Jimmy Lee Dykes Alabama Hostage Standoff Raises Questions About Survivalists

The happy ending of Monday’s rescue of the five year-old boy who was being held hostage in an underground bunker in Alabama for nearly a week by 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, highlighted a phenomenon that exists in certain pockets of the United States: “Survivalism.”

Dykes was a 65 year-old Vietnam veteran who neighbors say was "anti-government," who had built a bunker equipped with electricity and enough supplies to last for several weeks.

As defined by Survivalist.info, a website devoted to collecting information for Survivalists, a Survivalist is a person who has personal or group survival as the primary goal in the face of difficulty, opposition, and especially the threat of a natural catastrophe, a nuclear war, or societal collapse. To become a Survivalist is no easy feat for it requires knowledge of a whole range of niche skills, such as how to properly store food, how to build a nuclear blast or fallout shelter, how to cook with solar power, daily habits to boost one’s immune function, how to identify wild edibles, etc.

Because of the potential threat of civil unrest, Survivalists tend to fiercely defend the Second Amendment and voice major concerns about gun confiscation and of the government’s power to interfere and control. One banner on the Survivalist website broadcasts this message: “Violation of the Second Amendment is a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty.”

There are numerous websites to provide Survivalists-in-training with the tools and information necessary to begin their preparation for the end of the world. Survivalist.com publishes a magazine that covers topics ranging from emergency childbirth to flash mob riot escape, as well as home fortifications and security. This site also offers webinars in which viewers can learn how to cut food storage costs and space in half, and healthier alternative to traditional freeze-dried options. Survival guides are also available in order to provide readers with a complete canning guide, the steps of building a solar oven, and a guide for identifying medicinal plants, among other skills. Other websites, such as Off Grid Survival, test and review gear and raise awareness about issues that pose a threat to the Survivalist way of life. Off Grid Survival, for instance, recently posted about the EPA’s plan to outlaw many wood-burning stoves in their effort to outlaw the off grid lifestyle.

In all, the Survivalist lifestyle stresses the importance of preparation and the power of knowledge. It is yet to be seen whether the Survivalist creed can explain the violent behavior of the late Dykes, though we can say for sure that his Survivalist background did little to help him in the face of the very government agents he was hoping to avoid. 

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Rosa Heyman

Rosa Heyman graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013 and now handles social media for PEOPLE Magazine in New York City.

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