something to protect besides myself, having a family — that was a big wake-up call,” he said.
Rinke doesn’t want people to misconstrue him. “I don’t wish for the end of the world,” he said. But he figures that if anything less cataclysmic does occur, why not be prepared? The way world events are unfolding, he thinks, there is going to be what he calls “a reset.”
He keeps only enough money in banks to pay his bills and, should a collapse ever occur, he talks of conducting transactions with minuscule bars of gold or silver.
“Kind of like the size of Pez,” he said.
On the geopolitical front, he sees the biggest threat in an “EMP,” the detonation of a nuclear device in the upper atmosphere that sends out an electromagnetic pulse to bring down the electrical grid and the computers that control life and business in the U.S.
“I think it is a pretty decent concern because it doesn’t necessarily take a country making a decision to do it,” Rinke said. “It can be a rogue thing with a homemade rocket. One day a guy pulls his contraption out of his garage and shoots it off. Our grid goes down.”
Should that day arrive, Rinke feels confident he will be among the prepared.
Oh, but one thing, if that kind of world’s-end event ever does unfurl, don’t look for Rinke at home.
“I won’t be there,” he said.
The material he’s stockpiled at home is for lesser calamities.
“I’ll be somewhere else.”
There’s another place?
“Yes, there’s another place,” he said. “There’s always another place.”