It’s late morning on a Saturday. The sun peeks through layered clouds but the air is thick with promise of rain. I’m making my way to Utrecht Centraal where I have agreed to meet Almar, who at this point in time is still saved to my phone under the alias of ‘prepper’, to take me along to the first meeting of a small community of Dutch preppers.
Almar is the moderator of the most active Dutch survivalist Facebook page I could find when doing my first search only yesterday. His page features news on war and sustainability next to links for buying knives and crossbows. It has just over 350 likes. After I had written him about my interest in finding out more about prepping, and specifically the Dutch community, he responded quickly yet aloof. Yes, there would be a first meeting today, but he was not too eager to invite me. “Although I’m open to it, the representation of preppers is a delicate issue,” he wrote. I had expected some caution and went on to reassure him that it was not my intention to be intrusive or represent them in a negative way. Awaiting his reply, I checked the Facebook event for the meeting. Eight people had clicked attending. The cover photo showed two people walking down a flight of stairs on the slope of a hill. A dialogue window popped up. “You know what, it’s fine if you come.”
There are no trains going from Rotterdam to Utrecht so I had to take a bus for the last haul. The station is crowded but there is sunlight and free coffee. I ask for two coffees and walk away from the masses as I send Almar my location through Whatsapp. I can use the coffee seeing as I went to sleep at two a.m. To be more precise, I fell asleep while re-watching Louis Theroux’s documentary on survivalists, prepping me with surrealistic expectations of the people I’m about to meet. Five minutes later, Almar pulls up on the other side of the street. He drives an electric blue Toyota. Advertisements for a marketing company cover the sides and back of the car. He waves at me. As I step into the car, I introduce myself and offer him the second coffee. While he programs the GPS to the national park where the group has agreed to meet I inspect the inside of his car. In a context of prepping for the end of times, I cannot help but to question everything mundane. There’s a pocket knife in one of the dashboard cubbyholes, otherwise everything seems normal; roadmaps, some rubbish.
We discuss everyday things and, driving on the highway, Almar says he would love to go on a road trip through America with his wife and children. Nothing he says hints at a fear of the world going to end anytime soon. I steer towards the subject of prepping and ask him if he knows all the people attending today. “No, I’ve never met them. Just been talking to them online. There is a second organizer, but he is setting up his own business and had an assignment today.” Even for preppers, life must go on.
He explains that alongside his prep webshop, he also still works for a company as a marketeer. Although he regards running his webshop more as a hobby, he has at least an order a day. Every time he uses the word ‘prepping’, I notice that he speaks in a quieter voice, as if admitting to a certain foolishness that has been attributed to the prepping culture. I ask him what the most ordered item is. “Crossbows,” he answers without doubt. “I have one myself.” “What do people buy crossbows for?” I ask. “Oh,” he says dismissingly. “I just play with it in the backyard from time to time. But it’s more about the feeling of…” In – what seems like – an effort to think about the rest of his answer, he concentrates on passing a slow driving car in front of us. “You know, a week or two after someone has ordered from my shop, I always write them to ask if they are happy with their order and what they are using it for. Some people never answer. Others write me back with enthusiasm and tell me they’ve been shooting their crossbows. Mostly in their yards, like me.” I feel he has still avoided the true answer to the question and try to poke him a little bit more. “Besides just playing around with it, is there a deeper meaning to owning a crossbow?” “I think,” he finally answers. “It’s a feeling of safety. Although there are guys who go to shooting ranges to obtain a firearm license, most of us can’t own a gun. But you can legally purchase a crossbow. I guess what it comes down to is that, if something happens, I can take care of my family for at least a few weeks. And that’s more than most of us can say.” He pauses. “A lot of people think that preppers want the world to end. But that’s not true.”
As we turn off the highway, we pass roads lined with colossal private houses and discuss how ridiculously priced they must be. Almar says the houses by the seaside where he goes on walks with his children are even bigger. The GPS tracker falls down and Almar reaches to readjust it. Sucking it back onto the windscreen he adds jokingly: “I wish I was rich instead of pretty.”
I’m starting to grow more curious what he thinks exactly is going to happen to the world or what it is he is afraid of, if he is afraid at all.
“Ahh.” Almar laughs. “I have been interviewed a few times and this question always comes up. But I don’t know how the world is going to end. Actually, the world is not going to end. The planet will not cease to exist.” He points at a passing sports car and comments on it: “That’s nice” before he continues. “Do you know the website dumpert?” he asks me. “I see video’s on there of young boys just punching each other unconscious for the hell of it. And I’m worried of what we have become.”
I think of gladiators and ancient torture chambers.
“I think we’re on the verge of the third world war, with a cold war already going on.”
“But there have always been wars and people have always resorted to violence,” I say “don’t you think that it’s just the way we are wired?”
Almar scratches his beard and then puts his both hands back on the wheel and smiles. “Maybe so.”
We pull up on a dirt road lined with trees. Pollen floats in through the rolled down windows. While we try to figure out where the restaurant is where we are supposed to meet the others a small pick-up stops next to us and honks. The door opens with a bold swing and a tall, young man walks up to us. In his all green attire he looks like a hunter. His cheeks are incredibly rosy. He taps his hand on his waist where a big knife is swinging from his leather belt: “You can jump in the back if you want.”
Reported for a University of Amsterdam seminar on post-humanism When Shit hits the Fan: Imagining the End of Humans.