The electrical grid could fail tomorrow, he frequently warns. Food would disappear from the shelves. Water would no longer flow from the pipes. Money might become worthless. People could turn on each other, and millions would die.
Such concerns are typical among “survivalists,” a loose national movement of individuals who advocate self-sufficiency in the face of natural or man-made disasters, gathering online or in person to discuss the best ways to prepare for the worst.
What is atypical is that the owner of this cabin is Roscoe G. Bartlett, the longtime Republican congressman from Maryland. Over the past two decades, he has developed a following as one of the country’s premier proponents of preparedness against impending doom, even urging the more than 80 percent of Americans who live in urban areas to relocate.
“There are a number of events that could create a situation in the cities where civil unrest would be a very high probability,” Bartlett predicts in “Urban Danger,” a documentary that features the cabin tour. “And I think that those who can and those who understand need to take advantage of the opportunity when these winds of strife are not blowing, to move their families.”
Bartlett, 86, is a patent-holding scientist, an engineer and a farmer. He has also become one of the country’s most endangered Republicans.
Maryland Democrats redrew his reliably red congressional district this year to include a swath of blue-leaning Montgomery County, leading analysts to call the second-oldest member of the House an underdog in his November reelection bid against financier John Delaney (D).
But the possibility of electoral defeat does not appear to have changed Bartlett’s focus — to alert Americans to a future fraught with danger. On Sept. 30, barely a month before Election Day, he will be in Spokane, Wash., more than 2,000 miles away from his district, serving as the keynote speaker at the second annual Sustainable Preparedness Expo.
Bartlett, who declined a one-on-one interview, recently sat around a Capitol Hill conference room table with a group of like-minded experts to unveil legislation that calls for “every citizen to develop an individual emergency plan to prepare for the absence of government assistance for extended periods” and for communities to become capable of providing 20 percent of their own power, food and water if necessary.
The electric grid, everyone agreed, is vulnerable to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. “This is possibly the most serious threat the United States faces right now, because we are so utterly unprepared for it,” said Richard Andres, a senior fellow at National Defense University.