[IWAR] Y2K survivalists

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Wed Jun 10 1998 - 20:40:01 PDT

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    Millennium bugging out 
     BY JANELLE BROWN | Candace Turner used to
     sell industrial freezer units; today, she sells
     Survival Domes -- insulated geodesic shelters
     heated by wood-burning stoves. In the last year,
     she and her husband have stocked their Missouri
     farm with a cornucopia of livestock, seeds and
     canned food and bought a horse-drawn plow and
     a covered wagon. Her four children have been
     told they have to learn to feed themselves, just in
     On Jan. 1, 2000, Turner fears that the chaos will
     begin: the power grids will go dark, and airplanes
     and trains will grind to a halt. The stock markets
     will crash and burn, along with the U.S.
     government, and banks will shut down. Cities will
     erupt in riots and looting. Starving urban refugees,
     Turner believes, could eventually show up on her
     doorstep as beggars. 
     The disaster she anticipates is not the apocalypse,
     but what some feel is its real-life technological
     equivalent: the "millennium bug." 
     Turner isn't alone as she prepares for this
     scenario. Across North America, groups of
     concerned programmers, economics experts,
     consultants and techies are preparing for a varying
     scale of "Y2K" (geek shorthand for "Year 2000")
     disaster. The Y2K survivalist, or "safe haven,"
     movement is burgeoning as Jan. 1, 2000,
     The millennium bug is a programming glitch in
     many older computers, programs and "embedded
     systems" that use only two digits to record the
     date. When the year "00" comes around, no one
     knows how they will react -- and whether they
     will stop working. Problems could extend from
     local electric companies to nuclear reactors, from
     the Internal Revenue Service to the telephone
     companies, from the airlines to the retail
     distribution chain. Any large-scale system that
     relies on complex digital information technology is
     potentially vulnerable. 
     The government and private companies are
     beginning to spend vast sums of money to fix all
     the code, and some experts are confident that the
     millennium portends little worse than a few
     bumps. But rewriting all that code is a laborious
     process, and other observers argue that it's already
     too late in the game to repair many major systems.
     No one can guarantee that a Y2K disaster will
     happen. What concerns the new Y2K survivalists
     -- the pessimists who are joining in what some
     participants are calling "the Great Geek Migration"
     -- is that no one can guarantee that it won't. 
     "It's not a question of who's right -- it's a question
     of mitigating the consequences of who's wrong,"
     says Paul Milne, a vocal Y2K survivalist. "If I'm
     wrong I'm still here, the birds are chirping, the sky
     is still above. But if they're wrong, they're dead."
    There is no shortage of apocalyptic doomsayers
     who are predicting a total social breakdown,
     complete with widespread chaos, murder and
     starvation. Christian economist and Y2K preacher
     Gary North, who dominates many discussions of
     the millennium bug online, estimates that "martial
     law will be declared no later than Jan. 15. At that
     point, things will start getting worse ... I think
     there will be a collapse of Western civilization if
     the power grid does go down, and I can see no
     reason why it won't. Rioting will be a minor
     Or, as Milne puts it, "By the middle of 2000, New
     York City will look like Beirut." 
     Milne is a prominent voice among those Y2K
     survivalists who urge people to abandon the cities
     and find secret hideaways in the countryside. In
     anticipation of the dreaded day, Milne, a former
     commodities broker, has moved to a 10-acre farm
     in Virginia, where he and his family are learning
     agrarian skills, raising livestock, fitting wells with
     hand pumps and storing food -- not to mention
     stockpiling guns for protection in a newly lawless
     "I'm not God -- I can't say definitively what's
     going to happen," Milne says. "What I can say is
     that when people don't have the basic elements for
     survival, they are not going to come out on their
     lawns and hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya.'
     They're going to scratch and claw their way to
     survival. I put myself in a place where I would
     have the highest odds of being able to do that." 
     On the newsgroups misc.survivalism and
     comp.software.year-2000, where Milne and others
     discuss the Y2K problem, these kinds of
     one-man-against-the-world sentiments are
     common. Although the misc.survivalism
     newsgroup has existed for years, the millennium
     bug has swelled its ranks. Programmers, gun
     enthusiasts and hardened survivalists are now
     debating together whether dog meat is edible, how
     to purify water and which personal sidearms are
     most appropriate when defending oneself against
     what they jokingly refer to as "Cannibal Welfare
     Mutants" -- violent city refugees who may be
     hunting for food in the early months of 2000. 
     The basic preparations for solitary survival,
     according to survivalist discussions: hoarding cans
     of food, stockpiling weapons, preparing alternative
     energy supplies and converting money to more
     tangible assets. Or, as Y2K survivalist Archie
     Smith succinctly put his priorities on a Y2K
     mailing list: "I believe in the four G's of survival:
     God, Guns, Gold and Groceries (and in that
     Says Tim May, the cypherpunk co-founder who is
     a 20-year veteran of the technology industry and
     an active Usenet poster, "I don't know how likely
     it is to happen, but I know it's a reasonable thing
     for me to devote five or 10 grand to supplies and
     generators and whatnot. And then I can sit on my
     hilltop and ride this thing out without leaving
     home, which is my intention." 
     While Milne and May plan to ride out the year
     2000 by themselves in their remote homes, others
     are looking into group relocation -- and soon, since
     some are anticipating a crisis beginning even by
     the fall of 1998. The relocation board on Gary
     North's Web site is already generating hundreds of
     messages a day, and many posters are hoping to
     move to communal safe havens, or Y2K villages,
     with groups of like-minded individuals. 
     Heritage Farms 2000 is the highest-profile of the
     Y2K villages that are starting to emerge.
     Conceived by self-titled "practical prophet" and
     utopian author Russ Voorhees, Heritage Farms
     2000 plans to sell half-acre plots to 500 families in
     hopes of building an independent, self-sustaining
     community that won't be disturbed by the
     disruptions in the rest of society. 
     Located on 1,000 acres by Lake Oahe in remote
     South Dakota, Heritage Farms 2000 will offer
     plots with gardens for permanent or mobile
     homes, plus a 160-acre community farm and a
     Main Street with a general store and other
     resident-founded businesses. Voorhees is planning
     a satellite uplink/downlink for Internet
     connectivity, a fiber-optic telephone system and
     solar- and wind-powered generators. The project
     is still in the planning stage (it's waiting for
     necessary permits), but Voorhees believes he's
     already received enough serious inquiries to fill all
     of the plots. 
     Voorhees' vision of what might happen come New
     Year's Day 2000 is not as dark as some -- he
     anticipates turmoil, but not an apocalypse -- and
     so he sees his model community as a society of
     telecommuting engineers, working in a village that
     is simply far removed from the problems that will
     be plaguing cities. In fact, the majority of the
     inquiries he's received so far are from engineers,
     computer programmers and other technology
     workers who hope they'll be able to keep working
     from this safe haven. 
     As Voorhees puts it, "We've got a higher
     likelihood of anyone else in having continuity both
     in communication and power. We're at the
     breadbasket of the world; you aren't going to go
     hungry here. You're away from any metropolitan
     areas, so if in fact there is any rioting this place
     will be immune to it. We'll have high visibility so
     people can telecommute from here ... It'll be a
     cohesive community where people will work
     together toward a common goal." 
     Candace Turner, who has already taken 30 orders
     for her $7,000 Survival Domes, also advocates the
     benefits of building Y2K survival communities.
     When she was "Y2K born" (a phrase she uses to
     describe her introduction to the millennium bug
     issue), Turner attempted to reach out to her
     friends and neighbors to warn them about the
     problem, but they ignored her. So instead she
     started an outreach mailing list, which now boasts
     400 people who swap Y2K survival tips on a daily
     "I knew that morale is half the key to success in
     surviving in these times, and I needed to know
     that there were other pockets of civilization that
     were going to make it, too," Turner explains. "I
     wanted to reach out and know where those
     pockets were going to be, and I wanted to
     encourage others to learn about this so that there
     would be others -- and make it a place where I
     could learn skills from farmers and others who
     were Y2K born earlier than I." 
     The mailing list, she says, has become her "Y2K
     family." Every Wednesday night, members of the
     list participate in a nationwide teleconference call,
     when volunteers report back on their research into
     topics like shelter, food and seeds, finance and
     farming. Many, says Turner, are already planning
     to pool resources and buy plots of land, move into
     rural neighborhoods together and form what they
     are calling "covenant communities." Some have
     already put bids on land in Turner's general locale.
     Turner says she has already heard of a dozen
     Y2K villages -- in Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee
     and Montana -- and assumes that there are many
     more. Over half were formed directly as a result
     of the Y2K problem; the rest are church
     congregations who have been preparing for years
     for some kind of millennial upheaval, and who
     have more recently latched onto the Y2K issue.
     All of them, she says, are trying to stay hidden
     from the public eye and don't want any more
     "It's got to be a community effort," says Jim
     Pollard, a 61-year-old list member who is inviting
     a select group of friends to join him on his
     energy-efficient 64-acre farm in Kentucky, "but
     when you do this you have to be careful who you
     bring in -- they have to be compatible. It's not like
     selling a lot or a lease to strangers." 
     That, in fact, is much of the problem of tracking
     down the Y2K communities that are forming: Few
     want to share their little utopias with the general
     public, fearing that when the world comes
     crashing down, urban refugees will come seeking
     food and shelter. As Milne puts it, "It's going to be
     like moths to a flame. What if one particular
     community has their own source of power
     integration? That's going to get widely known and
     the outsiders will flock there." 
     Gary North himself is rumored to be starting a
     Y2K retreat community, but scoffs at the idea of
     sharing any information about it. "Any group a
     reporter has heard of should be avoided like the
     plague," he says. 
     But those who will talk about their Y2K
     communities seem to share a certain idealism
     about what they think they will build. 
     "I think there needs to be a reorientation of society
     toward more responsible social relationships; that
     can only happen in smaller communities. That's
     what I have always intended to demonstrate in a
     model community, and Y2K just provides an
     opportunity to do that," says Voorhees, who
     envisions Heritage Farms as the utopian model
     city of the 21st century. "Instead of suffering the
     problems, let's take a fresh look at things and
     think positively about it." 
     In a certain sense, such utopian Y2K villages
     sound like a revival of the communal-living craze
     in the early 1970s. Of course, many of those
     communes didn't survive, and even veterans of
     ones that did -- like the famous Farm in
     Tennessee -- have doubts about the longevity of
     these kinds of communities. 
     "It's like coming together over a paranoia as
     opposed to some type of warm human bonding --
     the spiritual connection that people have together.
     That's what's going to bring you through thick and
     thin," says Doug Stephenson, a 25-year veteran of
     the Farm. "It's an awful lot of work to live that
     type of lifestyle; it's more than these people
     running out there have any idea what they're
     getting into ... We lived that way for a number of
     years and ate a lot of pickles." 
     Year 2000 programmers are widely expected to be
     the first group to start actively preparing (or "bug
     out," as the programmers themselves say). In this
     view, since they're on the front line and will
     realize the futility of tackling the problem long
     before anyone else does, they'll flee their
     companies and cities "like rats deserting a sinking
     ship," as Milne puts it. 
     But the topic of millennial apocalypse has
     historically been the territory of fundamentalist
     Christians, prophetic doomsayers, right-wing
     militias and fringe groups. And though the ranks of
     Y2K survivalists have been joined by less radical
     populations of programmers and techies, most
     online discussions are still being dominated by
     extremists -- most of whom have little to no
     background in computers. 
     This, say some engineers, has made it difficult to
     talk about the issue rationally. Robert Smith -- a
     Los Angeles systems administrator who plans to
     ride out the millennium at his father's birthplace, a
     small town in Ireland -- puts it this way: "This is a
     difficult conversation to have with people. It's sort
     of a dirty secret. You're almost embarrassed to
     admit to being concerned, or risk having people
     lump you in with the militias and bombers." 
     In fact, says Cory Hamasaki, a seasoned
     programmer who is currently battling the Y2K
     problem for IBM, many of his Y2K programmer
     colleagues are starting to make survival plans. For
     a worst-case scenario, Hamasaki is helping a
     friend prepare his farm for their retreat; for the
     best-case scenario, he is stockpiling goods in his
     city home. Something bad will happen, he
     believes, and "90 percent of the technical experts
     -- not kid coders, not LAN-heads nor Windows
     weenies but experts in enterprise-scale systems
     with more than 20 years experience -- and good
     academics have come to the same conclusion." 
     But the most visible of the year 2000 experts still
     scoff at the idea of running to remote locales or
     forming year 2000 villages, even though they
     themselves are advocating caution. 
     "I think the survivalists will be shocked, when
     they go running out to the hills. Guess where
     everyone else is going to go? The hills are going to
     be pretty crowded," says Edward Yardeni, an
     economist with Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and a
     leading Y2K expert. "I think we should all stay
     home in our communities and work with our
     neighbors -- we need to stick to each other and
     not run off. We need to make sure we don't
     Peter de Jager, a prominent year 2000 consultant,
     mostly fears that the survivalists will trigger the
     chaos they are trying to avoid. "It's a self-fulfilling
     prophecy. We're all doomed, so let's run away --
     and when we run away, there's no one left to
     work the industry or society anymore, so
     therefore we were right." 
     From the outside, the Y2K safe haven movement
     looks like a strange convergence of geek fear and
     biblical prophecy, agrarian optimism and
     survivalist paranoia. Voorhees calls it a
     "convergence of millennial expectancy -- we're in
     both an economic cycle and a religious cycle." 
     The year 2000 problem has yet to become an
     issue of wide mainstream concern, probably
     because the whole concept is steeped in the arcane
     verbiage of the information technology world. But
     the scare stories are starting to catch the public's
     attention. Newsweek recently did a cover feature
     on the topic, and newspapers and TV
     newsmagazines are starting to report the story
     from a layman's point of view. 
     There's even an upcoming Hollywood movie
     about the millennium bug: "Y2K," due to be
     released in the fall of 1999 by Warner Brothers.
     Scriptwriter Stuart Zicherman describes "Y2K" as
     a techno-thriller from a programmer's point of
     view. Though he says it's not apocalyptic, and he
     doesn't expect that the film will trigger any panic,
     the movie will still portray a breakdown in New
     York City on New Year's Eve, 1999. 
     And, in fact, the whole Y2K survival issue reeks
     of Hollywood disaster film imagery. In
     comp.software.year-2000, old apocalypse movies
     like "Mad Max," "Panic in Year Zero" and
     "Trigger Effect" are already being evoked as
     illustrations of what might happen. Posts in
     misc.survivalism about "human wave attacks,"
     plagues and roving bands of murderers read like
     vivid scenes from the more recent spate of
     big-budget flicks: "Deep Impact," "Twelve
     Monkeys" or "The Postman." It's almost as if
     some people relish the prospect of living in a
     movie plot -- assuming, of course, that they get to
     play the role of a survivor. 
     Meanwhile, reports about progress in solving the
     Y2K problems are relentlessly grim. Just last
     week, Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., gave the federal
     government an "F" on its latest report card for
     Y2K preparedness, down from the last report
     card's D, and said that 13 of the 24 largest
     agencies won't be done repairing their systems in
     time. Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, is already
     talking to the Department of Defense about the
     possibility of martial law in early 2000. 
     Still, the massive disruption of civilization come
     Jan. 1, 2000, remains a remote and unlikely
     prospect to most of us. For participants in the
     Great Geek Migration, on the other hand, that
     scenario has already become an article of faith. 
     Says Hamasaki: "For me and other
     enterprise-scale programmers, it is evident to a
     moral certainty that the systems will fail. What
     happens after that is an unknown to us. Perhaps
     civilization will collapse, perhaps a flowering of
     the human spirit will see us through -- perhaps this
     will be an opportunity to build a better world." 
     Either way, the Y2K survivalists -- with their
     Survival Domes and cans of beans -- intend to be
      SALON | June 11, 1998

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