WHITE PINE, Tenn.—As Lucas Cameron sees it, there’s no way this election can end well. “Trump will win the popular vote by a landslide, and then the Electoral College will give it to Clinton,” he told me as his wife, Nikki, drove us through the rolling mountains of northeast Tennessee. Their home-schooled 12-year-old son, Jonathon, sat in the back, sipping on a McDonald’s drink, placidly gazing out the window as his father laid out some fairly terrifying scenarios. “By spring, we’ll be in a proxy war with Russia and going at it hard with Iran,” Lucas said. Things don’t look much better if Trump, his preferred candidate, wins. “If Trump is elected, Black Lives Matters goes crazy,” he says. “And Obama won’t let him take office. He’ll declare martial law so he can stay another four years.” If he does, and Trump takes office, “a recession is guaranteed.”
But luckily, Lucas and Nikki have been preparing for years—for nuclear war, for social unrest, for economic meltdown, and all kind of biblically prophesied turmoil. A completely insane election is just one more possibility for how it all ends, and people like them—so-called preppers, who were once known as survivalists—are ready. The Camerons have bought a plot of a land in a remote stretch of Tennessee, which I wasn’t allowed to see for fear of compromising the secrecy of its location. They are almost done building a tiny house—144 square feet, to be exact—which they’ll put on the property and plant creeping vines and tall bushes to hide it from prying (government) eyes. It’ll have solar panels on its roof and there will be wind turbines on the property, which means they won’t need to rely on the electric grid. And, of course, they’ve stocked up on weapons and ammunition.
He and Nikki run a business, Off Grid Contracting, to help others prepare for any modernity-ending eventuality, and what they’ve found is that the 2016 election has been a massive boost. “I’ve just never seen as many people prepping as there are now,” Lucas said. His friend Kevin O’Brien, a local realtor who specializes in helping people find plots of land to go off-grid, says, “My phone has been ringing off the hook.” I asked them to show me, using their forearms to mimic the slope of a graph, how demand has changed. Instead, both men imitated a rocket ship taking off.
“People are getting ready,” Kevin said. “The can has been kicked down the road so many times. It’s a mathematical probability that the dollar will collapse.”
While the rest of the country expects—or at least hopes—the election will put a merciful end to the chaos of campaign season, the Camerons are among the many Americans who think it will only get worse. The end of the campaign, many in this community believe, is only the beginning: The really bad stuff will begin the day after the election. “I’ll be honest with ya, I think some things are going to go down,” Lucas told me.
“Nobody takes Obama seriously,” he said, “but the two people who are running for office—a lot of people are scared that he’ll hit the nuclear button without even taking a breath, and that she’s so wicked that I won’t be surprised if she opens the floodgates of ISIS to come in and kill all Americans.” Though most of his clients, like him, support Trump, he says, “Most all of them expect there will be riots in either case.”
“It doesn’t matter who wins. We’re in trouble,” says David Kobler, a military veteran who runs the popular SouthernPrepper1 YouTube channel out of South Carolina. “I have talked to a few guys who have to travel for business around Election Day, and they will be driving instead of flying, so they can take their bug-out bags with them.” (A bug-out bag is a bag packed for emergencies: food, water, first aid, weapons.) “That way, if they’re stuck in their hotel room, they will have some food and water,” Kobler explained. “And they have concealed weapons permits so they can legally carry in their cars,” but not on planes. Which is another reason not to fly around Election Day: you could end up unarmed and vulnerable in the middle of post-election violence.
Preppers are actively discussing the election in their forums and on their YouTube channels where they show their followers how to get ready for the inevitable post-November meltdown. It’s a clearly pivotal moment in the country’s history, but there seems to be little agreement about just which way things will pivot. Kobler predicts an economic meltdown, regardless of who wins. Others, like Pastor Joe Fox, who runs Viking Preparedness out of the Ozarks, believes “we’ll keep doing what we do if Trump wins,” but if “that evil witch Hillary” wins, then “I’ll be preparing for nuclear war. Yep. The political powers that be, they want a war with Russia.” He advises his followers to “change gears a little bit and prepare for nuclear war instead of just general economic collapse.”
Aaron Liford, who runs SmartPrepper Gear in Lakeland, Florida, envisions the country igniting into urban riots. It is a common, if thinly veiled, refrain among preppers: racial violence. “After the election, I’m going to be staying away from the biggest cities,” Liford says. “I typically don’t go there anyways, but I think there will be violence breaking out there. If I were in bigger cities, if at all possible, I’d try to stay away from where riots typically break out. So I would avoid gatherings and tell people to pay attention to the news or Twitter if there’s a Black Lives Matter protest happening, to stay away from that.” Though he, too, sees the possibility for global instability: Clinton has threatened Russia, but Trump is volatile and likely to start something. “There’s a real possibility of war with Russia,” Liford told me. “Donald Trump wants to be friendly with Russia, and has taken the mind-set that’s the opposite of preparedness. The Russians are preparing themselves and their own citizens. If they’re doing it, then why aren’t we doing it?”
For Lucas Cameron, however, all of this is clear as can be. There’s a significant religious component to a lot of prepper thinking, and Cameron is in that camp. “A lot of clients that we visit with think a lot think a lot of the prophetic events are going to kick off now in the year or two, especially what’s going on with Iran,” which is all, he says, outlined in the Book of Revelation. In this view, the election will trigger a series of prophesied events that will lead to the End of Days. “The next sovereign we have will be the last sovereign,” he says. “There will be a sign that will take place in the heavens that hasn’t taken place in, oh, I don’t know how long. The sign of the Virgin, with the sun at her head and the moon at her feet. It’s described in Revelation 12. When we have seen war in the Middle East where you have Egypt, Damascus, Iraq, Aleppo, and all these places described in Scripture. I full well expect nuclear war over there in the next year or two, based on what’s going on.”
There are other troubling signs: reports of the government’s desire to introduce RFID chips—“the mark of the beast”—or Hillary Clinton appearing in front of an American flag that, in the high Satanic fashion, is hung upside down—“Let’s put it this way: If she’s supposed to run the country, shouldn’t she know what the flag looks like?”—and Trump doing that thing with his hands where he makes an O with his index finger and thumb, fanning out the other three fingers into what is unmistakably the sign of the Devil: 666. Lucas is voting for him anyway, because even if either candidate will bring the End of Days, Trump will at least slow the process. “The endgame isn’t different,” he says, but if Clinton wins, “it just speeds it up.”
On the other hand, if she does, his company will be in great shape. Despite the Trump-Pence sign on the Camerons’ lawn, he might almost prefer a Clinton victory. “If Hillary Clinton wins, I’m as good as retired,” Lucas says. “It’s going to be, like, phenomenal. I’ve got people who are already on the fence, just waiting for the go-ahead. We’ll definitely be hiring after the election.”
“The people who used to make fun of us?” Lucas said as we stopped at a Longhorn Steakhouse for lunch. “Oh, how the tables have turned! We’ll be the only house in town with electricity.”
“Yup,” Kevin agreed. “Glad we read the writing on the wall a while ago.”