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.
“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.”
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.
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.