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.
The next time I stop by the Martensons’ house, a storm has just hit Montague and the electricity is out, a turn of events that almost seems made to order. I find Martenson on his couch, extension cords snaking from his laptop: He’s running on a trickle of power from the solar panels out back. (A few days later, he will blog about what the outage taught him; he sees the blackout as a rehearsal for a much bigger crisis.)
He has promised to take me on a shooting expedition today, so soon we’re in his faded old Nissan Maxima, cruising through the dappled sunlight of a country road and chatting about firearms. Martenson says that at home he keeps his guns locked away, because of his children and because Massachusetts law requires it. Which means the guns are basically useless when it comes to home protection. "For me guns are sporting," he says, "not defense."
We crunch onto a gravel road and bump along to his gun club, weeds slapping the side of the car. He parks in a sandy wasteland and we walk to one of the firing-range shelters, which smells of gunpowder and creosote.
As a kid, I learned to shoot BB guns and .22 rifles, but this semiautomatic Glock I’m about to handle feels entirely different. It’s made of plastic, with a smooth and almost oily skin. The blackest thing around, it seems to suck up all the light. Martenson takes me again and again through the protocols of gun safety. As he sees it, with enough preparation, even a semiautomatic weapon can be domesticated.
Some of his followers may be less concerned with this line of domestication. Many hours later, when I’m in front of my home computer, I can still feel the Glock in my hand and the unnerving power of its kick. Now I want to see what Martenson’s brethren say about firearms. On his website, I click through various forums and a "definitive firearms" thread, which contains more than 2,000 comments, plus instructions for building a home arsenal. "I dread the day that I might need to defend my family and friends with a gun. But, I realize that is a very real possibility," a member writes in one forum. Another comments that once enough people get desperate, "it might be too late to avoid some blood in the streets."
Of course this is where the messenger stands to lose control of the message, to unintentionally feed and even validate the fringe. The true power of Martenson’s worldview will be measured by what the masses do with it.