“Apocalypse 2012″ Playboy September 2009

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Playboy Articles
Tags: 2012, apocalypse, Missouri, religion

According to ancient Mayan prophecies, the world will end three short years from now. Earthquakes, pestilence and revolution will bring humanity to its knees. Across the globe, thousands have already begun to prepare.“For me, being prepared for 2012 is a stress reliever. I spend an average of $200 to $300 per month on my supplies. I’ve been training myself in what I call frontier living—dehydrating, canning, preserving, cooking without modern appliances. Last weekend I started decorating our attic (almost 3,000 square feet) to store my reserve because people I know are getting suspicious of the amount of ‘hurricane’ supplies I keep. I’ll never be Martha Stewart, but I feel very good about the variety and quantity I have amassed. I believe in the three Gs of preparedness: God, guns and groceries.”—Susan Skains, Texas Gulf Coast
Dressed in blue jeans and a red short-sleeve shirt, Steve Pace stands guard atop a bucolic hill on the outskirts of Poplar Bluff in the Missouri bootheel. The scene is as rural as it gets; there’s nothing out here but rolling hills and big sky. A lonely sentinel

Retired Army sergeant Steve Pace has stockpiled canned food, gold and silver, a water filtration system, a radiation suit and a whole lot of guns and ammo.

with a shiny silver revolver strapped to his waist, the retired U.S. Army sergeant scans the wooded horizon with a pair of binoculars for signs of the coming cataclysm. He sees things others don’t—the apocalyptic omens that, he says, are everywhere if you know how to connect the dots.

Pace is a lean and leathery 55-year-old who looks a bit like Sean Connery but speaks in a thick, crusty rural accent. He gives me a tour of his solidly constructed 1950s bungalow on a quiet tree-lined cul-de-sac, where he lives with his ailing mom and his third wife, Martha, who works as a secretary at the local high school. Three years ago Pace moved here to Campbell—a town of fewer than 2,000 people that’s known as the peach capital of Missouri—from Fayetteville, Arkansas (population 70,000) because he thought it was getting too crowded. “I have this fear of becoming just a number, losing my identity, becoming just another face in the crowd,” he says.
Displayed on Pace’s dining room table is a collection of weapons: an assault rifle, a shotgun, numerous handguns, hunting knives and enough ammo to start a small war. Alongside the arms are gas masks, antiradiation pills and about $10,000 worth of gold and silver. The gold and silver will come in handy when paper money becomes worthless, which it already has, according to Pace. It’s just that people don’t know it yet. Don’t call him a survivalist, though: “To me a survivalist is some white supremacist living up in the mountains somewhere. I’m not a survivalist. I’m a preparer.”And there’s a lot to prepare for, according to Pace, who anticipates a world in the not too distant future where “you’ll need a wheelbarrow full of dollars to buy a loaf of bread, just like in Zimbabwe.” Catastrophic climate change will have swamped the coastal cities. (“You’ll want to be at least 300 feet above sea level.”) Law and order will have broken down. (“You’ll want to stay away from the population centers to avoid the mobs.”) And food will be scarce. (“If we have a major crop failure, millions of people will starve.”) But what Pace fears most is a terrorist nuke that could destroy America’s electrical grid: “If they really wanted to disrupt America, an airburst nuke would provide an electromagnetic pulse 300 miles wide that would probably cascade the rest of the system. Without electricity we’ve really got a problem.”
Whatever happens, Pace intends to be ready. “In my opinion 2012 is the year of collapse,” he says. “The perfect storm approaching is a conglomeration of crescendos. The financial collapse, political corruption, natural disaster, terrorism and resource scarcity will culminate in wars and revolution.”
Pace is not alone. In the past few years a growing number of citizens across the globe—survivalists, conspiracy theorists, alternative religion seekers, former military officers, UFO buffs, hard-core Bible-thumpers, ordinary housewives who,post-Katrina, don’t trust the government to save their loved ones if a disaster occurs—have become fixated on December 21, 2012 as EOTWAWKI (“end of the world as we know it”). The Mayan long-count calendar supposedly predicts 2012 as the year in which a 5,000-year cycle of civilization will come to an abrupt halt. The Mayan civilization, a sophisticated culture of temples and cities that flourished in what is now Mexico, mysteriously collapsed around the ninth century. The Mayans have been a source of fascination for spiritual Western tourists since the Beats, particularly William Burroughs, who peppered his novels with references to Mayan timekeeping. The idea that Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012 has been around since at least the 1980s, when writer and 2012 guru José Argüelles popularized the concept with his book The Mayan Factor.
For any number of reasons the 2012 meme has caught on. The media, in documentaries such as Disinfo.com’s2012: Science or Superstition and books such as Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, have endlessly chronicled the movement and what to expect. Pinchbeck perhaps more than anyone else has become the great—and most controversial—advocate for a transformational 2012. Apocalypse fever is set to hit multiplexes with the November release of Roland Emmerich’s big-budget Hollywood dystopian disaster movie2012, starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet.A cottage industry of small companies that supply products to 2012ers is now thriving, offering everything from bullets to backup generators to full-size bunkers (such as a $36,000 six-person bargain-basement underground bomb shelter, complete with a nuclear, biological and chemical filtering system, which a Virginia Beach company called Hardened Structures offers to deliver and install anywhere in the U.S.). In May the Associated Press reported that suppliers of survivalist gear and military surplus stores nationwide had seen as much as a 50 percent rise in business in recent months. One survivalist told the AP that the website of his consulting business—which teaches newcomers emergency preparedness—had seen a threefold increase in traffic in the past 14 months.Never mind that reputable scholars insist the Mayans attached no particular apocalyptic meaning to 2012. It was merely the end of their calendar. And never mind the absurdity of the idea that some mysterious Mayan priest could accurately predict what would happen 2,000 years in the future.

“It’s not just the Mayans,” says Pace.“One of the great prophecies of the HopiIndians was that the world would end whena huge spiderweb covers the entire globe.For hundreds of years we didn’t know whatthey were talking about. Now we have theWorld Wide Web. Whether you believe inHopi prophecy, Mayan prophecy, the Bookof Revelations, Nostradamus, the Web BotProject or the Bible Code, the commondenominator is that they are all pointingin the same direction. As Proverbs 27:12says, ‘A prudent man foreseeth the evil andhideth himself, but the simple pass on andare punished.’ ”

“We are located in the middle of the continent, up high and away from significant population centers, nuclear power plants, active volcanoes and major fault lines and at a sufficient altitude to limit flooding. We may have to move—and move quickly—so we have ‘bug-out bags’ packed with food, water, medical and other supplies that can be transported in the event we have to abandon our primary site. I have a network of friendly sites I can make my way toward and improve my chances of survival significantly.”—Ace McQuade, Chuck Norris fan, somewhere in the middle of Canada

The 2012 movement would be easy to dismiss as pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo if it weren’t for the disturbing real-world trends that inform the less fanciful predictions of bad times ahead: catastrophic climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, financial collapse, swine flu, peak oil, peak food. This is the everyday fodder of CNN and Newsweek, not science fiction or religious fantasy. Home prices have declined almost 33 percent since their peak in 2006, and the unemployment rate in America is the worst it has been since 1983. When you add the specter of nuclear-armed religious fanatics, who wouldn’t be a bit anxious about what’s coming down the cosmic sewer pipe?
Even before the current economic crisis, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made clear to many Americans that civilization can sometimes hang by the barest of threads. Those doomsday cultists stocking up on guns and groceries in preparation for the end-times don’t seem quite so silly after what happened in New Orleans. As we watched bloated bodies float down the streets of a major American city and witnessed the complete paralysis of all layers of government, who among us didn’t think, What would I do in such a situation? Would I have the skills and fortitude to survive?

The 2012ers generally fall into one of two categories: (1) the sane but paranoid who are preparing for a new kind of agrarian civilization based on lawlessness and an absence of government—essentially New Orleans after the storm but on a mass scale, or (2) folks a little more out there who believe that on December 21, 2012 a new spiritual enlightenment will arrive. Some New Agers are expecting the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, which was supposed to happen in 1987 with the planetary alignment known as the harmonic convergence—remember that?—but this time for real. A more popular and dramatic telling of the story, the one with obvious box-office appeal, is shared by the hard-core 2012ers: A cascading series of interconnected disasters, up to and including cosmic catastrophe, will occur as the mysterious Planet X (some call it Nibiru) crashes through our solar system accompanied by a giant ass-kicking flying snake god called Quetzalcoatl, which is scheduled to come screaming out of the sky—essentially Godzilla meets When Worlds Collide. Another theory in play is known as pole reversal. It’s a notion promoted by 2012 leader and author Patrick Geryl (How to Survive 2012), who believes Earth’s magnetic poles will change places, which will lead to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and giant tidal waves that will make most of the planet’s surface uninhabitable. Last are the Christians who believe in what the Bible tells them—the prophecy laid out in Revelations.

Australian Robert Bast isn’t much into organized religion, though he does have an interest in alternative spirituality. That’s why three years ago he began 2012forum.com (Steve Pace is an elder) as a quiet place where what he calls the “pink and fluffy people”—the flotsam and jetsam of the New Age movement—can discuss esoteric points of Mayan cosmology. Many 2012ers gather in dozens of other such forums, including 2012-comet.com and december212012.com, but Bast’s site seems to be the most popular. Bast is not what you would call a true believer; he’s too skeptical for that. He does, however, think the ancients had something important to tell us. So he was more than a little surprised when all those Bible-thumpers started turning up on the forum. Aren’t these people supposed to be hostile to pagan mythology? Not at all, it turns out.

“Most of our members are Americans, and most of them seem to be Christians of one degree or another,” says Bast. “We get people on our site from all over the world, but in terms of the area most represented, that would be the Bible Belt, USA, easily.”

It shouldn’t be that surprising. Just as nearly every religion has a genesis myth, most religions have a how-the-world-will end myth. In Missouri, as elsewhere in the Bible Belt, belief in the end-times is common: the prediction that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth sometime soon, whereupon a battle will commence, a final struggle between good and evil, a bloody Armageddon, after which the faithful will be “raptured up” into heaven while the rest of us heathens are cast into the flaming pit. The death of millions of people and the total destruction of civilization as we know it is welcomed as the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecy, just as it is for 2012ers. (Interestingly, some Mormons believe the Mayan snake god Quetzalcoatl is Jesus Christ visiting the New World after his resurrection. Mormons also believe Missouri was the original home of the Garden of Eden, so make of that what you will.)

There are further connections between Christianity and the 2012 movement. Just as Christians have their own online Rapture Index (raptureready.com)—the Dow Jones Industrial Average of end-time activity—so do the 2012ers have something called the Web Bot Project, which is said to be a secret computer search engine that began as a way to pick stocks but evolved into a cross between Google and the Oracle of Delphi. Devotees say the Web Bot Project predicted not only 9/11 but last autumn’s financial meltdown. Among the Web Bot’s other predictions: Famous people will start disappearing without explanation later this year, space aliens will make contact in 2011 and millions will die the following year through some combination of natural disasters, economic collapse and those aforementioned space aliens, who one suspects will probably have something to do with the unsolved kidnapping of Lindsay Lohan in the coming months.

Since 2012 is a short three years away, you would think posts on Bast’s website would show a sense of urgency. In fact there’s a great deal of philosophical talk but not a lot of practical preparation. “Most of the people on the forum don’t have the skills or means to prepare adequately,” admits Bast. “Many people think they still have a couple of years before they need to act, but in reality most people who say they are going to make an effort never will. The general preference is for someone else to build the community and then just turn up a few days prior to December 21, 2012. I think many people expect this option will be available to them. It won’t.”

“It’s a lifestyle thing,” Steve Pace says. “It’s a little voice in the back of your head that says every time you go shopping, Get one of those for later. And pretty soon you have a decent stockpile.”

Opening the doors to his kitchen pantry, Pace shows me a cupboard full of canned goods: tuna, mandarin oranges, chili con carne, macaroni and cheese, condensed milk. Nothing fancy but enough food to last six months, he estimates. Out back, planks of lumber lie waiting on the ground. Pace is building a storm shelter. “I don’t see any need for a bunker,” he says. “It’s a metal coffin. The ability to move around is a better defense. If you know there’s a bad crowd coming, get out of the way, let them pass and then come back. With a bunker, you’re in a fixed position. They can circle you. They can smoke you out. They can pour ammonia down the ventilation pipes. A bunker makes no sense to me unless there’s an all-out nuclear war.”

In the woods adjoining the back of Pace’s property you can see the damage from a big ice storm last winter that knocked out electricity for 10 days. Treetops are shorn off as if someone had taken a giant hedge trimmer to them. The ground remains littered with broken branches. When the storm came, Pace—no surprise—was prepared. “I fed the whole neighborhood during the ice storm and still hadn’t opened any canned food by the time we got the power back,” he says. “They put me in the local newspaper for that.”

Pace jumps into his truck—the one with the Terrorist Hunting Permit: No Bag Limit sticker on the bumper—and drives a couple of blocks to a storage locker where he keeps additional supplies. Unlocking the metal gate he reveals an Ali Baba’s cave of survivalist equipment: sleeping bags, MRE rations, ammo belts, compasses, fishing hooks, survival manuals, decontamination kits, water-filtration equipment (“You can pump your own piss through this,” he says with a smile). There are no power tools because there probably won’t be any power, he says, just hammers, saws and drills. A half dozen white plastic tubs are filled to the brim with corn, wheat and rice.

Pace proudly pulls out a heavy-looking charcoal-lined contamination suit from an oversize backpack. In case of a nuclear, chemical or biological attack, he recommends you stay in your house, seal the doors and windows as best you can and don gas masks. But if you have to go into the open, a contamination suit will prove to be a necessity.

I pull on one of the gas masks and grab Pace’s assault rifle to get a feel for what such conditions are like. The rifle, more like a machine gun, is surprisingly heavy. The smell of the rubber mask makes me gag. I suck in as much air as I can through the filter, but it is as though I’m breathing through a straw. Claustrophobia makes my heart race. I start hyperventilating in the Missouri sun, and the plastic eyeholes of the mask begin to fog up. I can’t even see let alone breathe, so I frantically peel the thing off my head. I don’t even bother trying on the contamination suit.

“All this stuff gives you peace of mind,” Pace says, waving his hand grandly across his array of provisions. “It’s like having life insurance.”

Potassium iodide pills, popular among 2012ers preparing for the apocalypse, help the body ward off the effects of radiation.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Absent a disaster of cosmological proportions, post-2012 life will go on for the favored few, says Pace. “I believe in some way it will be a better existence, getting back to earth, getting back to nature, less materialistic,” he says. “There will be disasters, wars and plagues, but it’s not going to be the end of the world. It’s not even going to be the end of human nature as we know it. We may kill off a bunch of people, but you’re still going to have commerce. Carpenters are going to build, farmers are going to farm, and criminals are still going to have to be shot. It’s just going to be a change in the way we do things.”

And what if nothing happens on December 21, 2012?

“We just keep on trucking. Just like Y2K,” he laughs. He pauses before saying, “It’s almost as if humans have this constant need to envision the end.”

The good news is that eschatological predictions always turn out to be bunk. Thus far, at least. Remember the hordes of yuppies who bought up half of Whole Foods in preparation for Y2K, another mass panic sparked by nothing more dangerous than a date in time, a turn of the calendar? Every decade has its own vision of the end of the world. And that’s the beauty of the doomsday business.

There’s always another tomorrow.

“My name is Daniel, and I am the leader of a government research team currently stuck in the space-time continuum. Our technology has been sabotaged by an unknown terrorist. We have destroyed time and are stuck in a loophole. Do not believe the particle accelerator being built in the Alps. It is the time machine that President Barack Obama told my research team to build and test on December 21, 2012.”—Daniel, stuck somewhere in the space-time continuum
After leaving rural Missouri, I return home to a bustling Miami Beach to find my neighborhood under a couple of inches of water. A major thunderstorm barreled through, leaving in its wake downed trees and drowned automobiles. Luckily I live on the second floor, but other residents had flooded apartments and no electricity, which means no air-conditioning—not a minor inconvenience in the south Florida heat. The roof of the recently refurbished Fontainebleau, one of the region’s swankiest hotels, collapsed under the weight of the rain, sending a wall of water into the lobby. A hundred lightning strikes in the span of an hour and golf-ball-size hailstones drove pedestrians to seek cover.

I open my fridge, which is empty except for half a pineapple and a bottle of vodka. Okay, it isn’t the end of the world, but it gets me thinking about how unprepared I will be in the event of, say, a major hurricane. I sit at my desk, pour myself a glass of vodka and write a list: Learn how to fire a gun, take driving lessons, stock up on bottled water and canned goods, buy a flashlight and lots of batteries of all sizes, inquire about time-share bunkers.

Hey, you never know.

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