The doomsday prepper business is booming in Oregon, as well as other places. Willamette Week has a look at some of the apocalyptic entrepreneurs, from Valentino to a professional cuddler Survival Bro, to wealthy conservatives getting even wealthier in the apocalypse business. There’s a great deal of unintentional hilarity in the article, as well as the blatant fearmongering of the wealthier side of this business, so I recommend reading the whole thing.
…This is, after all, his business. For $190, he will take you up on the mountain for an “immersive, advanced survival training” course. His target market: “preppers”—a term commonly used to describe people obsessed with surviving cataclysmic societal collapse.
It’s a booming market.
“This is in vogue,” Valentino says.
Schlepping his packs on a plastic sled, Valentino leads a photographer and me over the snowy trail away from the parking lot at Barlow Pass Sno Park.
Partway up the trail, he remembers: “Oh! Safety.” He proceeds to explain all that could go wrong.
Mount Hood could explode. There could be an earthquake—he felt several tremors last year. Cougars could pounce from trees and eat our kidneys. We could disappear in a snow-covered pit. We could be impaled by a tree. Assuming good cellular service, help is two hours away.
Later, he remembers another thing. “I forgot,” he says. “Today there is avalanche warning.”
In the event of a catastrophe, Valentino says, Mount Hood will be no refuge. He expects it will be overrun with poorly trained, overconfident, trigger-happy preppers—more dangerous than in the city, where at least one could still find food and shelter.
“Let’s talk about shit hit the fan,” Valentino says. “People will not survive in the woods. They can’t. Something will happen. The cold will take them down. Or their own brain will take them down. And what if people have children?”
When the big shocks come, you won’t catch this mountain man running for the hills. Instead, he says, he’ll be in the city, helping others.
From a home base in Clatsop County, Ore., Cameron McKirdy runs a YouTube channel and website, survivalbros.com.
The site bills itself as “more than an emergency preparedness blog”: It’s also a “strong community” and an “alternative news” source (think conspiracy king Alex Jones). With his infotainment brand, McKirdy markets himself to millennials as a high-protein, fluoride-free guide to scraping by in the dystopian chaos.
McKirdy, 33, grew up in Seaside and attended the University of Oregon. He started taking survivalism seriously after a 2011 tsunami warning.
Like many people his age, he’s juggling multiple gigs. He was an announcer at mixed martial arts fights, but now he’s an on-call professional cuddler with Portland business Cuddle Up to Me, offering platonic embraces for $1 a minute.
McKirdy also works retail at a nutrition store, which confers a discount on the protein powders that compose much of his diet. Sometimes he wins cash prizes in eating competitions, and he makes about $100 a month from ads on his Survival Bros YouTube channel, which has roughly 6,000 subscribers.
Since McKirdy’s method amounts to small-time grifting, I ask what the difference is between being a Survival Bro and a hobo. “I prioritize self-care and hygiene,” he replies.
From their $844,000 home in Portland’s West Hills, David and Beth Pruett travel the country selling homemade first-aid kits and teaching informal classes about emergency medicine.
Since living through the San Francisco earthquake in 1989, the Pruetts have stockpiled supplies, made checklists and practiced for the next disaster. David is a U.S. Navy veteran and an emergency medicine doctor at Oregon Health & Science University.
In 2011, David designed a compact, individual first-aid kit, the iFak, which is short for “individual first-aid kit” and stocked with medicines, bandages, implements and adhesives. Soon the couple turned their hobby into a preparedness business and blog, amp-3.net, which Beth runs from home, selling iFaks, radio gear, books like The Survival Nurse and Modern Weapons Caching, and some self-produced instructional DVDs. In 2015, Beth says, Amp-3 topped $140,000 in sales.
They get a lot of online sales, but it’s more effective to go where the customers are: prepper conventions.