Don and Jonna Bradway recently cashed out of the stock market and invested in gold and silver. They have stockpiled food and ammunition in the event of a total economic collapse or some other calamity commonly known around here as “The End of the World As We Know It” or “SHTF” - the day something hits the fan.
The Bradways fled California, a state they said is run by “leftists and non-Constitutionalists and anti-freedom people,” and settled on several wooded acres of north Idaho five years ago. They live among like-minded conservative neighbors, host Monday night Bible study around their fire pit, hike in the mountains and fish from their boat. They melt lead to make their own bullets for sport shooting and hunting - or to defend themselves against marauders in a world-ending cataclysm.
“I’m not paranoid, I’m really not,” said Bradway, 68, a cheerful Army veteran with a bushy handlebar mustache who favors Hawaiian shirts. “But we’re prepared. Anybody who knows us knows that Don and Jonna are prepared if and when it hits the fan.”
The Bradways are among the vanguard moving to an area of the Pacific Northwest known as the American Redoubt, a term coined in 2011 by survivalist author and blogger James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is deliberate) to describe a settlement of the God-fearing in a lightly populated territory that includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon.
Those migrating to the Redoubt are some of the most motivated members of what is known as the prepper movement, which advocates readiness and self-reliance in man-made or natural disasters that could create instability for years. It’s scenario-planning that is gaining adherents and becoming mainstream in what Redoubt preppers described as an era of fear and uncertainty.
They are anxious about recent terrorist attacks from Paris to San Bernardino, California, to Orlando, Florida; pandemics such as Ebola in West Africa; potential nuclear attacks from increasingly provocative countries such as North Korea or Iran; and the growing political, economic and racial polarization in the United States that has deepened during the 2016 presidential election.
Nationally, dozens of online prepper suppliers report an increase in sales of items from water purifiers to hand-cranked radios to solar-powered washing machines. Harvest Right, a Utah company that invented a $3,000 portable freeze dryer to preserve food, has seen sales grow from about 80 a month two years ago to more than 900 a month now, said spokesman Stephanie Barlow.
Clyde Scott, owner of Rising S Bunkers, said pre-made, blast-proof underground steel bunkers are in big demand, including his most popular model, which sleeps six to eight people and sells for up to $150,000.
“Anybody with a peanut-sized brain,” he said, can see that the U.S. economy is in perilous shape because of the national debt, the decline of American manufacturing and the size of the welfare rolls.
Some people worry about hurricanes, earthquakes or forest fires. Others fear a nuclear attack or solar flare that creates an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out the nation’s electric grid and all computers, sending the country into darkness and chaos - perhaps forever.
“The list is long; the concerns are many,” said Glenn Martin, who lives in north Idaho and runs Prepper Broadcasting Network, an online radio station. “Imagine a societal collapse and trying to buy a loaf of bread in Los Angeles or New York and stores are closed down.”
Martin’s programming emphasizes gardening, farming and how-to shows about sustainable living more than “doom and gloom,” he said, and his audience has grown from 50,000 listeners a month two years ago to about 250,000 a month now.
Online interest in prepper and American Redoubt websites is increasing. Tools that measure online readership show that monthly search traffic to Rawles’s survivalblog.com has doubled since 2011; an estimate from SimilarWeb, a Web analytics firm, shows that the site had about 862,000 total visits last month.
Rawles’s guidebook, “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It,” and his post-apocalyptic survival novel, “Patriots,” have sold about 350,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. They are among hundreds of available survivalist books.
You have GEICO; I have an AR-15.
Todd Savage, a retired Marine
In response to all the uncertainty, more and more preppers are not simply stocking up at home. They are moving their homes - to the Redoubt, a seldom-used term for stronghold or fortress.
It is impossible to know exactly how many people have come over the past few years, but newcomers, real estate agents, local officials and others said it was in the hundreds, or perhaps even a few thousand, across all five states.
Here, they live in a pristine place of abundant water and fertile soil, far from urban crime, free from most natural disasters and populated predominantly by conservative, mostly Christian people with a live-and-let-live ethos and local governments with a light regulatory touch and friendly gun laws.
The hearty and adventurous, or those seeking an escape from modernity’s leading edge, have long made a new life for themselves in Idaho; Ernest Hemingway came here to live and to die.
The locals regard the newest transplants as benign if odd, several said in interviews.
“The mainstream folks kind of roll their eyes,” said state Sen. Shawn Keough, a 20-year veteran Republican legislator who represents north Idaho.
Many drawn to the Redoubt are former police, firefighters and military. Most said they would vote for Donald Trump as the “lesser of two evils,” and they said Hillary Clinton would make an already bloated and ineffective government even bigger.
“I don’t want to be one of the guys waiting for help,” said Patrick Devine, 54, a former paramedic in Los Angeles who moved two years ago at a friend’s urging.
Devine said he had firsthand knowledge of chaos and government failure, earned from working numerous shootings and earthquakes, particularly in Haiti in 2010.
“I can’t stop it. But I can prepare myself to the best of my ability for anything that does come and be helpful to other people,” said Devine, who works at a local gun range and wears a 9mm pistol on his hip.
“I love this place,” said Chris Walsh, as he buzzed low over sparkling Lake Coeur d’Alene in his mustard-colored Beechcraft Bonanza airplane.
I don’t want to be one of the guys waiting for help.
Patrick Devine, a former paramedic
A Detroit native, Walsh, 53, runs Revolutionary Realty, which specializes in selling real estate to those moving to the American Redoubt. He said he has sold hundreds of properties in the last five years.
He lives off the grid in a house high on a hill overlooking a lake, producing his own electricity from 100 solar panels. But he is also a few miles from restaurants and shopping in Coeur d’Alene, a popular tourist destination.
Walsh said most of the prepper properties he sells generally have key features: at least two sources of water, solar panels or another alternative energy source, ample secure storage space for a few years’ worth of supplies, and a defensible location away from main roads and city centers.
Such amenities don’t come cheap; the average property sells for between $250,000 and $550,000, he said, but some go for more than $2 million. Walsh said a basic solar array can cost around $15,000, while more elaborate systems can cost 10 times that.
Walsh said most of his clients regard moving to safer territory as a prudent step against a reasonable fear. But just as important, he said, they get to live a simpler life in a safe, beautiful place.
“What they are doing when they come here is relearning things that their great-great-great-grandfathers and mothers already knew,” Walsh said. “What’s going on here is a pioneering spirit.”
Much of the Redoubt migration is motivated by fears that President Barack Obama - and his potential successor, Hillary Clinton - want to scrap the Second Amendment, as part of what transplants see as a dangerous and anti-constitutionalist movement toward government that is too intrusive and hostile to personal liberties.
“This is a bastion of freedom,” said Todd Savage, 45, a retired Marine who moved to north Idaho from “the urban crime-scape” of San Francisco and opened American Redoubt Realty after meeting Rawles a few years ago.
“The bottom line is that our clients are tired of living around folks that have no moral values,” Savage said. “They choose to flee tyranny and leave behind all the attributes of the big city that have turned them away.”
Savage spoke as he drove his Chevrolet Suburban with an AR-15 rifle tucked next to the driver’s seat, a handgun between the front seats, and body armor and more than 200 rounds of extra ammunition in the back - along with a chain saw to move fallen trees and two medical kits, just in case.
“You have GEICO; I have an AR-15,” Savage said.
Trevor Treller, 44, who carries a small Smith & Wesson pistol on his hip, moved to north Idaho last year from Long Beach, California, and recently paid a little less than $400,000 for a defensible three-bedroom house on five wooded acres.
Treller, a sommelier at a local resort, said Obama was a key factor in his decision. He said the president has inflamed racial tensions in America, presided over a dangerous expansion of the national debt, been “hostile” to Second Amendment rights and failed to curtail the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
Treller said any one of those factors could lead to crippling chaos, so he and his wife have laid in food, weapons and ammunition and are installing an iron gate across their long gravel driveway.
“I think there’s a very good chance that these things won’t happen in my lifetime, but I also think there’s a chance that they will,” Treller said. “It’s extreme collective hubris to think that we’re exempt from everything that happened to every single society before us throughout history.”
I don’t have a problem with preppers, but it’s the extremists people don’t want around - the fringe, the radicals. That’s the concern I hear from people.
Mike Peterson, real estate agent
Treller said he settled on Coeur d’Alene after scouring city-data.com, a website where he looked for his ideal mix: conservative election results, low crime rates, solid incomes, low population density, affordable house prices - and few illegal immigrants, because he said they erode “American culture.”
Utah is about 83 percent white, and its three northernmost counties are more than 90 percent white, according to Census Bureau data. Those interviewed in the American Redoubt insisted they are not trying to segregate themselves by race. And while the Aryan Nations white supremacist group was headquartered near Hayden Lake in the 1980s and 1990s, Rawles has described the Redoubt movement as “anti-racist” and said like-minded folks of all races are welcome.
Walsh, the real estate agent, said he saw far more racism in Detroit, where he was raised, than in north Idaho.
“Here, a black person, they’re a novelty,” Walsh said. “You’ll see people walk up to black people here sometimes and just talk to them because they’ve never spoken to a black person before. In terms of them walking around [saying racist things], you never see it.”
Treller’s wife, Christina Treller, 38, a critical care nurse at a local hospital, said she initially resisted her husband’s proposal to move to Idaho. Now she loves their new Victorian-style house in the woods, with its fresh well water and clean air, and fruit and nut trees that they recently planted.
Having lived through the 1992 riots after Los Angeles police were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, she said she views society as more fragile than most people realize.
“I’m being wise,” she said.
In north Idaho, the narrow panhandle that stretches to the Canadian border, many people on the streets of pretty towns such as Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry have never heard of the American Redoubt.
That’s mainly because of the prepper ethos of privacy - most don’t even tell their neighbors they have years’ worth of food in a safe room.
Several locals did express unease about their new ammo-stockpiling neighbors.
“I don’t have a problem with preppers, but it’s the extremists people don’t want around - the fringe, the radicals. That’s the concern I hear from people,” said Mike Peterson, a real estate agent in Bonners Ferry and retired Los Angeles firefighter and EMT.
Keough, the state senator, recently fought off a tough GOP primary challenge in which she was labeled a “progressive traitor” by Alex Barron, a blogger who calls himself the Bard of the American Redoubt.
“We’re certainly not oblivious to the turmoil in the world and not oblivious to the huge challenges we have at the national level,” Keough said. “But those who subscribe to the ‘world is coming to an end’ theory, people tend to shake their heads at those folks. They come across as paranoid.”
State Rep. Heather Scott, a Republican who represents north Idaho, said the newcomers have adapted smoothly.
“I have met many people, especially recently, who have moved here after being inspired by the idea of the American Redoubt,” she said. “I haven’t heard any of them speak about the ‘end of the world’ but rather the appreciation for a simpler and safer life.”
Scott said preparing for a natural or man-made disaster was “simply prudent,” because, “Economic experts are consistently saying that global markets are at risk, and they are telling people to take precautions to weather through an economic crisis.”
Don Bradway dug into a plate of homemade enchiladas in the kitchen of the cozy house he and Jonna bought for $259,000in 2010.
What they have looks like an idyllic retirement experience: his and hers recliners in front of a big-screen TV, a “side-by-side” all-terrain vehicle in the barn, an art studio for retired nurse Jonna, a carpentry and machine shop for retired firefighter and EMT Don, and a sweet-natured dog named Moose.
Their 30-year-old son, who moved to Idaho with them, lives nearby.
Don, who’s a member of the GOP Central Committee of Kootenai County, won’t say exactly how much food and supplies they have on hand.
“There are some things you don’t talk about,” he said. “But the Bradway motto is that it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”
As Don sees it, you need look no further than the economic chaos in Venezuela, with its hungry people storming grocery stores, to see that a society-ending economic collapse could easily happen anywhere.
“We pray to God that it never happens,” he said, finishing his refried beans.
But if it does, he said his “fellow thinkers” in the American Redoubt are prepared.
“They know they can depend on the Bradways to help them,” he said.