December 6, 2014
The magazine headlines scream messages of fear. “Survive In an Urban Jungle”, “Protect Your Family from Terrorists”, “How to Have Food and Power When the World Falls Apart” are headlines that sell civilization’s fall. Welcome to the Prepper Movement. Once a fairly obscure group of what many considered to be conspiracy nuts, the prepper movement is now mainstream. The badly designed newsletters, magazines and websites have given way to a nationally distributed brand that is bringing the new, slick prepper movement to the suburban American consumer. And with this image upgrade, a whole new group of opportunistic, price-gouging prepper merchants are hawking everything from food to survival gear to specialized equipment at very, very high prices.
Because of my involvement in amateur radio and emergency communication, I’ve had an opportunity to view the prepper movement from a unique perspective. Amateur or “Ham” Radio is a foundational part of emergency communications. Because of the service that Hams offer in times of emergency, we’ve had to become proficient at establishing communications in high duress situations. We had to be preppers before prepper was cool. And, because many amateurs come from the middle class (often working blue collar technical jobs), we’re also pretty frugal.
The $100 Compass
Initially, I was very impressed at the content of the prepper magazines. Their production levels are very high and a result of the fact that several of the magazines are published by big national magazines, including Gun World which is owned by Beckett Media. And, on the surface, the content seems well researched, until you started to really read the content and investigate the advertiser content. Once the onion is peeled back, these publications truly reveal themselves. They exist to give their merchants a ‘format of fear’ to sell overpriced stuff to consumers.
From a $50 compass to a $4,900 solar power back up system, the magazines are filled with products that pack a huge margin. Don’t let the cool names and the cammo color schemes fool you, this stuff is largely a rip-off: Here’s just a few examples of the prepper hoax:
The $100 Compass: You’ll need this special compass to “find safety when the wheels fall off society…” Apparently it has super-hero features that aren’t available on the virtually identical instrument you can buy at Walmart or at your local military surplus store. And while it’s true that some of the prepper gear comes complete with cool names and cammo color schemes, if a real emergency hits and we need this stuff, I’m pretty sure that the color scheme and brand of my compass is not going to be a huge concern to me.
The $250 Knife: For 250 bucks, this thing should slice, dice and make Julienne fries.
The $88 Chinese Military Shovel: Apparently the fact that the shovel head rotates makes it very unique. Funny, I found a similar product at Home Depot for under $40.
Solar Power System for $4,900: This is my favorite prepper scam. These guys are true long-ball hitters. They’re saying, “Hey, let’s not just rip off consumers, but let’s grab a couple of thousand dollars in the process.” This ‘back up solar power system’ that several companies market consists of a solar panel, 50 foot of extension cord and a marine cell battery. Ham radio operators have been using this type of system for back-up power for years. This equipment is readily available for less than $1,000 and maybe less if you shop smart.
Gold, Silver & Numismatics: The mainstay advertisers for talk radio and cable news love the prepper population. After all, in a post-civilized world, precious metals will be our currency, right? They hook you with competitive pricing on gold and silver, but make their huge margins when they sell numismatics (rare coins) at astronomical mark ups. By the way, if you’re looking for ‘currency’ to use in a real, wheels off, dollar’s useless emergency, try stocking up on shovels, ammo, medicine and non-perishable food. In the event of a true multi-month calamity, that stuff will have much more value than an Augustus Saint-Gauden gold coin.
Resources for a Frugal Prepper:
Thanks to a growing network of savvy preppers, it’s possible to find great survival products for a fraction of the stuff in the prepper comic books. Here are several sites that we suggest:
Home Power Magazine: This ‘mom & pop’ magazine launched in 1987 and is now one of the best sources about alternative power sources.
The Frugal Prepper: Robert Paine’s book is filled with down-to-earth, common sense truth regarding how to survive in an emergency.
American Prepper’s Network: Although some of the overpriced products are trying to infiltrate APN, this is an impressive collection of prepper info. With links to media, products and other preppers, this is an invaluable resource. Again, because of its size, you need to be a savvy shopper and be on the look-out for the $100 compass products.
eHam Network: eHam is a leading website devoted to amateur radio and offers information regarding licensing, equipment and emergency communication.
FEMA Resources: Although some hard-core preppers are ‘anti-FEMA’ (search ‘FEMA camps’ for information), FEMA does offer some very good (and free) information on emergency preparedness.
Networking: There are a number of Facebook, Yahoo and Google groups dedicated to prepper issues.
Informed consumers are not fooled easily. And, the more you get involved in ‘the discussion’, the less likely you are to getting ripped off. In the coming weeks, we’ll be discussing prepper issues in more detail on The Consumer Team. We live in very interesting and historic times that, indeed, make this discussion both timely and relevant.
Editor’s Note: Pete Thomson is President & Founder of The Consumer Team, a Dallas-Ft. Worth based consumer advocacy initiative. Thomson is heard weekly on The Consumer Team radio program, Saturdays 5-7 PM (Central) on 1080 KRLD. Thomson also serves as President & CEO of McQ Media Inc, a Dallas-based marketing firm. Thomson is an active amateur radio operator. His call sign is KE5GGY and is heard nightly on 3.916 MHz on the 75 meter band.