If you’re looking for a reason the world will suddenly end, it’s not hard to find one—especially if your job is to convince people they need to buy things to prepare for the apocalypse. “World War III, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Joe Biden—you know, everything that’s messed up in the world,” Ron Hubbard, the CEO of Atlas Survival Shelters, told me. His Texas-based company sells bunkers with bulletproof doors and concrete walls to people willing to shell out several thousand—and up to millions—of dollars for peace of mind about potential catastrophic events. Lately, interest in his underground bunkers has been booming. “When the war broke out in Ukraine, my phone was ringing every 45 seconds for about two weeks,” he said.
Many of his clients work in tech: Although the prepper movement in America spans the upper and middle classes, the left and the right, Silicon Valley has in recent years become its epicenter. In his book Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, Douglas Rushkoff delves into what he calls “The Mindset”—the idea among Silicon Valley doomsday preppers that “winning” means earning enough money to escape the damage that befalls everyone else. In 2018, Bloomberg reported that seven tech entrepreneurs had purchased bunkers in New Zealand. And a 2016 New Yorker profile of Sam Altman quoted the OpenAI CEO as saying he had “guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force, and a big patch of land in Big Sur I can fly to” in the event of super-contagious viruses, nuclear war, and AI “that attacks us.”