When doomsday "preppers" start stockpiling emergency food, it's usually because of a typhoon, a terrorist attack, or an event that signals the end times is near. This month, the horrifying event du jour is the US presidential election.
"We're hearing from people in our call center. People feel like they've lost control of the election process," said Keith Bansemer, the vice president of marketing at MyPatriotSupply.com, which sells emergency food. "So they're taking matters into their own hands—those things they can control. I think there is apprehension with both top candidates."
These concerns were echoed in a recent New York Times story that explored the belief by many Donald Trump supporters that a victory by Hillary Clinton could spark another revolutionary war.
Many doomsday preppers are stocking up on emergency survival food (sometimes called MREs or Meals Ready to Eat) with decades-long shelf lives, just in case all Hell breaks loose on November 8.
"The last couple of weeks have been the busiest in our company's history," Bansemer said of MyPatriotSupply, which was founded in 2008 and began seeing sales spike in July. In the last few weeks sales have almost tripled and the company is shipping out thousands of units a day, according to Bansemer.
Among its products, the company sells a 1-year supply of food for four people (priced at $6,897) and packs with 720 servings ("That's two cups per day for an entire year!") of Franklin's Finest Survival Coffee.
"Franklin's Finest is the ultimate survival perk, especially for those that drink coffee on a daily basis," the website says. "It's also the perfect item for barter or trade in an emergency! (You'll thank us for that tip later.)"
The food, like many modern emergency food products, promises an expiration date that is up to a quarter century away.
"The last couple of weeks have been the busiest in our company's history"
Although Bansemer said many of the customers are "your moms, neighbors, school teachers" and other Americans who want to make sure they can feed their family in the event of an emergency, some are bonafide preppers, a nickname for people who prepare for a nebulous, approaching calamity they call WSHTF (When Shit Hits the Fan) with near-religious fervor. WSHTF could be a global pandemic, a terrorist attack, a hack on the global banking system, a crippling economic recession, or social unrest caused by a political event like the upcoming election, according to many prepper blogs.
The most dedicated preppers don't just store food; they make evacuation plans, pore over survival tactics, and plan for a post-apocalyptic future. They tend to brush off mockery by promising that when things go wrong, you'll be the one knocking on their door, asking for help. And right now, it's fear around the election that is most pressing, Bansemer said.
In the emergency, long-term, ready-to-eat food business, sale spikes are usually motivated by fear.
"When people freak out, obviously our sales go up, because they're worried about the uncertainty of everything," said Bryan Nelson, the owner of the emergency food and survival supplies site, TheEpicenter.com. "When people see someone that has gone through something like the hurricane in North Carolina they think, 'That could be me'… Or, if they don't know what's going to happen with the election and how it's gonna turn out and how the other side is going to react to their candidate not winning. It's a fear factor. If you have that kind of fear … that's when our sales go up."
The Epicenter has been in business for 21 years, selling more than a million prepackaged "emergency and outdoor" meals some years, along with camping and survival supplies. Like MyPatriotSupplies, TheEpicenter is a retailer that buys its food from a wholesaler.
The Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti were all sales-triggering events for The Epicenter. Now, the same kind of natural disaster reaction is happening with some conservative clients who are worried about civil unrest after the election, if on a smaller scale, Nelson said.
"We had a customer come in to our office yesterday and he was very, very interested in freeze-dried food. He has a lot of property and 10 family members and said he wanted to get enough food together to feed 10 people for a year—specifically because he was worried about the election, about civil unrest, about how it's going to go—that's a lot of food," Nelson said. "In general, Trump supporters are very worried about everything and very private, because no one wants to be labelled in a negative way by the other side."
The owner of another online food retailer also said they had seen sales spikes and that their supplier had sold out of many food items over the summer faster than it could restock. The owner requested anonymity and asked not to be quoted for fear of being associated with the prepper community's more fringe viewpoints and said they planned to close the online store and get out of the business because they couldn't deal with the constant doomsday predictions any longer.
These sorts of sales spikes have not been seen industry-wide, however. The companies profiting the most appear to be those that emphasize WSHTF doomsday preparedness on their websites and advertise on conservative talk radio or TV shows. That makes sense, according to Nelson, since those companies are reaching people who are already hyped-up about the election and fear civil unrest could happen no matter who wins.
The companies profiting the most appear to be those that emphasize WSHTF doomsday preparedness on their websites and advertise on conservative talk radio or TV shows.
This year, some officials are even taking precautions. The Clerk and Recorder in Arapahoe County, Colorado, said he had gone so far as to train his staff to deal with a potential mass shooting and political conflicts in case things got out of hand, after Trump alleged widespread voter fraud and called on supporters to monitor election sites.
One Trump supporter told The New York Times that if Clinton won, "People are going to march on the capitols … If push comes to shove (Clinton) has to go by any means necessary, it will be done."
If such an uprising does happen, it'll be the first time in years that threats of revolt by right wing groups are finally put into action, according to Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair and lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, who published an opinion piece on Thursday.
"Will the Trump constituency take up its leader's hints and turn into an organized force … or to take revenge for imagined voter fraud?" Rosenthal wrote. "If so, this would be a great departure from what we have seen in the recent past. Rising up … has been discussed on the far right for years … Yet the Tea Party was a movement that at most engaged in occasional verbal violence."
MyPatriotSupply fits the profile of a politically-visible online store, since it advertises on Fox News, The Blaze (the news and entertainment network founded by Glenn Beck) and the American Heroes Channel. It's also sold by radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his INFOWARS site, which has published a dizzying number of articles predicting "civil unrest" this year.
The Epicenter, by contrast, sells mostly to hunters, campers, large companies, government agencies, and embassies that must keep prepared food on-hand in case of an emergency. The Epicenter saw a spike in June and July, but sales are only up by 5.5 percent on the whole, Nelson said.
Other doomsday supply companies, like Legacy Food Storage, which sells dehydrated and freeze-dried food, haven't seen election-related spikes in the industry, but keep close tabs on the next world crisis, imagined or real, and wait.
"We don't believe there is going to be a spike until maybe after the election and in the event of a super scary economic forecast from real events (Deutsche Bank goes upside down, China's real estate bubble pops, etc.)," CEO Phillip Cox said in an email. "Last year there was a Red Blood Moon event," Cox said, using a biblical term that refers to a "red" lunar eclipse preceding the second coming of Jesus. "The year before last we had Ebola come on and that drove a huge spike in sales."
Sales spikes are more likely the result of better marketing or normal fluctuations, not an industry-wide spike, Cox said.
In the meantime, he and the rest of the world will be watching the news, waiting to see what happens.
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