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Doomsday Desperation

On July 15, 2017, a 42-year-old woman executed her boyfriend, Steven Mineo, with a .45 caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol at their apartment in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. 

According to the girlfriend, Mineo requested her to shoot him in the forehead at point-blank range. Police say Mineo and his girlfriend, both conspiracy theorists and doomsday preppers, were ostracized by an alien conspiracy cult that embraced apocalyptic biblical themes from the Book of Revelation. Fearing the coming end of the world, Mineo was overcome with despondency leading up to his death wish.

Last summer, fearing the end times, another prepper killed three men near his fortified compound in Great Cacapon, West Virginia. Erick Shute, who was also a sovereign citizen, says he shot the men with a .223-caliber rifle because they were cutting wood and trespassing on his land. Doomsday preppers often emphasize living “off the land” or “off the grid” and in isolation. Investigators found the tell-tale signs of a doomsday prepper when they searched Shute’s property – stockpiles of food, a cache of guns, and ammunition hoarding. There was also concern that Shute had placed land-mines on the property to protect its perimeter.

The murders in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are just the latest in a long string of brutal murders and suicides among those prepping for the end times. A year earlier, Michael “Augustine” Bournes murdered his wife and three children at their cabin in a remote Montana forest. Bournes, then set his house on fire and committed suicide. Neighbors describe him as a survivalist who lived off the grid.

On January 17, 2015, David Crowley, an aspiring conspiracy filmmaker and screenwriter, shot and killed his wife and daughter in their home in Apple Valley, Minnesota. He then committed suicide. Crowley had been working on a feature film project called “Gray State,” with a storyline that revolved around a coming police state after societal breakdown.

In September 2014, Benjamin and Kristi Strack of Springville, Utah, murdered three of their four children, with a poisonous cocktail of cold medicines laced with dextrorphan and doxylamine. They then killed themselves. Authorities later learned that the parents were worried about the “evil in the world” and wanted to escape a “pending apocalypse.” Family and friends reported the Stracks wanted to move somewhere “far off the grid.”

A few months later, Veronica Dunnachie was charged with the shooting deaths of her estranged husband and stepdaughter during a domestic dispute in Arlington, Texas. Both Veronica and her husband were members of the 3%ers Texas, a militia group, and had an affinity for prepping and learning survival skills. There are other murder/suicide cases (ie, Shane Franklin Miller, Jimmy Lee Dykes, and Peter Keller) that demonstrate the dark side of doomsday prepping.

Doomsday prepping has been an American subculture since the 1950s. During the 20th century, preppers fed on American fears in the aftermath of World War II, the nuclear arms race, civil unrest, and economic volatility. Similarly, the 21st century has brought new uncertainties, including Y2K, weather disasters, the Mayan end calendar, global terrorism, and more civil unrest. In light of these disastrous events and predictions, doomsday preppers’ emphasis on “preparedness” appears to make sense. Family preparedness may even be advisable. Nevertheless, beyond a few legitimate reasons, doomsday prepping, for the most part, represents a dark worldview that combines, to varying degrees, end-times apocalyptic views, an obsession with firearms (and other weaponry), conspiracy theories and too often an anti-government sentiment. When combined, these radical views become toxic and lead unsuspecting followers down a funnel of despair, which perpetuates fear, paranoia and extremism.

Preppers are best known for stockpiling supplies (e.g. food, water, medicine, fuel, etc.) and building bunkers in anticipation of an impending catastrophic event, such as a war, terrorist attack or disastrous natural occurrence. Prepping can be embraced both by individuals, who emphasize surviving “alone,” and groups which emphasize communal living. Examples of prepper communities include the Citadel project in Benewah County, Idaho; the Trident Lakes subdivision in Ector, Texas; and Ft. Igloo in Falls River, South Dakota.

Since the 1950s, Preppers, also known as “survivalists,” have spread their ideology and tradecraft through preparedness expositions, gun shows, literature, and religious institutions — such as Mormons, Baptists, and cults. These trends continue today. Since 2008, the Prepper Movement has steadily increased membership and grown in both sophistication and creativity. Companies specializing in making bulk emergency supplies, like ready-made meals and water purification systems, have attested to this steady rise in popularity due to sales increases. Much like the 1990s, preparedness conventions continue to attract thousands of people at each event throughout the country.

The 2008 Presidential Election, coupled with the 2008 stock market crash, marked the beginning of the prepper renaissance. However, new factors have emerged that have influenced the recent popularity growth of doomsday prepping. In 2016, Donald Trump’s election further stoked the fires of fear and paranoia within the Prepper community and far right extremists with his rhetoric concerning Muslim terrorist threats in the Homeland, nuclear threats from North Korea, criminal threats from immigrants and other security issues. As a result, the Prepper Movement remains popular and supply companies within the U.S. continue to report growing sales. For example, an Idaho-based emergency supplies company, called My Patriot Supply, doubled its online sales during the week of Inauguration Day compared to the same week in 2016. Georgia-based Doomsday Prep also noticed sales spikes on both Election Day and Inauguration Day. Since the 2016 election, it has seen more than a 15% growth.

Cable television shows, such as National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers,” Discovery’s “The Colony” and “Survivorman,” have mainstreamed, and even glorified, survivalism and end times prepping. The advent of the Internet has also given preppers a new tool to recruit members and supporters, teach tradecraft using YouTube videos, as well as create entire online marketplaces for purchasing and selling prepper-related gear and other supplies. While there are various theories about what causes the world to end, Preppers are unified on the core beliefs that society is on the verge of collapse and the last days are near.

Besides spreading fear and paranoia and preparing for the end times, the Prepper Movement provides a gateway to more radical ideologies and extremist movements, such as militia groups, white supremacists, and sovereign citizens. Of particular concern, the Prepper Movement has experienced a disturbing trend of murders and suicide over the past four years.

As prepper deaths continue to mount, rumors have circulated on survivalist forums and other far right extremist websites about secret government “hit lists” or “death lists” targeting them. They claim that this trend of murder/suicides within the Prepper Movement is the work of a sinister government plot to get rid of them. They falsely believe these deaths are evidence of the Illuminati’s existence and its activation of the “New World Order” plan to take over the world. In reality, these violent incidents are manifestations of how mounting anxiety, fear, and paranoia can lead to deepening depression and acts of desperation that, too often, leads to violence and lawlessness. Sadly, there are even more criminal incidents and arrests related to doomsday preppers.

Doomsday Prepper Criminal Activity Chronology (2014 - 2017)

  • On March 18, 2017, Robert L. Ofcky was apprehended in Sulpher Springs, Texas, after eluding capture since 2014. After a domestic dispute with his wife, Ofcky fled into the woods near his home as police arrived. Police discovered several 8-inch sticks of dynamite wrapped in electrical tape, 13 rifles, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, 23 ammunition magazines, booby-traps, doomsday prepper supplies, miscellaneous gun parts, and a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook.
  • On June 29, 2016, Hector Mariscal, a self-proclaimed “doomsday prepper,” was arrested for felony possession of weaponry. Authorities seized 23 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, firearms silencers, stun guns, body armor and a flare launcher at his residence in Riverside, California.
  • On April 21, 2016, Reuben DeHann, a sovereign citizen and doomsday prepper, was arrested in Cleveland County, North Carolina, and charged with tax evasion. A search of DeHann’s property yielded a multi-room bunker under his yard, 80 firearms, silencers, ammunition, and various components that could be utilized to make a destructive device. A significant amount of food and beverages, as well as two 2,000 gallon water tanks, were stored in the underground bunker’s rooms, ceilings and walls.
  • On April 27, 2015, David Parker, armed with a rifle, confronted a Columbia Gas employee as he attempted to make contact with him. Law enforcement responded and was unable to make contact with Parker, who neighbors described as a “survivalist” and “doomsday prepper.” Parker began shooting at police and a 27-hour standoff ensued. The standoff ended when police fired back at Parker, killing him.
  • On April 24, 2015, William Winecker was charged with possession of illegal firearms at his residence in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. Winecker, a “doomsday prepper,” had obtained some of the weapons through straw purchases.
  • On January 17, 2015, for unknown reasons, Ted Lanser started shooting at his neighbors in Buchanan, Michigan. He later lit his mobile home on fire and fatally shot himself. Firefighters had trouble extinguishing the flames because of ammunition exploding from the fire. Neighbors said Lanser, described as a “doomsday prepper,” would order 300 rounds of ammunition regularly.
  • During June 16 - 18, 2014, three members of the River Otter Preppers survivalist group were arrested in Tampa, Florida, on federal firearms and explosive violations for making improvised explosive devices and lying to buy guns. Authorities said the River Otter Preppers were preparing for the end of times prophesied in the Bible. The group’s leader, Martin Winters, was apprehended after a two-day manhunt.
  • On May 28, 2014, Roy J. McCool was arrested for physically assaulting a woman and threatening his neighbors in Springfield, Missouri. McCool was described as a “prepper” or “doomsday survivalist” who hoarded weapons and fortified his house. Police searched McCool’s residence and found 10 guns, including assault-style weapons and thousands of rounds of various types of ammunition.
  • On January 15, 2014, Tyler Smith, owner of Spartan Survival, was charged with felony possession of firearms in Buckley, Washington. Smith — who appeared on National Geographic’s television series “Doomsday Preppers” — also reportedly bragged about his plans to burglarize other doomsday preppers' supplies, including firearms, when the end times arrived.

Rex Features via AP Images

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