Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
I had very little time to learn as much as I could about survivalism while waiting for the results of my St. Kitts citizenship application. So I decided to start with the man who supposedly coined the word: Kurt Saxon, who was now seventy-six years old. Though he hadn’t returned my inquiries when I was a journalist reporting on Y2K, I hoped he’d be more receptive to me as a fellow survivalist.
After tracking down his number, I called and was surprised to hear him pick up on the first ring. Somewhat nervously, I told him I was interested in learning the skills necessary for survival and self-sufficiency. I was sure that after three decades of being the figurehead of the movement, he’d be sick of such requests. Since he’d been a member of so many hate groups, I also assumed he’d be somewhat aggressive, cantankerous, and paranoid.
His response, however, was not one I would ever have predicted.
“Do you feel threatened?” he asked in what may have been the friendliest voice this side of Mr. Rogers.
“I do,” I replied.
“You shouldn’t.” His tone was warm and accommodating, like he was telling a child not to be afraid of the sound of thunder.
“Why is that?”
“Because paranoia doesn’t pay.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that. So you’re optimistic about the future of America?”
“Everything is going to hell,” he replied matter-of-factly. “I’m a historian. I know what’s happening now. I can predict that within five years, four-fifths of humanity will have starved to death.”
“If that’s true, then why are you saying I shouldn’t feel threatened?”
“Well, I don’t feel threatened.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I live in Arkansas.”
This had to be one of the most circular conversations I’d ever had. He was like the Cheshire Cat of survivalism. “I guess that’s safer than a metropolis like Los Angeles or New York,” I replied, struggling to keep pace.
“Well, you ought to move. I think you’d like it here. For instance, I haven’t seen a black person in over a year.” I was aghast to hear these words come out of his mouth, despite his background. Perhaps he sensed it in my silence, because he backpedaled somewhat. “This is northern Arkansas. There are blacks in southern Arkansas, but they’re nice.”
I didn’t really know how to respond. I wasn’t going to agree, but after years of interviewing musicians, I’d learned that if someone feels you’re judging them, they’ll never open up to you. So instead of being critical or insisting your views are more correct, you give them what every human being really wants, deep down: acceptance, approval, and understanding. “I’ll consider changing my location,” I replied, haplessly adding in a struggle to change the topic, “I bet the food is great down there.”
“You can’t understand how stupid people can be till you move to Arkansas. Anyone who can read without moving his lips here is considered an intellectual. I’m more of an objectivist. Have you read Ayn Rand? Atlas Shrugged is one of my best books. I’m kind of a Howard Roark.”
I’d started the book three times but never finished it. Yet everyone I talked to, whether PTs or survivalists, seemed to swear by it. It was time to pick it up again. (And when I did, I would learn that Roark was the protagonist not of Atlas Shrugged but of Rand’s earlier book The Fountainhead.)
“I’m neither left-wing nor right-wing,” Saxon continued. “Forty years ago, I had a habit of joining nut groups. And you can’t find any nuttier group than the Nazis. They were fun. When we disbanded, we formed the Iron Cross Motorcycle Club. And we were the toughest storm troopers out there. We were terrorists. We used terror.”
If there is, as paranoid people suspect, an FBI phone-monitoring system that begins recording every time certain words are used in a conversation, Saxon had definitely tripped it by now.
“Occasionally the police would call and tell us there was going to be a hippie bash protesting the war, and we’d go in,” Saxon continued. “The police loved to watch because they hated hippies. Still, some of our guys wanted to quit and join the left, because they had better booze, dope, and girls.”
In the same patient, grandfatherly voice, Saxon talked to me for another hour, then promised to send a package with back copies of The Survivalist; an eighteenth-century compendium of recipes for food and medicine called The Compleat Housewife; and all four volumes of his do-it-yourself bomb-making, booby-trap-setting, chemical-weapon-manufacturing, street-fighting manual The Poor Man’s James Bond. “My main thing is to save the best of our species,” he explained. “And to collect and preserve useful knowledge.”
I felt conflicted talking to him. Anyone who joins the Nazi Party for any reason is thoroughly despicable. Yet Saxon seemed so guileless and giving. Then again, if you asked Charles Lindbergh what he thought after meeting Hermann Göring in the 1930s, he would have told you the Nazi commander was a swell guy.
“Are we best friends?” Saxon asked before I hung up.
“Um, I guess so.” I didn’t know how to reply. Usually it takes a few ball games and nights on the town to become best friends. But not for Saxon.
“Oh, yes,” he concluded. “We are!”
And, true to his word, he called me at least once a week after that conversation.