WHAT IS A SURVIVALIST? by Kurt Saxon copyright 1980
When a person embarks on a course of action, whether it be a
profession, hobby, belief, or whatever, a label is needed. Some
people don't like labels but they are necessary for advertising and
The term "Survivalist" is fast becoming a household word. It
is mentioned constantly on television, in newspapers, magazines and
radio. Although just about everyone has come across it, few really
know what it means. The term evolved from the general phrase "back
to the lander". That was used mainly by ecologists and
conservationists alarmed at the growing pollution affecting the
quality of life.
The January 1970 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS printed a comment
by Gary Snyder on pollution. "The human race for the last century
has allowed its production and dissemination of wastes, by-products
and various chemical substances to become excessive. Pollution is
directly harming the eco-system. It is also ruining the
environment in every direct way for humanity itself."
In the same issue, reprinting from CAVALIER, an article
titled "How to Make It Your Way", they suggested escaping to
communes. "So the air is full of crud and the water tastes funny
and the nine-to-five is a drag. You're tired of the subway, dog
crap in the streets, bumper-to-bumper traffic and plastic TV
dinners. Maybe the communes--with all that fresh air, sunshine,
love and homebaked bread--are really into something."
The communes didn't work out very well. There was an overall
likemindedness but the lack of discipline and practical skills
doomed most such projects from the start. Also, too many who
joined communes simply wanted a secure refuge where they could
smoke their dope in peace.
THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS had a great impact on the Urban Dropout
movement from the time of its first publication in January 1970.
They made millions aware of the possibility of finding a more
pleasant environment and creating a more secure and fulfilling
In the early '70's Don Stevens, who sells books on
self-sufficiency out of Washington state, popularized the term
"retreater". The term obviously indicated one who had prepared a
retreat in the boondocks to go to when city living became
There is nothing wrong with the term "retreater" when used in
its proper context. But it is a buzz word to certain types. I
just heard what might have been a joke about a general who had an
auto accident because he ignored a "Yield" sign. "Yield" was a
buzz word to him.
"Retreater" was acceptable to pacifist drop-outs of the MOTHER
EARTH NEWS school of thought. But to the more aggressive person it
had strong connotations of cowardice.
I certainly didn't like it, since my scenario of the near
future calls for aggressive measures to protect mine from all
comers. A poem says "I'll build my house by the side of the road
and watch the rest of the world go by." That attitude is fine for
"retreaters" but what happens when part of the world turns in to
loot that house by the side of the road?
The pacifist drop-outs and other non-involved persons simply
leave the cities with no fanfare. They don't feel the need for a
label because their move is not any form of protest. Also, they
don't seem aware that the people they simply don't care to live
near may well be a danger to them in the future as marauders.
Unlike the back-to-the-landers, the ecologists, the retreaters
and such, survivalists are not non-involved pacifists. They are
not necessarily eager to kill, either. They are simply aware that
civilization is cracking up and see the possible need for desperate
measures to come through with a whole skin.
The social unrest of the '60's gave a great but delayed
impetus to the Survivalist movement. As discontent manifested in
urban rioting, clashes between militant rightists and leftists,
assassinations, etc., the government threatened gun confiscation.
Millions grew afraid of their government and felt trapped and
helpless. As their children were bussed to black neighborhoods, as
their streets became increasingly dangerous and the quality of life
lowered, they began wanting out.
The weapons oriented magazines urged protest on all levels.
They also detailed to their readers the government threats as well
as the overall urban dissolution.
Some of them used the term "retreater" when suggesting that
their readers drop out. But gun-oriented types were more likely to
sit tight than leave under the stigma of "retreater". I am not
suggesting that anyone put off leaving because of the term. It is
just that they took a militant stand rather than retreat.
In late 1975 when starting THE SURVIVOR, I coined the term
"Survivalist" and used it in the first issue published in January
of 1976. In THE SURVIVOR I have been urging decent people to
abandon urban blight and take their loved ones to a safer
My term has been catching on and now those offended by
"retreater" are quite satisfied to call themselves Survivalists and
move out. It has turned out to be a word anyone can accept as a
label if they want one.
Even so, the media is generally down on urban dropouts so they
have been giving Survivalists a bad name. As you know, the media
is part and parcel of the Urban Establishment. It follows that
anyone unwilling to stay in the cities and support the
Establishment and its hordes of dependents is some kind of a kook.
A while back, Boyd Matson, of the TODAY SHOW, called with the
idea of interviewing me. When he found I didn't wear a camouflage
jacket, a beret and carry a burp gun he backed off.
Some time later I saw the segment he made to describe
Survivalists. There was a flock of about a dozen turkeys wearing
camouflage jackets and drilling with rifles in the Oregon woods.
I didn't know them but I could tell they were urban clerical
types fantasizing playing soldier. They said they had a cache of
food and weapons they would go to when the collapse came. In the
event that they could get to their cache they would find that
roughing it might be a little harder than they thought. Also, with
such a Mickey Mouse setup they would run out of supplies in no
time. Then they would turn into the same kind of predators they
claimed to be armed against.
Do not be surprised when you see Survivalists portrayed as
idiots and fear-crazed kooks. The sorriest was the Lou Grant
segment titled "The Survivalists." They had a nut in that show
who, during a California flood, stole a roll of plastic at
gunpoint. He had his kids armed and waving their weapons at anyone
who came around. He also used a phrase from one of my editorials,
"Those who prepare to survive deserve to survive."
So they had my material and used it to make Survivalists look
stupid and dangerous. They don't all do that but don't be
disturbed when you see such depictions.
Although everybody uses it today, I figure since I made it up
I can also make up its definition. I certainly didn't mean it to be
used to describe predators.
My definition of a Survivalist is a self-reliant person who
trusts himself and his abilities more than he trusts the
Establishment. Insofar as the Establishment is deteriorating, the
Survivalist prepares to leave it.
There are some who call themselves Urban Survivalists but I
consider that a contradiction in terms. To hole up in an apartment
and expect to survive mobs of starving rioters is silly. Imagine
utilities cut off or blown up. Add police and National Guardsmen
fighting urban guerrillas, firemen letting whole blocks burn and
all exits being cut off.
A real Survivalist would move out of the urban area to a small
town while there is still time. I can't see how a Survivalist
could live in a city in the first place.
So if you consider yourself a Survivalist and want to tell
your unborn grandchildren about it, get out of the city. Move to a
small town and become part of the community.
When the worst is over you might have seen some turmoil and
even driven away some urban marauders. But you and yours will
survive with dignity and with no regrets. That is what a real