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Penn State Professor Accuses Preppers Of Cult-Like Behavior

prepping for disasterPreppers are a cult, according to a Penn State professor who has been studying the prepping concept. Dr. Peter Behrens feels that anyone who stockpiles more than seventy-two hours’ worth of supplies is paranoid. The learned professor thinks there are three tiers of prepping: pastime, preoccupation, and pathology. I imagine he would see the errors in his thinking about day five into a civil unrest scenario.

During a recent interview, Dr. Behrens made this sweeping comparison. The Penn State professor thinks that anyone spending more than 10 percent of their time on firearms training, and garnering supplies and resources, has ventured into the dreaded “pathological prepping” zone. I spend more than 10 percent of my time any given week taking care of my rescued tortoises; perhaps I am also a part of some weird reptile cult and just did not realize it.

Even the folks at FEMA now suggest keeping three weeks’ worth of emergency supplies on hand. But Dr. Behrens feels that preppers who think having more than seventy-two hours of necessary food and supplies on hand also possess “special shorthand unique to the group.” Apparently using the phrase “bug out” qualifies as shorthand and is an indicator of cult-like behavior. The good doctor also feels that preppers have a collective “us-versus-them” mindset. For an educated man who has supposedly spent many hours researching the habits of preppers, he sure is ill-informed.

Rick Austin, author of Secret Garden of Survival and renowned preparedness speaker, had this to say when speaking to Off The Grid News about the idea of a prepper cult:

“Do people who purchase insurance have a ‘pathological preoccupation’ with scenarios which will never occur? Dr. Behrens obviously hasn’t done adequate research on the subject. The vast majority of so called ‘preppers’ are just normal people who are knowledgeable enough to understand that they need to be responsible for themselves and for their family, because it is abundantly clear that the government can’t ‘save’ everyone in times of disaster. Case in point—there are still, to this day, over 50,000 families who are waiting for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The vast majority of our ancestors (less than 100 years ago) always had at least a years’ worth of food stored up. Being prepared is just taking responsibility.”

The critique by the professor makes preppers sound like not just a cult, but a hate group. The only us-versus-them mindset I have ever discovered when speaking with preppers is when the discussion involves how they will protect their families in a civil unrest scenario. Perhaps the Pennsylvania academic finds the use of weapons to protect loved ones extreme, but I do not.

Ron Foster, author of the Prepper Trilogy series and experienced emergency management professional, also spoke with Off The Grid News about Dr. Behrens’ research:

“I see that the good doctor’s background is experimental psychology and does not teach in the university’s emergency management program.  Understanding sociology as well as post- traumatic stress, not experimental psychology is the key to being a good responder as well as a prepper. Too often first responders in the field have to deal with inept or ill-informed academics doing ‘studies’ in the field with a pack of uninitiated students getting in the way and not understanding real relief efforts. The academics do it for the money; grants from FEMA or DHS are more readily available for such things. I think other more worldly and understanding academics will take him to task and explain that just following FEMA or CDC guidelines would put someone in the so called ‘prepper cult’ mentality the professor espouses in his dangerous rhetoric.”

Growing food and having off-the-grid access to a power source offers preppers the ability to have greater control of their own lives. As Austin so aptly noted, once upon a time in America, such common-sense practices were the norm. Many of us had grandparents (or perhaps parents) who routinely grew and canned their own food, went hunting or fishing, and manually pumped water from their own well. Our relatives were not considered part of a prepper cult. The mundane activities were simply known as practical and cost-saving measures necessary to put food on the table for the family. Those of us who live in rural areas may have been engaging in such habits our entire lives, long before the term “prepper” was ever coined.

Rob Underhill, producer of the award-nominated series, The Carrington Event, also commented to Off The Grid News about Dr. Behrens’ conclusions:

“That is an interesting conclusion, in particular because of the science behind long-term preparations. Just from my own history, I grew up in Michigan. We had an ice storm one year that rendered many of our neighbors without power for at least two weeks. We had supplies and a wood burning stove, so many of our friends and neighbors stayed with us. It was too freezing cold and too impassable to make it to town to restock after a few days. So in this regard, it is just practical, if not potentially a matter of life or death, if emergency crews are too spread thin. In this world of increasing normalcy of super storms, solar, hurricane, even thunder storms, droughts, etc., it seems rather prudent to be prepared.”

Dr. Peter Behrens also claimed that many preppers look beyond “given facts,” science or “good experience” when actively planning to protect their families in case of a man-made or natural disaster. The Penn State University professor also cautioned preppers to put limits on their stockpiling and training, and to reflect on those actions going forward.

Survivor Jane, the female prepper who created the most popular preparedness hashtag on Twitter (#preppertalk) also took exception with Dr. Behren’s findings. She had this to say to Off The Grid News on the subject:

“I learned a long time ago that people who deal with the mindsets of others have far worse issues— sometimes—than the people of their studies. We are all human, after all, and therefore, this is purely just an opinion. Yes, I will concede that in the past (as in 10+ years ago, if not more) it was suggested that you have at least 72 hours’ worth of provisions in case of a disaster—whether natural or man-made. That was because our nation had never experienced the likes of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, and Super Storm Sandy.

In those instances it took well into 72 hours to actually get assistance to the victims. I have also learned from speaking personally to many a victim of these past disasters, that it was after such an event that they began to take personal responsibility for themselves and family because they witnessed first-hand the chaos and inability for assistance to get to them.

Personal responsibility is not a bad thing. People who create and label people who are, is. By having 72 hours’ worth of provisions or more, [you] actually [help] lessen the burden for those trying to bring assistance to those in need. As to Dr. Behrens’ comment, if being labeled as having ‘a pathological preoccupation with scenarios which will never occur’, saves my family, friends, and myself by having the basic needs of water, food, shelter, and protection when the next disaster strikes—then so be it. After all, I want to live to tell about it.”

Dr. Behrens also feels that without such an introspective pause, hard-core preppers will negatively impact newbies. Behrens maintains that in such a scenario, the seasoned prepper will pass along their “pathology” by sharing what he deems exaggerated truths and general misinformation.

An excerpt from an interview with Behrens reads:

“With the Jim Jones cult several decades ago, they were gathering around this leader. Now, the ‘leader’ is these information websites. They don’t accept contrary information or data or opinion because they’re committed to a particular viewpoint or security in exchange for the opportunity to think that you’ve got anything under control.”

Hmmm. Behrens’ description sounds a lot like the way I feel when having a political discussion with my liberal brother. Sure, he hates the label—but it fits. When a person clings irrationally to a particular mindset, where anything which threatens to put a slight hole in their warped bubble immediately pushes them into a frenzy and an involuntarily zealot-like rant, the term “pathological” could apply. Dr. Behrens’ conclusions more accurately describe those who blindly follow a political party or politician than they do to off-the-grid fans, homesteading families, or the average prepper.

If living in a self-reliant and sustainable manner means that I am part of a cult, go ahead and fill my cup up with Kool-Aid … I prefer grape.

Watch this at WWL

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  1. Ummm, I think the ‘ol professor is afflicted with a bad case of walking-talking dumbass. An educated idiot, one might say. Unfortunately many folks buy into his point of view. Can’t help but feel they are in for a horrific shock in the very near future. Bottom line is that our beloved leaders really don’t know what to do about the state of affairs, because there is no clear soloution to our problems. Wife and I have been prepping for a long time and can endure a very extended period of hardship, with a bit of luck. On the other hand, I have a close family member who keeps one box of shells for his .357 and maybe a weeks worth of food in their urban dwelling, telling me that it’s plenty for an emergency. I worry for them…..

  2. He could be right IF we were living crowded, unsafe and unhealthy as in the show ‘Hoarders’.
    So our state governments have been contributing to bad mental state by requiring drivers to be prepared with Auto Insurance? So our federal government is contributing to bad mental state by requiring all of us to be prepared with Health Insurance? So FEMA is contributing to bad mental state by suggesting keeping three weeks’ worth of emergency supplies on hand?
    So when Dr. Behrens comes around looking for help, tell him to reach inside his ‘unprepared’ mind.

    • An woman on one of the very first “Doomsday Prepper” episodes (by the way, the guys that sold the idea of “Doomsday Preppers” originally wanted the show to be called “American Preppers” but NatGeo did not think the title had enough excitement) stated that difference between hoarders and preppers is that they both collect huge piles of stuff but the difference is that preppers have their items organized instead of randomly tossed anywhere.

  3. The radio host and the good Doctor both seem to have a case of the self-righteous-itis. They both dismiss the whole Mayan Calendar business as complete crap. It would seem that they are both wasting their psychic talents by not giving the listeners the big numbers for the next PowerBall or Mega Millions. I don’t claim to know what possible disaster is coming and wouldn’t belittle someone for doing what they think is best for the protection and well-being of their family. And as for the $17,000+ spent on survival foods which the host thought was a joke. Amazingly enough food purchased for an emergency can also be eaten if the emergency doesn’t happen. I can only guess that the money was spent on foods that most likely have a 20-25 year shelf life. Those types of foods are usually on the expensive side and quite tasty. So they bought the “survival” food and nothing happened, now they can store the stuff away for 20+ years, knowing that they have that food to fall back on, or they could go ahead and start adding it to their food plan now and enjoy eating it. It kills me how people seem to not have a problem with paying for insurance like car or health insurance and hope to not use it but see putting the basics aside, like food, firearms, water purification, means of cooking, seeds and canning supplies, and first aid items as a giant waste of time and money. Keep believing the world we live in will never change (in a bad way); history teaches quite the opposite.

  4. Actually…its liberal communist professors that are the cult!

  5. Now THAT is funny. Isn’t this the same guy who leads the “Yes we can/Yes we have no bananas” chant-ins? Or is it the guy who leads the campus speech and thought police? Or, since it is Penn State, perhaps the guy who covered for Joe Paterno, or created the outed fraud global warming hockey stick?

  6. Communist professors feel threatened by independence. They want citizens to be dependent on an all-powerful govt. Simple as that.

  7. Yea, but can he build a rocket stove from a coffee can? No? Well pfft, we don’t need the “professor” on our island!

  8. So It time to research middle eastern named Dr. Peter Behrens of Penn State who is he who funds his research? Obama? muslim brotherhood…I’d bet money on this one

  9. After being laid off Dec. 2012, we were prepared. Stores of pantry goods, canned vegetables, freezer meats and fruits, (all dated to ensure freshness) and an active productive vegetable garden, we ate better in the layoff than we do normally! We broke out the food and feasted! Gardening all the winter in California, I got to enjoy cooking great restaurant dishes with fresh vegetables straight from the back yard. It went on for 3 months before we had a job. We had positioned our savings, our budget and our “food savings” for success. I extremely doubt Dr Peter Behrens ever considers being laid off or how to survive if he did. If he did, I’d advise him to consider, “How will your 72 hours of food help you— NOW? ‘ ‘Consider the ant, grasshopper…”

  10. i enjoy this program the particular dfuw gold. document carry them with any thing, in ground.

  11. Different strokes for different folks. Being prepared used to be a way of life. Everybody in the neighborhood used to come to our house after hurricanes wanted to use the gas stove, wanting this or that. Has he never hear of the ant and the grasshopper? Everything can be carried to the extreme – even total denial that any catastrophe can ever happen.

  12. southernpatriot

    Good evening. Appreciate your website and enjoy hearing from your readers. I’ve been sick for some time and I have not been following our world in decline. Having stated that, here’s my 2-cents on the comments from the Penn state professor-MYOB. Mind your own business! Should I or you or even the good professor want to buy what ever, that’s your business, not mind.From my vantage point, this great country is in big trouble. It’s my opinion, we can no longer trust our own government to protect Americans.Our politicians are no longer listening to” We The People”, and they refuse to obey Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” We are $ !7-Trillion in debt and counting. We are spending $85 billion each month to buy up American Debt There’s no reason we can not cut governemnt spending. While Rome is burning,they refuse to protect our borders,they won’t allow us to win the wars we are fighting. They want to take away our Constitutional Rights and give the sovereignty of America to the UN. So you think were paranoid, Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing I’m certain of , As for me and my family, we will follow the Boy Scouts motto of “Being prepared”. If a crises happens, we will try to help those in need to the best of our abilites.That’s still my game plan. God Bless America and take care everyone. Southern Patriot

  13. I come at this from a very different perspective. I live in Australia. The land of the meat pie, board shorts and not-many-guns. Prepping, to most here, is seen as sheer lunacy. Whilst I think it can follow from some strange conspiracy theories I see the relevance especially in economic downturn – which we’re increasingly becoming affected by – and natural disaster – something us Aussies are very familiar with. It doesn’t have to be full on – guns, loads of ammo or underground bunkers – but a stockpile and a plan just seems like commonsense. Well it does to me – a mere unprepared Australian.

    • Pavel, I know this may be way too late (got here long time after you) but here goes. My understanding of prepping is understanding the idea that trust of any complex system can lead to pain or even death. Example, I once had an old car whose brake lines broke (old rubber). I was driving the car in our local neighborhood, luckily, and had to throw it into neutral, hit the emergency brake and kick it off the road into a small pasture. Had I been at a high rate of speed on a freeway or a major city; I’m scared to think about it.

      The complex system I entrusted my life to wore down (as things tend to do) AND the sad portion is, it was all my fault. I didn’t check the parts often enough to see that the hose had been ballooning then broke. Modern Just-In-Time food delivery and power use from the city grids both rely on complex systems where there is far more chance for human than there was with my brakes. They are similar to me driving at high rates of speed with brakes that are going bad, one slip and people WILL be hurt. One major power plant down has before cascaded into millions of people without power for days, even a few times weeks. Yet, we, the customers, just blindly expect everything to work every time, everyday, every hour. We yell “SUE!” when an old system has problems and stops us from doing whatever it is that we are using power for.

      The people you speak of having stocks in many guns, tons of ammo and years of food GENERALLY are preparing for a long term event, not the short one most people prepare for. They (long term preppers) are worried about short-term events (SHTF) becoming long-term, world changing events (Massive CME/Sun activity knocking out civilian communications, nuclear plant meltdown, and so on.) They are preparing for the worst that you can prepare for: TEOTWAWKI, the end of the world as we know it. Without food delivery or power or water, modern cities become unlivable. These people believe that the systems for these necessities are so decrepit, so creaky, that they have to give (like my old brake line) and it will be some time soon. They also are betting that IF a TEOTW event happens, the average person (who hasn’t prepared at all) will turn into the UKs football hooligan that understands only 1 thing; I need to get mine.

      If in the future they are right, they were the only sane ones. If they are wrong, they have wasted time and money, but can live off the supplies and training so, either way, they receive something for their work.

  14. If the good doctor comes into a downturn or crisis, he will want to eat the words he spoke and will be searching for those that did prepare.

    I for one would love to have the extra to put aside in a major way. But at least being ready for 72 hours is a good start. Everyone can start so that they are not ones putting pressure on a system that is not prepared, as we saw in Katrina and Sandy.

  15. The “Professor” is the Perfect Example of an Over Educated IDIOT. Anyone who Works for a Living, Not Pontificate from on High, and does their Own Grocery Shopping Knows that they Tend to Buy Groceries according to How Often they get PAID, Weekly, Bi-weekly, Whatever. They do that so they Have Food to eat until they get Paid Again. His Only intention was to Write a Hit Piece and his Ignorance of Real Life shows what an out of Touch Moron he is. If he expected anyone to take his Crap seriously he would have said over a Month. Some Religions Specifically tell their followers to Stock Up Years worth of Supplies I Guess Mormons Etc. are Cults to him too.

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