The pioneering paranoia of America's preppers
Don and Jonna Bradway recently cashed out of the stock market and invested in gold and silver. They have stockpiled food and ammunition in the event of a total economic collapse or some other calamity, commonly known around here in Hayden, Idaho, as "The End of the World As We Know It," or "SHTF" — the day s--- hits the fan.
The Bradways fled California, a state they said is run by "leftists and non-constitutionalists and anti-freedom people," and settled on several wooded acres of northern Idaho five years ago. They live among like-minded conservative neighbors, host Monday night Bible study, and fish from their boat. They melt lead to make their own bullets for hunting — or to defend themselves against marauders in a world-ending cataclysm.
"I'm not paranoid," said Bradway, 68, a cheerful Army veteran with a bushy handlebar mustache. "But we're prepared."
The Bradways are among the vanguard moving to an area of the Pacific Northwest known as the American Redoubt, a term coined in 2011 by survivalist blogger James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is deliberate) to describe a settlement of the God-fearing in a lightly populated territory that includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon.
Those migrating to the Redoubt are some of the most motivated members of what is known as the prepper movement, which advocates readiness and self-reliance in man-made or natural disasters that could create instability for years.
They are anxious about recent terrorist attacks from Paris to San Bernardino, California; pandemics such as Ebola in West Africa; potential nuclear attacks from countries such as North Korea and Iran; and the growing political, economic, and racial polarization in the U.S. that has deepened during the 2016 presidential race.
Nationally, dozens of online prepper suppliers report an increase in sales of items from water purifiers to hand-cranked radios to solar-powered washing machines. Harvest Right, a Utah company that invented a $3,000 portable freeze dryer to preserve food, has seen sales grow from 80 a month two years ago to more than 900 a month.
Clyde Scott, owner of Rising S Bunkers, said pre-made, blast-proof underground steel bunkers are in big demand, including his most popular model, which sleeps six to eight people and sells for up to $150,000.
"Anybody with a peanut-size brain," he said, can see that the U.S. economy is in perilous shape because of the national debt, the decline of American manufacturing, and the size of the welfare rolls.
Some people worry about hurricanes, earthquakes, or forest fires. Others fear a nuclear attack or a solar flare that knocks out the nation's electrical grid.
"The list is long; the concerns are many," said Glenn Martin, who lives in northern Idaho and runs Prepper Broadcasting Network, an online radio station. "Imagine a societal collapse and trying to buy a loaf of bread in Los Angeles or New York and stores are closed down."
In response to all the uncertainty, more and more preppers are not simply stocking up at home. They are moving their homes to the Redoubt — the name is a seldom-used term for a stronghold or fortress.
It is impossible to know exactly how many people have come over the past few years, but real estate agents, local officials, and others said it was hundreds, or perhaps even a few thousand, across all five states.
Here, they live in a pristine place of abundant water and fertile soil, far from urban crime, free from most natural disasters, populated predominantly by conservative, mostly Christian people with a live-and-let-live ethos, where local governments have a light regulatory touch and friendly gun laws.
The locals regard the newest transplants as benign, if odd, several said in interviews. "The mainstream folks kind of roll their eyes," said state Sen. Shawn Keough, a 20-year veteran Republican legislator who represents northern Idaho.
Many drawn to the Redoubt are former police, firefighters, and military. Most said they would vote for Donald Trump as the "lesser of two evils," and that Hillary Clinton would make an already bloated and ineffective government even bigger.
"I love this place," said Chris Walsh, as he buzzed low over sparkling Lake Coeur d'Alene in his mustard-colored Beechcraft Bonanza airplane.
A Detroit native, Walsh, 53, runs Revolutionary Realty, which specializes in selling real estate to those moving to the American Redoubt. He said he has sold hundreds of properties in the past five years.
He lives off the grid in a house high on a hill overlooking a lake, producing his own electricity from 100 solar panels. But he is also a few miles from restaurants and shopping in Coeur d'Alene, a popular tourist destination.
Walsh said most of the prepper properties he sells have key features: at least two sources of water, solar panels or another alternative energy source, secure storage space for a few years' worth of supplies, and a defensible location away from main roads.
"What they are doing is relearning things that their great-great-great-grandfathers and mothers already knew," Walsh said. "What's going on here is a pioneering spirit."
Much of the Redoubt migration is motivated by the fear that President Barack Obama — and his potential successor, Hillary Clinton — want to scrap the Second Amendment, as part of what transplants see as a dangerous and anti-constitutionalist movement toward government that is too intrusive and hostile to personal liberties.
"This is a bastion of freedom," said Todd Savage, 45, a retired Marine who moved to northern Idaho from "the urban crime-scape" of San Francisco and opened American Redoubt Realty a few years ago.
"The bottom line is that our clients are tired of living around folks that have no moral values," Savage said. "They choose to flee tyranny and leave behind all the attributes of the big city."
Savage spoke as he drove his Chevrolet Suburban with an AR-15 rifle tucked next to the driver's seat, a handgun between the front seats, and body armor and more than 200 rounds of extra ammunition in the back. "You have Geico; I have an AR-15," Savage said.
Trevor Treller, 44, who carries a small Smith & Wesson pistol on his hip, moved to northern Idaho last year from Long Beach, California, and recently paid a little less than $400,000 for a defensible three-bedroom house on five acres.
Treller, a sommelier at a local resort, said Obama was a key factor in his decision. He said the president has inflamed racial tensions in America, presided over a dangerous expansion of the national debt, been "hostile" to Second Amendment rights, and failed to curtail the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
Treller said any one of those factors could lead to crippling chaos, so he and his wife have laid in food, weapons, and ammunition and are installing an iron gate across their long gravel driveway.
Treller said he settled on Coeur d'Alene after scouring City-Data.com, a website where he looked for his ideal mix: conservative election results, low crime rates, solid incomes, low population density, affordable house prices — and few illegal immigrants, because, he said, they erode "American culture."
Those interviewed in the American Redoubt insisted they are not trying to segregate themselves by race. And while the Aryan Nations white supremacist group was headquartered near Hayden Lake in the 1980s and 1990s, Rawles has described the Redoubt movement as "anti-racist" and said like-minded folks of all races are welcome.
Walsh, the real estate agent, said he saw far more racism in Detroit, where he was raised, than in northern Idaho.
"Here, a black person, they're a novelty," Walsh said. "You'll see people walk up to black people here sometimes and just talk to them because they've never spoken to a black person before."
Don Bradway dug into a plate of homemade enchiladas in the kitchen of the cozy house he and Jonna bought for $259,000 in 2010.
What they have looks like an idyllic retirement experience: his and hers recliners in front of a big-screen TV, a "side-by-side" all-terrain vehicle in the barn, an art studio for retired nurse Jonna, a carpentry and machine shop for retired firefighter and EMT Don, and a sweet-natured dog named Moose. Their 30-year-old son, who moved to Idaho with them, lives nearby.
Don, who's a member of the GOP Central Committee of Kootenai County, won't say how much food and supplies they have on hand. As Don sees it, you need look no further than the economic chaos in Venezuela, with its hungry people storming grocery stores, to see that a society-ending economic collapse could easily happen anywhere.
"We pray to God that it never happens," he said, finishing his refried beans.
But if it does, he said, his "fellow thinkers" in the American Redoubt are prepared.
"They know they can depend on the Bradways to help them," he said.
Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in The Washington Post. Reprinted with permission.