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November 18, 2018

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Prepping for Doomsday: The survivalism movement’s fine line between protection and paranoia


Mikayla Whitmore

Store Manager Anthony Champion wears a variety of tactical gear available for purchase at the Zombie Apocalypse Store, 3420 Spring Mountain Rd., in Las Vegas on Jan. 30, 2017.

The king of all earthquakes topples the high-rises of Las Vegas Boulevard. A 2-billion-volt electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike has zapped computers and cell towers. Some other black swan event has pulverized the city’s power grid. In any such cataclysm, a woman implored to Mike Monko, fallout shelters below certain Strip hotels would protect their rank and file.

Recommended survival gear (according to survivalists)

Do you really need an arsenal? That’s highly debatable. If it does go south, however, it might be wise to at least have a Glock, cleaned and well-oiled, in the drawer — better yet, a safe — for protection. A rifle would come in handy if it were necessary to hunt for food, which would demand a whole other range of skills and knowledge. “I think I need it,” said David Lampert, an ex-employee of the General Services Administration who has a wife and two small children and keeps multiple weapons in his Bay Area home. “I sleep better at night. A lot of people are like me. Everyone is so strapped in this country, you had better be strapped, too. It’s the wild (expletive) West.” In addition to a weapon for self-defense with which you’re comfortable, other important things to consider include:

• Food: Freeze-dried items are convenient, as are packs of tuna and ramen. Also, honey does not spoil; a drop on chunky peanut butter on a saltine becomes a delicacy. Jerky is a wise option, too. Figuring out how much to store depends on how many people you’re feeding (find calorie charts and a one-year emergency pantry guide at

• Water: An average human can only live three to five days without water. Keep drinking water in 5-gallon jugs and consider some combination of purification tablets, filters, iodine and/or Nalgene bottles (with screw-on filters). Prepper’s Will recommends drinking half of your body weight in ounces daily. FEMA recommends 1 gallon per person per day, for drinking and sanitation needs.

• Shelter: Your home or access to your vehicle are the most immediate options. In this case, a simple tent and sleeping bag should be kept in the trunk.

• Toothbrush, paste, floss: Nothing will smash morale quicker than a toothache. Regular dental maintenance will be crucial for the psyche.

• Soap: It might only take a couple of days to begin noticing that putrid whiff — yourself. Shampoo and antibacterial soap not only help your outlook, but prevent infection.

• Fire: Have waterproof matches, a lighter or a magnesium rod. For tinder, pack Vaseline-smeared cotton balls in plastic film canisters or Altoids-type canisters. Also consider stashing bags of potato chips. Those dry, oil-soaked munchies can be the first step to a fine blaze.

• Sleep: Wilderness survivalist Les Stroud stresses rest when it comes to thinking clearly: “People overestimate hunger and dramatically underestimate lack of sleep. Survival is self-preservation, nothing more.”

• Also: Batteries of all sizes, radio with CB/ham/shortwave options, duct tape, hat, sunglasses, flashlight with a compass

What are Bug-out bags?

Portable bags prepared in advance in case of an emergency. They are meant to be grabbed on the run. Suggested items include a two-week supply of freeze-dried food, a multipurpose knife, a 22-ounce bottle that will filter 100 gallons of water, waterproof matches and a solar-powered flashlight/radio.

Where can I purchase gear?

• Zombie Apocalypse Store: 3420 Spring Mountain Road; 702-612-5470;

• Mad Man Army Surplus: 3300 N. Rancho Drive; 702-222-9471

• Hahn’s World of Surplus: 2908 E. Lake Mead Blvd.; 702-649-6819;

They would be taken care of, she continued, in a subterranean world of 40,000-square-foot domiciles with massive food supplies fit for 20,000 people. In his Zombie Apocalypse Store, Monko struggled to keep his eyes from rolling. “She was arguing with me,” he said. “She insisted that they exist. I said, ‘God bless you, ma’am. Would you like some more water?’ Here, you hear it all, like, the Sunrise Mountains are hollow and people are living under them.”

They are survivalists, preppers or doomsday preppers, or any of various mutations. Some staunchly pigeonhole themselves; others dismiss definitions. Those who drive only older vehicles — whose pre-solid-state-electronics engines are immune to an EMP strike — belong in a distinct category of preparedness.

Such tales come with Monko’s territory, where fact, fiction and fear straddle fine lines between protection and paranoia. Hollywood inspired the business, which opened in 2011; sales have cooled over the past year. It’s a starting block to gauge what it means to be a survivalist today in Southern Nevada, amid such uncertainty about tomorrow. It’s a nebulous undertaking, at best, because of the private nature of their mission. Unless someone of that ilk lives on your block.

Bailey, my neighbor, believes he is prepared for all iterations of mayhem. Should the undead start scaling the walls, he would offer only so much assistance. He and his small pooch, Killer, would be his priorities. A boy and his dog.

“Ultimately, I’ll take care of No. 1,” he said. A former military sharpshooter, he has snuffed many enemies, from afar and up close. When your world begins blurring, maintaining acuity will be vital. “You’ve got to have the correct mindset of a survivalist … Law and order will mean nothing. To get a gold ring, they’ll cut a finger off. People will go savage. Ninety percent of it will be about the correct mindset.”

Monko’s assistant, Anthony Champion, calls himself a modern-day homesteader. “It separates me from the kooks, the extremists,” he said. Bailey prefers semi-prepper. He also preferred a pseudonym. “I have enemies.” Anonymity is the backbone of the culture.

The annual valuation of the industry in the U.S. might top $2 billion, propped up by roughly 4 million survivalists. It is difficult to gauge the size of the Las Vegas faction. A Las Vegas Preppers page on has 593 members. On a similar Facebook site, with 443 followers, a contributor noted the necessity of certain skills when “Wal-Marts are being turned into prisons and Blue Helmets (United Nations peacekeepers, or soldiers) are being used for martial law.” Zombie Squad – Las Vegas indicates 1,231 Facebook followers.

Champion, 49, is a purveyor of the apocalypse, a 5-foot, 7, 220-pound hydrant of a man who seems to go minutes without blinking. That would be disconcerting if he weren’t so gregarious to everyone who walks into the store. He owns more than 10,000 rounds of ammo for each of his 25 weapons.

For him, his beautician daughter, and his father and son — both of whom work in food service at the Flamingo — he keeps a two-year supply of food and, in clear 5-gallon jugs, ample potable water. At three-quarters full, he tops off the fuel tank of his rig.

The Zombie Apocalypse Store, at Spring Mountain Road and Polaris Avenue, caters to both the serious and less serious. Its bumper stickers (BE CALM AND KILL ZOMBIES; ZOMBIES SHOULD GET A LIFE) and T-shirts lure traffic from the Strip. A wide array of knives is available. Champion owed the difficulties of the past 12 months to customers who have “discovered how much time and money (being prepared) requires.”

Other evidence supports the cooling trend. National Survival Store, a few blocks west, has been shuttered, its visage tagged with black, aqua and orange graffiti. Facebook entity Las Vegas Disaster and Survival Preparedness faded in September 2010. A veteran real estate agent and Las Vegas native said he had never met anyone in the city who claimed any degree of prepper or survivalist affiliation.

As a group, according to Monko, they do not play well together. They lack communication skills, and when they do gather, their egos always clash. “It’s turmoil,” Monko said. They become even more solitary.

• • •

Humans have been preparing for the worst for millennia. The apocalypse has been fodder since the time of Babylon. In his 2013 book “The Disaster Diaries,” Sam Sheridan described the Puritans arriving in the New World with “intense apocalyptic fears.” In 1758, scholars were convinced that the return of Halley’s Comet would cause global flooding. Whether it’s man-made, divine retribution or a calamitous natural disaster, Sheridan wrote, “the end has pretty much always been just around the corner.”

Recent doom booms include the Cold War, in which nervous suburbanites dug backyard bunkers, their kids were instructed to “duck and cover” at school and the government stockpiled food. The spiraling inflation of the 1970s, a rise in camo-gear during the Clinton years and, briefly, Y2K fears all sullied outlooks. The tragedy of 9/11 and instability of the financial markets were other catalysts, as were the past three presidential elections.

Many believed a Hillary Clinton victory in November to be inevitable. Some thought a Clinton administration would have threatened Second Amendment rights via tighter gun control. Anger on the right, fueled by the likelihood of a third consecutive quadrennial overseen by a figure from the left, triggered civil war chatter in and around gun stores, clubs and ranges, several sources said. Retailers expected, and salivated about, a subsequent run on guns and ammo.

Instead, Clinton’s comet fizzled. Donald Trump won … and, fueled by left-wing anger, noted the BBC, there was a run on guns and ammo. On Black Friday, Nov. 25, FBI background checks for gun transactions set a national single-day record of 185,713.

Champion shook his head. Over the past two months, he has noticed only a bump in customers proclaiming a left lean, buying more No. 10 cans of fettuccine and rotini than usual. He has sold gas masks and bulletproof vests to several black patrons. He sighed and said, “Cuz they’re afraid. That’s what the media does.” He patiently mollified a nervous 30-something black woman about her junior high-age son’s desire to buy an Indonesian Karambit knife, with an incandescent ergonomic curved handle that includes a pinkie hole to ensure a tight grip, for $19.97.

Later that day, a middle-aged white man raved about a new A4 pistol with a 10-inch barrel. “I’m so glad Trump won,” he said. Champion adroitly redirects all political chatter, this time to the fully suppressed .22-caliber semi-automatic sniper rifle that is his current weapon of choice. Monko insisted that stereotypes don’t support purchase patterns. “There are certain spikes, but not as much as I would have thought,” he said. “There are no ties to employment, education or class.”

The owner of Lock N Load, which sells weapons and ammunition in the Henderson foothills, declined an interview request. One of her employees, who requested anonymity, recounted how an older woman, nearly teary-eyed and trembling, had recently approached him to buy her first handgun. Her post-Trump trauma was stark; the employee told me he talked her off the ledge. He convinced her not to buy something so dangerous in such a state.

A manager at Mad Man Army Surplus in North Las Vegas wished he sold guns and ammo, but said he still does well. He, too, requested anonymity; let’s call him Max. The two-story façade of his store is covered in camo. The interior is dominated by racks of military garb. He said his best-sellers are fire starters and MREs, or meals ready to eat.

“I heard that a lot of people truly thought there would be a civil war in this country, partially because of that,” Max said of the recent election. He is asked 10 times a day about weapons and ammunition. “This city has enough guns and ammo to supply the whole world. It’s the best business in this city. Unfortunately, it gets in the wrong hands, too.” Sporadic clients, over the past two years, have imparted to Max their concerns about imminent clashes with the law and neighbors. “I always tell them, ‘If things get that bad, put your hands in the air and pray that, thank God, they let you live this long.’ But it’s good for me.”

• • •

Click to enlarge photo

Mike Monko, owner the Zombie Apocalypse store, poses for a photo in Las Vegas on Jan. 30, 2017.

The Las Vegas grid already has been shattered — on celluloid, at least, when “Ocean’s Eleven” made its world premiere Aug. 3, 1960. Frank, Dean, Sammy and friends knocked down the city’s electrical-transmission tower to raid the vaults of five Strip properties.

Less than two years later, a utility grid did receive a jolt. In July 1962, the U.S. detonated a 1.4-megaton nuclear device 900 miles southwest of Honolulu and 250 miles above sea level. Starfish Prime’s EMP knocked out hundreds of streetlights, disrupted telephone lines, blacked out radio communication and ignited electrical surges on airplanes.

In recent internal mishaps, two Strip properties have gone dark. What if an EMP from a malicious source struck? Would such a scenario send people underground, as in “A Boy and His Dog,” the 1975 movie adapted from Harlan Ellison’s 1969 novella? Bombs have been exchanged. It’s 2024, and actor Don Johnson’s character, Vic, roams the post-apocalyptic desert with his telepathic canine, Blood.

The 51-year-old Monko, whose cropped hair and thick biceps resemble celebrity chef Robert Irvine, knows Las Vegans have burrowed into the city’s netherworld. He slowly nodded and dragged on an imaginary joint between his left thumb and index finger. But this is no remake of “A Boy and His Dog.” Drug-addled veterans unable to mesh into society mostly inhabit those tunnels, Champion added.

“Those (people) scrounge. They sew pants with denim patches. Their allergies affect them in negative ways,” he said. “True survivalists.”

The valley’s various emergency-management and law-enforcement entities meet annually to update tactics and technology surrounding emergency preparedness, according to Officer Larry Hadfield, Metro Police spokesman. “We have drills for communication purposes, to manage emergencies and ensure that our partners work together,” Hadfield said. “We do have plans in place for catastrophes that might strike our valley.”

But what about Las Vegans?

Bailey, the neighbor who always wears black when he walks Killer, will not flee or “bug out.” He keeps two sleeping bags, a stash of freeze-dried food and some tools in the trunk of his old beat-up Toyota Corolla, just in case. But if “it” hits the fan here, he will “bug-in,” avoiding the surefire masses of hysteria in neighboring states. “Every a**hole on the planet will bug out. Let them get killed on the street. The smart ones will stay home, sit tight,” said Bailey, who has a large supply of food and potable water. In his 2,000-square-foot condo, he is never more than two steps from a weapon.

He doubts the ability and inclination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be prompt in assisting the public in a disaster. In a text message, Bailey implored that FEMA’s mission is “keeping the government in business, not keeping us in toilet paper! Lol.”

So will people go savage? That happened in and around New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, where there was, Sheridan quoted reports, “rampant murder and the raping of babies in the Superdome … people shooting at helicopters.” Except, Sheridan wrote, none of that happened. Paranoia and rumors prevailed, causing the National Guard to proceed with caution in providing aid and water to the afflicted, which had its own regrettable domino effect.

Remaining calm when the known starts crumbling will be critical. “The unknown is the killer, the fear multiplier,” Sheridan wrote. “When disaster does strike, retaining your humanity is the most important part of survival. There will be moments of chaos and confusion, but they won’t last. Social order will reassert itself, cooler heads will prevail. Working together with your neighbors will have a much higher success rate than going into paranoid-bunker mode.”

• • •

Click to enlarge photo

A variety of items for sale from the Zombie Apocalypse store in Las Vegas on Jan. 30, 2017.

Orange biohazard liquid flows from steel drum to steel drum on a large military truck stocked with bloody, skeletal zombie-mannequins. Inside the zombie store, a looping soundtrack drips gloom from ceiling speakers: “Road to Nowhere,” “London Calling” and “This Is the End.”

Except, every hour or so, Louis Armstrong serenades the place with his sanguine “What a Wonderful World.” Champion included it because, for him, it evokes a simpler time, when he could walk outside his front door and not worry about locking it. The tune makes sense in terms of where Satchmo was, with serious heart trouble late in life, when he recorded it in 1967. A poignant bandmate would note that, “with death in the room, it’s perfectly natural to think about the ‘wonderful world’ you have in life.”

When high-rises are lying across Las Vegas Boulevard, that just might be enough to get someone to the next day.

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