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Penn State Professor Accuses Preppers Of Cult-Like Behavior

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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.

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