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Are Preppers the New Scapegoats?

The school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut is a tragedy that has gripped the nation. Everyone is eager to lay the blame on some person, some object, some ideology, or some group. We’re quick to point in one direction or the other as the answer to the problem of our increasingly violent society. And just like a society that has been medicated on the 30 minute sitcom and the 60 minute drama, where Hollywood writers provide answers and resolutions that are quick and defined, we scramble to find the same in real life when dealing with events that shatter our illusions of control lest we’re left with the undeniable reality that sometimes life is cruel, it doesn’t make sense, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Mainstream media newscasters have jumped from scapegoat to scapegoat, blaming the school, Adam Lanza, Lanza’s mental illness, Lanza’s mother for raising her son poorly, Lanza’s mother and her “prepper” status, and the 2nd Amendment and the availability of firearms in society. It’s surprising that they haven’t figured out a way to blame George Bush somehow.

However, the real scapegoating has begun in full force, and it’s directed at the prepper community. Type in “preppers and Adam Lanza” into a Google search engine and see the pages upon pages of articles written speculating if somehow Nancy Lanza was some sort of Doomsday prepper who permanently warped her son or at least contributed to his socialization problems and eventual mental collapse.

Media pundits from as far away as England have suggested that Nancy Lanza’s penchant for preparedness was at least partially responsible for Adam shooting up an elementary school. These outlets want sensationalism because it’s that which sells stories, so they attach blame to what they consider a “fringe” element of our society and go with it. In light of her son’s actions, many have pointed to her “prepper” status as the root cause, and this baseless claim is being used to demonize preppers across the country. Homeschooling your child and preparing for natural (or manmade) disasters is not a sign of an unhinged personality. Rather, it is a sign of someone who takes seriously the threats that are posed by today’s complex world.

Plenty of families across the country have guns in their home and prepare for what they consider reasonable threats to their welfare. Many—in fact most—of the people who live off of the grid are preparing for threats that the government has recognized as legitimate, and that they have encouraged the public to prepare for. They advise us to be responsible and have stores put away in the event of any emergency. While preppers may choose to own guns, they are by no means gun fanatics or gun-wielding maniacs, though they might be portrayed that way. Preppers are not a violent population, and living off of the grid is not a lifestyle that disproportionately encourages violence against others.

What the mainstream media fails to account for is that there are fringe members in any group. Caricaturizing preppers as bug-eating Rambos with a knife on one hip and a machine gun on the other is patently unfair. Sure, we have some hard core survivalists in our community and there’s a lot that we can learn from their survival skills, but most of us are not that extreme. We still use our cell phones, we participate in social media, and we still shop at the grocery store for a lot of our food. We’re even known to drink a soda or two. But what we find is that, by blaming Nancy’s prepper beliefs for her son’s killing spree, we can distance ourselves from the horrific reality of the situation. If preppers are to blame then our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters cannot be likened to killers like Adam Lanza.

The real issue is, however, the way that our society interacts with mental illness. We need to change the way that we interact with people who have mental illnesses, and we certainly need to see an overhaul of the mental health care system as a whole. There have been hundreds of documented cases where extreme anger towards a parent (especially between a mentally ill son and his mother) has led to a violent outburst on the part of the child. There are many factors that fed into this recent tragedy, and its time for the media pundits reporting on the situation to admit that they simply do not have all of the facts.

In the case of Adam Lanza, it is difficult to conclude the truth of the matter because the mental health records (if any exist) are sealed. Neighbors and family friends claim that Lanza’s mother was planning to seek conservatorship and commit her son to a mental health care facility. Other reports claim that Nancy was planning to move to Washington in order to send her son to a specialized school. Either way, experts agree that the coming change in Lanza’s world and his tenuous control over his mental illness were likely partially responsible for the shooting.

At any given time, 25% of the US population is living with or directly affected by a mental illness. Without proper care and support, any of our neighbors could become Adam Lanza. Asking one woman to be solely responsible for the mental health of another is extremely shortsighted. However, it is much easier to blame Nancy for failing than it is to look at the mental health care system as a whole, and admit that as a country, we have fallen woefully short of taking care of these members of our society.

Whether Nancy Lanza was one of hundreds of preppers across the country or not, her son was clearly struggling with his own issues. These challenges needed to receive more community support. As a single mom, asking Nancy Lanza to deal with her son’s mental illness alone was asking just far too much. Rather than trying to put blame on a single person or lifestyle, we should capitalize on this opportunity to begin an honest, open conversation about mental health and the Adam Lanzas who continually fall through the cracks in our system.

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