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'It's Not Crazy': Colorado Woman Hopes to Re-Brand Doomsday Preparation Movement

Yes, there was a zombie defense van with a bloody plastic skeleton on its windshield.

Mike Peters, with Ultimate Bunker, lies on a bunk in a 100 percent steel underground bunker during the PrepperCon expo in Sandy, Utah.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
(TNS) — Yes, there were packets for decontaminating skin in the case of a biological attack.

Yes, there was a zombie defense van with a bloody plastic skeleton on its windshield.

But most of the vendors and speakers Sunday at the Self-Reliance Expo in Denver avoided alluding to apocalypse or the extreme. Instead, the event focused on growing vegetables, simple survival methods and staying healthy. The holistic take on survivalism is part of an attempt by the expo’s new owner to rebrand a movement long identified with conspiracy theorists and extremists.

“The van’s just for levity,” said Kiki Bandilla, the new owner of the expo and its parent organization, the National Self-Reliance Project.

For the past seven years, the Self-Reliance Expo has gathered survivalists, homesteaders and doomsday preppers at the National Western Complex. But Bandilla wants to rebrand the expo and the larger self-reliance movement for the average person who wants to be independent of modern luxuries.

Goodbye, men in long beards living in the woods ranting about the end of days. Hello, sustainability, hemp and health foods.

“This stuff is just smart — it’s not crazy,” Bandilla said. “What’s crazy is that we think it’s crazy to want to be independent.”

Bandilla, a Castle Rock resident and former president of the Las Vegas High Rise Association, bought the expo from its founder last year and brought her experience in corporate marketing and business development to the endeavor.

Now, the annual event’s official name is “The Self-Reliance and Simple Life Experience.” There’s a social media hashtag. The cover of the event’s program features a farmhouse in beautiful mountains.

To reshape the movement’s image, Bandilla recruited a wide variety of vendors and speakers to the two-day event she said attracted about 2,500 people.

For example, simultaneously at 1 p.m. Sunday, a man led a beginning lesson on beekeeping while a panel of officials from government agencies such as the Denver Office of Emergency Management and the American Red Cross discussed infrastructure. Across the room, a man gave a presentation on the best methods to survive nuclear fallout and electromagnetic pulse attacks.

Bandilla recognizes that the self-reliance industry is still driven by fear of the worst. But the survivalist methods and mindset can be applied to any of the small crises people experience every day, such as losing power or preparing to evacuate for a wildfire.

“Survival sounds so ominous, but it’s more about thriving,” she said.

While much of her community is comprised of baby boomers, Bandilla has seen a rising number of millennials join the cause as they shirk consumerism and attempt to live simpler lives.

Colorado is the perfect place for her project, Bandilla said. Denver has become a hub for outdoors people who are interested in wilderness survival and first aid techniques. Many in Colorado also support efforts toward sustainability and a large swath of the state is relatively rural.

“There is a ton of congruency with the lifestyle of Colorado,” she said.

Vendors at the expo hawked knifes, gold bars, backpacking food, tiny homes, “frequency modified water,” solar panels and goat’s milk lotion on a table next to an actual goat named Anabelle.

For Doug Robinson, self-reliance is important to both his company and his personal life. Robinson sells his portable dome shelters to disaster relief groups, emergency responders and people who want to live off the grid year round.

But he also has his own survival in mind. Robinson lives in Springville, Utah, along a large fault line, he said. Someday, there will be a catastrophic earthquake that will cause the homes to sink and become uninhabitable, he said. He knows he can use his Geo Shelter to stay comfortable while waiting for relief.

“This is just a way for people to prepare for whatever might happen,” he said.


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