Doomsday Disciples

Be it nuclear holocaust, quake or hurricane, St. Louis' Zombie Squad is ready for anything — even an attack from the living dead.

"People have come to know that I am prepared," says the veritable MacGyver. "If something happens, they'll say, 'Where's Ollie?'"

Langhorst says he rarely drinks alcohol or smokes pot. "If I was stoned or drunk, all this would be for nothing. You can't be a survivalist if you're not on your game."

He continues: "It's kind of my way of being there for my community, because that's what survivalism is all about for me. Some survivalists think just they and their wife are going to hole up underground, but you can't survive alone. Eventually they are going to run out of supplies and have to come up and join a group. It's better to work with your community beforehand.

A Zombie Squad flyer.
Mike Dressler
A Zombie Squad flyer.

"When I found out about Zombie Squad [this summer], I was like, 'Yeah!' because they were young people, not creepy survivalist old men. They have a genuine purpose to help society."

Langhorst's boss, Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, regularly donates space at the Royale for Zombie Squad movie nights, where the group collects canned food for the Lemay food pantry Feed My People.

"If shit went down in St. Louis, my plan is to stay open during all of it, unless it's something like a dirty bomb that's going to spread radiation all over my place," says Smith, who keeps a stockade of water in the pub's basement.

"Then I might leave, but if it's just a couple buildings blown up downtown, or even if there's a riot, I'm staying put. Even in New Orleans, when they had Katrina, there were bars that stayed open the whole time."

In 2005 the Zombie Squad raised $3,000 for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and Spencer volunteered for three weeks in Gulfport, Mississippi, dispensing supplies to individuals and shelters. Others helped coordinate the emergency effort for local refugees.

Shortly after St. Louis' late-November ice storm, a handful of squad members spent a full day assisting displaced locals at a Red Cross emergency center on North Kingshighway. Spencer and Ladd, the squad's organizational gurus, are dedicated members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team.

"They've been reliable, compassionate, dedicated volunteers for two years, and been able to make sure we're able to provide services to families who are dealing with disasters," says Becky White, a Red Cross disaster specialist.

The squad's most recent blood drive, in November, was cohosted by the Arch Rival Rollergirls and drew more than 100 blood-letters to the St. Louis Police Officers' Association Lodge on Hampton Avenue. After donating their pints, participants were treated to barbecue and the classic, black-and-white films White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. (It was decided beforehand that modern, blood-drenched fare would probably be a bad idea.)

"We're trying to hit a demographic that the Red Cross wouldn't really hit," says Ladd. "Other civilian disaster-response groups consist of volunteers who are retired, who a lot of young people can't relate to. We're trying to change the image of these volunteer organizations. They need another generation to get involved."

Most Zombie Squad members can point to a particular book, movie or family member that sparked their interest in survivalism. For Jennifer Spencer, it was a juvenile novel she read as a girl in Connecticut, The Island Keeper, which tells the story of a sixteen-year-old debutante who flees her family for a deserted Canadian island. After her canoe is destroyed, she's left to fend for herself.

"From that point on, every time we had a hurricane, I'd go and get the basement ready," Spencer gleefully recalls. "I was so excited. I'd bring canned food and water down and make sure there were flashlights — although we never needed it."

Kyle Ladd's father, a survivalist himself, kept a generator in the basement of the family's Alexandria, Louisiana, home, as well as a deep freezer full of duck and deer he'd killed. Ladd describes his dad as a "gun nut" who regularly took him camping and hunting. "Mom wasn't into it, but he was really into being prepared," Ladd recalls.

Growing up at the height of Cold War tensions taught Chris Cyr to be resourceful. "We were told you were supposed to cover your basement windows with dirt, to keep out radiation," says the 30-year-old accountant. "I remember hearing that St. Louis was a target, because we had the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency and McDonnell Douglas.

"There's always the fantasy that you're the last person left after some type of disaster, and you're responsible for rebuilding society or keeping certain customs alive. A lot of the Twilight Zone episodes are exactly that plotline. It definitely resonates with kids."

After more than a decade of détente between the United States and the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan's build-up of the country's nuclear arsenal put fallout shelters and duck-and-cover films back into the everyday lexicon.

Some 100 million Americans watched Soviet missiles rain down upon towns near the Missouri/Kansas border in ABC's 1983 made-for-TV movie, The Day After, which many Zombie Squad members cite as being particularly influential.

The survivalist movement is relatively young. Not long ago, stockpiling resources for your family wasn't called survivalism — it was called everyday life. The term is said to have been coined in the 1970s by Kurt Saxon, whose newsletter, The Survivor, preached common-sense self-sufficiency techniques.

« Previous Page
Next Page »