National Geographic’s ‘Doomsday Preppers’ visits Buckley survivalist group

National Geographic’s ‘Doomsday Preppers’ visits Buckley survivalist group

Staff writerNovember 9, 2013 

Nuclear war. Volcanic eruption. Terrorist attack.

Though the scenarios of how an apocalyptic event would paralyze or destroy society vary, a group of like-minded individuals in East Pierce County believes a good defense is the best way to prepare for doomsday.

And some believe a good offense is even better.

“We’re not in it to stockpile. We’re in it to take what you have and there’s nothing you can do to stop us,” Tyler Smith says. “We are your worst nightmare, and we are coming.”

Smith, 29, is the leader of Spartan Survival. The group has more than 80 dues-paying members. Smith founded the organization in 2005 to train and prepare others on survivalism.

On Tuesday night, Smith’s story will be told on the National Geographic Channel survivalist TV show “Doomsday Preppers.”

The show chronicles those who believe a disaster will strike the country and cause overwhelming societal upheaval. They often go to great lengths to protect themselves and their families from all manner of danger — including other people.

Smith thinks a major domestic terrorist attack is the most likely scenario. He envisions a day when martial law will rule the land and he’ll have to protect and provide for his family.

For Smith, survivalism isn’t just a hobby or a philosophy. He makes his living from being a survivalism consultant.

On Friday, Smith gathered his wife, Katie; cousin Chris Pedrini; and Pedrini’s brother-in-law Junior Lafaele for a morning of instruction and drills on the couple’s 15-acre Buckley farm. The Smiths’ sons Lance, 3, and Wyatt, 2, tagged along.

First, Smith let the group look for a buried string hidden on a trail. It represented a trip wire for a bomb, Smith said. After a few minutes of cautious searching, Lafaele found the string in the forest duff.

“That’s the scary truth of what we might be finding,” Smith said of the bomb scenario.

Then Smith demonstrated how to start a fire using only cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Soon a small blaze was going, eagerly tended to by the small boys — under supervision. His sons, Smith says, are well on their way to being expert survivalists. Lance has a bow and arrows and toy guns. Smith is training them in hunting, fishing and basic survival skills.

Smith, who admits he’s not in the best physical shape, is preparing himself for the rigors of a survivalist lifestyle. He’s lost 80 pounds in the past year and often spends up to 48 hours alone in the woods to enure himself.

Back at home base the couple have medical supplies, food and weapons.

National Geographic got some of the facts about Smith wrong in the show. They say he has a six-month food supply. Smith says it’s more like two years.

Smith keeps some of his supplies on his farm. On Friday, he and the other members hauled out dozens of sealed containers of beans, rice, sugar and pancake mix. He also displayed some of their dozens of 25-pound bags of rice and beans. The group has buried caches of food in the region, the locations of which they keep secret.

The food would be supplemented by deer, elk and other animals they hunt.

Smith also has MREs — meals ready to eat; beef stew is his favorite — a rain-catching system and homemade pepper spray.

During Friday’s training, Katie and Pedrini took in some target practice using a 12-gauge shotgun. Several pumpkins were summarily executed. The group doesn’t spend a lot of time shooting, Smith says.

“It takes away from the prepping thing,” he says.

And, ammunition is expensive.

“If I could (afford it), I would fire a couple thousand rounds a day,” Smith says.

The Smiths grew up in Enumclaw. Katie got involved with survivalism after meeting Tyler.

“Some of my family think I’m nuts,” Smith says. His mother, whom he affectionately calls a “hippie,” hung a peace flag on the couple’s shed on Independence Day.

Spartan Survival is not a political group, Smith says. Contrary to expectations, he says he is pro-government and a supporter of President Barack Obama.

“I totally love this country and I would do anything for it,” Smith says. “We feel we’re doing a service to our nation by being prepared.”

He and his compatriots just fear what might happen if society breaks down. They plan on being survivors, not victims.

Most preppers, Smith says, are concerned with marauders taking their supplies. It’s not an unfounded fear, he says.

“We are those people,” he says. “We’ll kick your door in and take your supplies. … We are the marauders.”

Smith doesn’t want to hurt people. Nor is he planning on taking food or looting TVs. He’s more interested in medical supplies and other crucial necessities. Whatever it takes to protect his family.

As part of his strategy, Smith and Pedrini are developing a suit of armor to wear on his foraging forays. Smith says his homemade protection will be bulletproof, lightweight and stronger than anything sold in a store.

“It will also make me the apex predator in my area, and that’s all that matters,” he says.

The pair used salvaged and bought steel and aluminum. A steel grill from an old security gate makes up some of the protection. Smith wants the suit to weigh 80 to 100 pounds.

Smith used bathroom tiles wrapped in woven fiberglass and coated in roofing tar as one of the bullet-stopping layers. The suit must survive bullets from .22- and .30-06-caliber rifles and a 12-gauge shotgun, he says.

In addition to those weapons, Smith’s arsenal includes .270-, .30-30-, .223-caliber and AK-47 rifles and 9 mm and 45 mm handguns.

On the TV show, Smith tests the suit by having Pedrini hit him with a rock, a pipe, an ax and a piece of timber. Finally, Smith has Pedrini shoot him in the chest point blank with a 12-gauge shotgun.

“Don’t miss,” he tells Pedrini.

“This doesn’t feel right, Tyler,” Pedrini says. “This might be a bad idea.”

Smith survives the shooting but not without a major bruise.

Though the stunt was done for the TV show, it’s not out of line with other tests he’s done. He once had a friend shoot at him with rubber bullets while Smith ran through a field. Katie had to pull the bullets out of Smith’s skin using pliers.

“That was the worst, most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Smith recalls.

He has made a regional map where he can acquire supplies by force. He’s even studied medicine. On the show Smith and Pedrini practice giving then-pregnant Katie a cesarean section in the couple’s barn. The National Geographic crew wanted Smith and Pedrini to practice by performing an actual cesarean section on a pregnant pig. Smith declined.

“I am prepared for a catastrophic event, but I have limits,” he says. “And one of those is a c-section on a pig.”

Katie subsequently delivered a healthy boy, Gerald, without having to resort to the barn MASH unit.

Crews came from National Geographic in winter and spring to film and will return soon for a follow-up, Smith says. MTV also came out to film a show, “True Life,” which will air in December.

Smith wrapped up his training Friday by demonstrating how to apply camouflage makeup and dirt to Pedrini’s face. He then had Pedrini hide in ferns to demonstrate how easily he could blend in.

“Doing stuff like this will make a difference in our survival,” Smith says.

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