Until recently, Reddit’s r/Survival subreddit maintained a long-standing dictate: “Keep all posts on the subject of Wilderness Survival,” reads the big forum’s Rule #2.
“r/survival defines Wilderness Survival as the philosophies, knowledge, techniques, and actions applied in a Wilderness environment, in a short-term survival scenario, that serve to increase the likelihood of individual or group survival. This means no messages on urban survival, EDC, evacuation, preparedness, getting bags home, teotwawki [the end of the world as we know it]zombies, collapse, etc.
But earlier this week, moderators announced a change. “We are temporarily relaxing Rule 2,” reads a moderator’s recent post.
As Russia carries out a devastating attack on Ukraine, survivalist circles on the internet have shifted into high gear. Some, like r/Survival, say they are extending resources to Ukrainian readers. Others, often with doomsday merchandise for sale, peddle visions of nuclear apocalypse to more American audiences.
The Americans are not the main characters in the war in Ukraine. But heightened fears of Russian nuclear aggression have led many to execute worst-case scenarios. Nukemap, a simulator that allows viewers to model the blast radius of a nuclear strike, has seen an increase in traffic since February 23. The site’s founder told the Atlantic that the simulator currently sees around 150,000 daily visitors, compared to 10,000 to 20,000 on a normal, non-crisis day. Sometimes traffic overwhelmed the site and forced it offline.
In some survivalist circles, these nuclear fears have led to reconsideration of plans for preparing for the apocalypse, even if an attack was unlikely. Requests for anti-nuclear fallout equipment have proliferated on message boards like Reddit’s “survival” and “preppers” communities, including from users in countries like Australia. (“I imagine Australia is low on Putin’s nuclear agenda,” one Redditor assured another. “I wouldn’t care too much.”)
Survivalist communities aren’t necessarily full of apocalyptic fantasies. Many, like r/Survival, typically focus on emergency preparedness, rural life tricks, or radical gardening. But other sites have spent years warning of impending disaster, from the year 2000 to nuclear meltdown, while conveniently selling disaster preparedness gear.
Mike Adams, founder of conspiratorial site “Natural News,” has been selling survival products since 1999, when he warned of a grim (and ultimately unrealized) technological meltdown that would occur on New Year’s Day 2000. Today, Natural News (and its sister sites like Survival News) are full of explanations of how Americans can survive the Russia-related fallout. One of Adams’ recent articles on Survival News on “how to survive a TAKEDOWN of America cyberattack” currently comes with an ad for “proven radiation damage protection.” The ad links to Adams’ store, which sells a combination of emergency supplies and questionable supplements like essential oils.
Adams, notably, does not blame Russian aggression for such a potential attack, but the US “deep state,” which he says will bring down the country’s power grid “all of that will be to blame on Russia.”
The Infowars conspiracy megalith runs its own version of the alarmist flash sale. On Friday, the site’s homepage published an article warning of the “collapse”. Next to the article was an advertisement for Infowars-branded supplements like “Survival Shield” (“50% off”).
Other tweets from now-infamous preppers consoled Americans that, in fact, the nuclear fallout might not be so bad, provided you have the right equipment.
“Nuclear war is bad,” reads a viral tweet, by a US-based survivalist blogger. “Very bad. Don’t get me wrong. But based on my research so far, it’s easier to survive than you think. The key to survival is realistic optimism and a positive mental attitude. In the meantime, here’s how anyone can start food preparation.
The tweet linked to a blog post on maintaining an emergency food pantry, which followed another blog post for American readers titled “How to Prepare for a Russian Invasion of Ukraine.”
On r/Survival, where moderators have relaxed the “no doomsday” rule, the two main pinned threads are a list of Ukrainian aid charities and a compendium of border crossing information for Ukrainian refugees. .
But a grim global mood also has unlikely targets that see themselves in the eye of a crisis. Alex Wellerstein, the founder of Nukemap, told the Atlantic that most Americans using his site were modeling how a nuclear strike would affect them.
“Americans atomize from afar most of the time,” he said. “They prefer experiential nuking. I wouldn’t say it’s narcissistic, but our primary mode of using Nukemap is to watch and see what’s next.