A Prepper’s Secrets to Surviving What’s Left of 2020

How much of being right can one man take?

Especially if that man is James Wesley, Rawles, former U.S. Army intelligence officer and author of several books, including the bestselling How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques and Technologies for Uncertain Times and, his most recent, The Ultimate Prepper’s Survival Guide, both of which presage the coming apocalypse.

A possible figure of some fun for nonbelievers pre-2020, Rawles’ stature and standing now, post every single calamity that’s struck this year, is damned near mythical, and it’s harder to get ahold of him than your average celebrity. In fact, Rawles high-handed us earlier this year, after the COVID lockdowns started but before the arrival of murder hornets, hurricanes and West Coast wildfires: He was just too busy doing what he does best.

And what Rawles does best is setting people up to get out of all of this in one piece. When the smoke, clouds and confusion cleared ever so briefly this past week, we caught him in transit from his undisclosed mountain redoubt to California, where he was rescuing an elderly parent.

Given that Costco has just bought 30,000 early-release copies of The Ultimate Prepper’s Survival Guide, Rawles is feeling, dare we say, needed, and almost sort of chatty.

Invest in some common caliber ammunition.… I’m talking .357, 9 mm, .45, .22 LR [long rifle], 12-gauge, 30-30, 30-06.

So when OZY asked him what we should be preoccupying ourselves with while the world around us is melting like mountains of wet sand, you could almost feel Rawles, complete with clipped military cadence, leaning back in his chair. “Well, let me tell you.…”

James Wesley, Rawles: One thing COVID has made us aware of is the fact that we’re living in a global petri dish aided by things like high-speed travel. How long did it take the bubonic plague to spread? It took COVID three weeks, and it’s hit 180 countries [that number has now surpassed 200 — eds.].

So 2020 has been a really unusual year. We’ve had five crises for the price of one: the pandemic, supply chain shortages, urban unrest, fire season and I’m expecting a currency crisis. So I’m expecting a lot more trauma and more drama ahead.

Eugene S. Robinson: And preparing for these looks like what?

JWR: In the prepper community, there’s what we call OPSEC, or operational security. So we generally like to keep our preparations private. But based on the 800-pound gorilla in the corner, past the fact that our personal liberty has degraded — you do know that the Canadian border is now closed to Americans? Gun stores and gun auctions have also been curtailed — I’ve got serious concerns about the global economic stimulus because of COVID.

My guess is that this will lead to a global financial reset in 2021 that will take down currencies and banking concerns. This is not going to be pretty. Trump has kicked the can down the road just about as far as it can go, but the dollar will take a dive in a race to the bottom with all of these countries trying to see who can out-inflate each other.

We’ve seen things in 2020 come unglued rapidly, and with a global financial system that’s in the twilight zone, we’re living on borrowed time, economically speaking. And with these artificially low interest rates and a trigger event of some sort, like maybe a constitutional crisis? I have concerns.

ESR: On a scale from zero to a run-into-the-streets-screaming 10, where are you now?

JWR: If I was at a five or a six before the pandemic, I’m at a seven or eight now. But there are some things I think you should do. I think you should buy Swiss francs. It’s an incredibly stable currency. You should also buy precious metals, not gold, but specifically silver. Gold is recovered and recycled and it’s pricey. If you have Krugerrand and want to buy something from someone, what are you going to do? Who needs thousands of dollars of toilet paper? Silver is great. It’s like the penny stock of precious metals.

Lastly, you need to invest in some common caliber ammunition. This will be better than money in the bank. I’m talking .357, 9 mm, .45, .22 LR [long rifle], 12-gauge, 30-30, 30-06. These are fungible and can be broken down and used to barter for just about anything you need. They also have a great storage life.

ESR: You think the remainder of the year is dire enough to warrant this? And if all of the gun stores are closed and so are the auctions, what are you suggesting people fire this ammo with?

JWR: These are all just contingency plans. You never know which things will play out. But some ammo is being sold at triple their usual prices. And with the demand high for firearms and the supply being incredibly low because of gun stores being shuttered — and even if they weren’t, by law, there’s a paper trail — I would suggest antique guns.

Any gun manufactured before 1899 is not considered a firearm. You can buy these through the mail without leaving a paper trail.

ESR: So you think it makes sense to ignore 121 years of firearm technology?

JWR: Any competent gunsmith can rework a Swedish Mauser and it’s a great firearm. Did you know that Rock Island Auction just sold over 6,000 guns in three days? They pulled in $16 million. For antique guns. In 1895, most guns went from being manufactured with iron to using steel frames, so the metallurgy is still quite good.

ESR: Under what circumstances do you anticipate needing firepower?

JWR: I’d love to see a peaceful open society with economic freedoms and individual liberty. But you never know.

ESR: Where are you planning on voting? I mean given your mountain hideout and all?

JWR: I don’t vote. I don’t do jury duty. And as things are, I’m more concerned with us fixing our supply chains and preventing the economic crisis. But, you know, most preppers keep it in mind. Though if you’re a real prepper you stocked up years ago and are sitting pretty just … waiting.

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