The End is Near Inc.
Chris Martenson thinks you should turn your house into a bunker, raise some chickens, and stockpile gold in case the economy really implodes. He quit corporate Americas to life such a life, and now thousands of internet followers are buying the message.
Editor’s Note: Our profile of Chris Martenson from the July issue has generated an unprecedented number of responses. And while we normally take a hands-off approach to reader comments here at Boston, we’ve noticed a few misconceptions amid the feedback that we feel compelled to address, especially as it pertains to the story’s author, Pagan Kennedy. Contrary to what some commenters seem to believe, Kennedy was not responsible for the article’s headlines or the photo illustration that opened the story. Such elements of the story are determined by a team of editors and designers after a writer has completed his or her work. That said, we always welcome feedback, and we encourage readers to share their thoughts on this or any other story we publish.
THAT SEPTEMBER MORNING, Chris Martenson happened to be 800 miles from home, in a conference room in Michigan chatting with Big Pharma executives. One moment, he felt perfectly safe in this corporate nest of laptops and coffee cups. And then he heard someone gasp. Or maybe several people gasped. He and his colleagues crowded around a computer monitor. On the screen, a black cloud of jet fuel blotted out Manhattan.
When Martenson tried to call his wife in New England, the circuits were overloaded and he couldn’t get through. He remembers holding the useless phone and wishing he could tell her to stockpile food and cash. Why, he thought, hadn’t they prepared for something like this?
Back in Connecticut, Becca Martenson was way ahead of him. When she heard about the terrorist attack, she rushed to the supermarket. “I remember filling up my grocery cart and wondering why nobody else was doing it. I remember thinking, Am I crazy? Am I the only one?”
Nine years later, as the Martensons tell me this story, Becca says, “That was an early indicator of how we think about things. That was before we’d even started talking about any of this.” By “this” she means how they live now, in Montague, 90 miles west of Boston. Their three-bedroom house has a well and a wood stove; they’ve outfitted it with solar panels and planted an apple orchard. Barred Rock hens bob around in a backyard coop. Somewhere nearby, they’ve stashed their savings, in gold. If America’s economy plummets, they plan to be ready, as their large and growing Internet community well knows.
Several years ago, Martenson put his worldview into PowerPoint form, called it “The End of Money,” and started showing it to friends in their living rooms. His audiences multiplied quickly once he transformed the slide show into a video tutorial called Crash Course and used it to launch his website, chrismartenson.com. Crash Course isn’t the kind of thing that typically goes viral, but more than 1.5 million people have watched it, apparently as captivated by the message as by the messenger. Martenson, 47, has taken various strains of national pessimism in his own direction, delivering sack-and-ash-cloth predictions about the economy and oil shortages with the polish of a corporate executive and the can-do spirit of a life coach. He encourages followers to trust what they can touch: gold, stores of grain, barrels for conserving rainwater. Neighbors aren’t just the people who live nearby – they’re also potential allies who can save your life. Chickens produce edible dividends.
His viewers emerge covered in sweat, reborn. Tens of thousands read his blog and participate in the forums on his site. A core group of volunteers, the “Martenson Brigade,” is devoted to spreading the preparedness doctrine to the mainstream by getting their leader booked on shows like Oprah.
Online, Martenson, who has a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology from Duke and an M.B.A. from Cornell, greets the world in a suit jacket and an open-necked shirt, and
with the words, “I’m a trained research scientist, and a former Fortune 300 VP. Most importantly, though, I’m a concerned citizen.” There, he at first seems to be just another brainiac, one who illustrates his theories with audio-visual aids of doom. At home in Montague, the man behind the movement dresses not very differently, in khakis and a button-down shirt, like an executive on a long vacation – only this vacation involves mulch, apple saplings, and home-schooling his three children. With his soft face and rimless glasses, he’s the last guy you’d expect to be prepared for a Mad Max future.
It’s a strange moment in America when the insiders – the very men who rule the world – are building bunkers. Martenson is aware of the paradox. “These are wealthy people who seemingly are in complete control of their lives and destiny,” he says. “But they feel they’re on the outside now.”
- CRASH COURSE SELF-ASSESSMENT WORK SHEET
In their old life, the Martensons lived in a 4,000-square-foot house on the waterfront in Mystic, Connecticut. The kids roamed through sea puddles and inhaled wild wind. Chris and Becca chose Mystic because they loved its gleaming inlets, and because they could afford it.
But in 2003, with the country going to war with Iraq, Martenson felt queasy. His lavish neighborhood – where automatic sprinklers dripped diamonds onto lawns – began to seem like a movie set. At cocktail parties, everyone buzzed about buying condos in Florida. And yet the U.S. had entered a war that would cost billions, even trillions, of dollars. On weekends, Martenson spent hours spelunking through websites as he studied monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. He started to feel as if he could peer through the facades of McMansions to the ugly lurking mortgages. He scrawled “Read this” on economic papers and left them on Becca’s pillow.
“Chris was really angry,” she says. “He was ranting a lot.” She had no time to read about the Fed. “I was changing diapers and nursing babies. I was full of young children.” But finally, she plowed through the literature and soon felt that she, too, had X-ray vision.
“I was looking at the wealth around us, starting to understand what that wealth was made of,” she says. “I started thinking, How much do those wealthy neighbors have as debt?”
This is what Chris Martenson calls their “heavy” period. He compares his state of mind back then to that of a man who had just survived a heart attack. “This is not a dress rehearsal,” he told himself. If they were to live more simply, he realized, he would have to quit his job as vice president of the life sciences division of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a Fortune 500 R&D company headquartered outside Washington, DC (the position paid $250,000 a year, but required him to spend half his week in airports and hotels).