Bring it on
Bring it on
Julie Zaugg

They were shocked by 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and they firmly believe the world is coming to an end. To cope with the imminent disaster, some of these preparation enthusiasts (or "preppers") turn their SUVs into armored fortresses while others buy fancy bunkers. Julie Zaugg met one of those so-called "survivalists."

NEW YORK - His name is Tommy DiLallo, and he avoids garbage cans at all cost. "There might be a bomb in it," says the fortysomething, who at this moment is slaloming between commuters to reach the end of the platform. "I always get in the first wagon: I’ve studied train wrecks, and you have a better chance of getting out alive if you are in the first or last wagons," says the former Marine, now working in computer sciences. He is about to return to his home on Long Island, where he dedicates all his free time to manifesting his paranoia.

Tommy DiLallo is among a growing number of Americans who've decided that disaster preparation is a personal calling. And what is The End of the World As We Know It (or TEOTWAWKI within this circle) if not the worst disaster ever?

"What I really fear most is our entire financial system collapsing," says DiLallo, a tall and athletic man with a shaven head. "That would mean civil war, because people wouldn't be able to feed themselves anymore."

The preppers are also bracing themselves for a laundry list of other end-times scenarios: nuclear disasters, earthquakes, electromagnetic pulses that would neutralize the electric system, pandemic diseases, solar storms, asteroids, eruptions of super-volcanoes or even tyranny. They believe that the Armageddon, the final fight between good and evil described in the Bible, is near.

Fortress on wheels

These preppers have developed a range of strategies to handle the uncertainty. "I’m constantly looking out for survival opportunities," says DiLallo, as he points to water tanks atop buildings from his train seat. "There is lots of food and water. You just need to know where to look." He always keeps at hand a black backpack with everything he would need for a three-day period: 2,400-calorie protein bars, water, a first-aid kit, matches, a knife and a poncho for the rain.

His main asset in this survival strategy is his vehicle: an SUV that he has transformed into a fortress on wheels. "I switched to bulletproof glass, modified the seatbelt so that I can take it off faster, and I hid weapons within reach," he says, simultaneously producing a 30-centimeter blade from a hidden spot next to the driver's seat. In the back, he has stashed an assault rifle, two standard rifles and two handguns -- not to mention a breathtaking supply of ammo. "I'm ready to kill to survive, if need be," he says.

Over the last few years, the number of people like DiLallo has grown dramatically in the U.S. By some estimates, there may now be hundreds of thousands of them. "I get a dozen membership applications per week," says Jason Charles, a survivalist in charge of the New York branch of the American Preppers Network.

Tommy DiLallo doesn’t want to be a lone wolf during the rapture. So he recruited a group of about 30 preppers. "Everyone in the group has a special skill that can be useful to the others," says Kevin Urquart, a medic for the team. "We have a cardiologist, an electrician, a water specialist and an ex-Marine."

In the eventuality of a catastrophe, they would go west, far from the city. "We could hunt pigeons, rabbits or turtles, fish, grow vegetables and collect rainwater," says DiLallo. He has a collection of seeds stored in his car, meticulously placed next to the sleeping bags, radios, flashlights, gas masks, compasses and medicine. He estimates all of the gear is roughly worth $20,000.

Premium bunkers for sale

A new industry has arisen to take advantage of the fears of Americans like them. A company called Shelf Reliance offers a pack of dehydrated food for $4,168. Vivos Group sells underground premium bunkers described as "modern Noah's Arks." A place inside one of their two communal bunkers is worth between $35,000 and $85,000.

So why do these survivalists feel the need to try to control what simply cannot be? Sitting in his living room surrounded by survival material, on the top floor of a seedy old Harlem building, Jason Charles carefully picks his words: "I think I’ve always been afraid of something. I grew up in Harlem during the 1980s. There was a fire every day. Even when I was a child, I would carry around a bag with a couple of my toys." He is now a firefighter.

Most survivalists have a story, a specific event that explains why they are the way they are. DiLallo was in the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, and in New Orleans when Katrina hit. Kevin Urquart spent a week without electricity, water or heating devices when Hurricane Irene wrecked the coast in 2011, then again for 10 days when Hurricane Sandy arrived in October 2012.

Swiss inspiration

But one event in particular helped seal the movement's powerful anti-government views. "When Katrina destroyed a city forsaken by the government, it was a rallying call for the preppers," says Chad Huddleston. Aton Edwards, a Brooklyn prepper and consultant for survivalists agrees. “We can’t trust the authorities to protect us in case of a tragedy. During Hurricane Sandy, elderly people were left for days at the top of their building without water or food."

The example U.S. survivalists have in mind comes from across the Atlantic. Everyone describes Switzerland as a prepper’s paradise.

"There they have nuclear shelters, an army of militias and homeland defense policy. They are the best equipped to survive a disaster,” says James Wesley Rawles, who writes disaster novels and lives in a ranch in the wild with a three-year food supply. He is the leader of a relocation movement called The American Redoubt, which designated an area in the middle of the U.S. (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming) as a haven for survivalists.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

​✅ SIGN UP

This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Keep reading... Show less
Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ