Guest Book Review by “The Rookie” Dancing at Armageddon, Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times

Dancing at Armageddon, Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times, by Richard G. Mitchell, Jr., 2002, University of Chicago Press.

Unlike some of you “lifers”, I’m new to preparedness. So I’m always looking for good books to read to learn more about preparedness, like Patriots. But there is one topic I don’t find written about very much: what is a survivalist, where do they live, and how do you meet one? So when I stumbled across this book on the internet, I was very curious to read the synopsis. It turns out the author spent 12 years interviewing and living with survivalists. This was the mother lode! Here is what appears to be the defining work of who and what survivalists are.
I eagerly ordered my copy and impatiently awaited for its arrival. Once it was delivered, I immediately opened it and started reading. But I’m sorry to say, my excitement quickly drifted to boredom, then confusion, and finally frustration. While this book does have snippets of interesting interviews, overall it is a misguided, pompous, insult to survivalism and preparedness.
I call this book misguided, because the author focused on four main groups, and three of these groups have nothing to do with survivalism. The author spent years infiltrating the Aryan Nation to become an insider. And what did he find? They are mean and hateful people. No big surprise here, but nothing about survivalism or preparedness. The author also spent time with a whacko militia in the northwest. This group never discussed food, water, or shelter. All they did was run around in the woods playing cops and robbers with shotgun blanks. But this does lead to one of the best scenes in the book, where the author ambushes one of the numskulls at close range out of his own frustration. A blank at close range can be quite painful. Another group was an ultra-conservative religious fringe group. Not much to learn here either.
The last group was what I would call true survivalists, working together to gather essentials so their families would be prepared for any major disaster. They were led by “Hank” of the Mount Rainier Rangers. Now here was a group I could identify with and hope to learn from. But the author paints this group as ineffective and meaningless. By the end of the book, “Hank” has lost his job, his house, and all his supplies. The message from the author is subdued, but clear: Survivalists are weak-minded and inconsequential individuals that can’t even survive in the current economy, much less a troubled one.
I call this book pompous, because at many points it is impossible to understand what he is saying. The author is definitely a college professor, because he writes like one. And probably only another college professor would understand what he is writing about in his many sections. Here’s an example from page 146: “Grounded social science seeks utility beyond mere situation-specific description.” What the heck does this mean? The book is full of phrases like this.
The final insult can be found in the appendix of the book. The author interviewed over 200 individuals who openly stood up as survivalist. This is a huge number. Yet he chose to profile the groups above. Obviously he must have interviewed many serious, responsible individuals. But this is not reflected in the text. It seems like the real survivalists were intentionally left out.
Okay, I much as I dislike this book, I will admit there are nuggets of gold sprinkled through-out the book. Near the end of the book, the author quotes one individual as follows: “A survivalist is basically an independent person who cannot in his mind see the status quo remaining. He does not have faith that the powers-that-be will take care of him in all situations. That’s all. It’s like being your own insurance. If there is a windstorm and your house gets damaged, you don’t wait for the government to come and help. You start to rebuild right away with what you have and do the best you can.” I like that phrase, “being your own insurance”.
The statistics in the appendix are also somewhat interesting. Nearly 80% of survivalist are married, they are not single hermits living in a shack like the Unabomber. A full 50% worry about nuclear war, but only 7% have fallout shelters. Only 37% worry about economic collapse. And over 50% have some type of college degree. The most common preparation? 63% have already acquired firearms. I think there is more info in the appendix than the rest of the book.
One final observation. When I bought this book, I did not understand why the author titled it “Dancing at Armageddon”. I don’t plan to do any dancing when the “Schumer hits the fan.” I plan to do what any rational person will do, use my knowledge and materials to help my family, neighbors, and community pull together to survive through any catastrophe. If I get excited when discussing my preparations, it is NOT because I want trouble to come. I get excited because I am learning there are common sense actions I can take today to survive tomorrow. So in essence, the title is one more insult to survivalists, implying we want trouble to come, and will celebrate with dancing when it arrives. I know I will not be dancing, but I probably will be using this book for kindling. Always learning something new, – The Rookie

JWR’s Comment: Just leave it to a liberal journalist to focus on the tiny lunatic racist fringe rather than on the mainstream of responsible, rational, open-minded survivalists.