The End is Near Inc.
Chris Martenson quit corporate America to craft an unusual life of financial readiness — in case the economy really implodes — and now thousands of Internet followers are buying the message. Literally.
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