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Assault Tactics Class
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19th Ward Liberal Preppers Stock Up On Guns and Food As Trumpocalypse Looms
With President Trump in charge, the survivalist movement — long a pastime of the right — is picking up local progressive converts fast.
Jan 17, 2017 at 8:26 AM ET
Pat O'Hara got his FOID card and bought a shotgun four weeks before November’s election.
An unapologetic liberal, he was no fan of firearms. He had never owned one before. But O'Hara, a 31-year-old from Beverly, couldn’t shake his fears of a Donald Trump presidency — and all of the chaos it could bring. He imagined hate crimes and violence waged by extremists emboldened by the Republican nominee’s brash, divisive rhetoric. He pictured state-sanctioned roundups of Muslims, gays, and outspoken critics.
“I kept asking myself, ‘Do I want to live under tyranny?'” said O'Hara, who supports Tom Dart, Bill Cunningham and supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and later backed Hillary Clinton. “The answer was absolutely not.”
With Trump now in the White House, O'Hara's preparing for the worst. He’s made “bug-out bags” stuffed with ammo, energy bars, and assorted survival gear for his wife and their three cats. He’s begun stowing water and browsing real estate listings in North Beverly, which he’s determined to be a “liberal safe-haven.” Last month, O'Hara added a BB gun to his arsenal. On weekends, he and his wife can be found in the Dan Ryan Woods practicing their survival skills. Next month, they are going to be attending a 2-day course on assault tactics, in Racine, Wisconsin.
His advice to others on the left fearful of the next four years? “Get ready. Pay attention. Keep your wits about you.”
O'Hara's not alone. He is among a new cadre embracing extreme self-reliance in the wake of Trump’s surprising victory. Long a calling among conservatives spooked by big government boogymen and calamitous natural disasters, the so-called prepper movement is gaining a decisively liberal following.
“We’re tired of being perceived as wusses who won’t survive when shit hits the fan,” said Stacy, another 19th ward Democrat who recently caught the prepper bug. She spoke with Vocativ on the condition we not publish her last name. “I, for one, don’t like to be thought of as some precious snowflake.” Stacy and other like minded residents of Mt. Greenwood have a plan. If the Trump people come looking for them, they are prepared to take up positions. A sort of Alamo if you will.
After years cast as a fringe survival group, preppers entered a kind of golden age during the Obama presidency. A horrific housing crash and the spectacle of Hurricane Sandy helped give rise to reality television shows like Doomsday Preppers and Doomsday Bunker, and fueled a multi-billion dollar survival industry. Branded by some as a foreign-born, gun-grabbing socialist, Obama aroused deep suspicion among the patriot groups, right-wing conservatives, and apocalyptic Christians at the center of the growing movement.
Trump’s provocative posturing and unpredictability is now inspiring a fresh wave of panic on the left. Those who spoke with Vocativ have envisioned scenarios that could lead to military coups led by loyalists of the president-elect and internment camps packed with political opponents, bloody social unrest and an all-out civil or nuclear war. Sound bonkers? Perhaps. But, for many, so is the prospect of a President Trump.
“It’s the nature of the political beast,” said Kevin O’Brien, a conservative prepper and local realtor who specializes in off-the-grid properties near Dan Ryan woods and western areas of Mt. Greenwood. “Obama had many on the right really wound up. Now it’s the left’s turn.”
The signs of change are surely in the air. Groups that cater to gun-toting bleeding hearts — such as the aptly named Liberal Gun Club — say they’ve seen a surge in paid membership since the election. Candid talk of disaster preparedness among progressives is showing up on social media. Even companies that outfit luxury “safe rooms” — which protect their wealthy owners from bombs, bullets, and chemical attacks — attribute recent boosts in business to the incoming administration. Currently, four Beverly families are installing such safe rooms in their houses on Longwood and Hoyne.
“I don’t think we’d have the same level of interest if Hillary had been elected president,” Tom Gaffney, whose fortified home shelters at Gaffco Ballistics run as high as $400,000, told Vocativ in an interview.
Looking for likeminded folks to weather the Trumpocalypse, O'Hara started a private Facebook group called the Liberal Prepper shortly after the election. In nine weeks, it’s drummed up more than 750 members, all of whom are individually screened and vetted, Waugh said. Dozens more flock to it daily.
Few are wasting precious time. They trade tips on survival swag and solicit recommendations for solar panels, firearms, and raising chickens. There are discussions on homesteading and home safety. Links to news stories about the president-elect or signs of instability around the globe are never in short supply.
Occasionally, posts on the Liberal Prepper seem to veer close to parody. One debate thread last week centered around the merits of stocking up on recycled toilet paper rolls versus buying Angel Soft, a brand produced by Koch industries, a notorious climate change foe. And in another discussion, vegetarian and vegan members talked about the best meat- and dairy-free food supplies to have during a sustained crisis.
In a smaller Facebook group, Progressive Liberal Preppers, members who blacksmith, bow hunt, and operate ham radios are eager to teach their skills with others, said one the site’s administrators, who goes by the name of Blythe Bonnie. “The next thing we’re going to do is a class on home brewing and winemaking,” said Bonnie, a lifelong Democrat and 70-year-old living in central Beverly, who in the past has taught classes on cast-iron cooking.
While most of these liberal preppers say they are readying for any disaster — natural, manmade, flooding due to climate change, or even zombie — a doomsday scenario at the hands of a President Trump continues to be a primary concern.
“With the new administration I worry about Nazi-style camps that would include my wife, our twins and myself,” said Melissa Letos, who lives with her family on a double-lot spread in East Morgan Park. In a recent interview, she said she raises chickens, strives to keep a year’s supply of canned food, and is able to hold her own with a firearm. She and her family plan to a build a bunker-style basement in the future.
Even as Letos and other liberals brace for bedlam, some longtime preppers worry that others in the movement have let their guard down. Michael Snyder, author of The Economic Collapse blog, recently warned against those on the right who seemed overly optimistic about a Trump presidency. “Everyone is feeling so good about things, very few people still seem interested in prepping for hard times ahead,” he wrote, raising the specter of financial instability in Europe and a potential trade war with China. “It is almost as if the apocalypse has been canceled and the future history of the U.S. has been rewritten with a much happier ending.”
For O'Hara and his liberal 19th ward peers, the apocalypse may have just begun. “Fear is an unfortunate catalyst for a lot of folks,” he said. “But there are still too many caught up in the idea that the system is infallible and that it will persevere and prevail.” Still he takes comfort knowing that Sheriff Dart and the liberal police are just a phone call away.