At a Go Green Energy Expo organized by his office in Frederick last month, Bartlett mentioned “One Second After” and asked, “How many of you have read the book?” He asked the same question at the recent Capitol Hill event.
The 2009 novel imagines an EMP attack on the United States, focusing on efforts to survive by residents of a North Carolina mountain town. “One Second After” was written by William R. Forstchen, who is also known for co-writing counterfactual historical novels with former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Forstchen paid tribute to Bartlett as “a true public servant” in the book’s acknowledgments, and Bartlett returned the praise, inserting a statement into the Congressional Record in 2009 advising Americans to read it.
Bartlett became interested in preparedness during the Cold War, when people and businesses commonly built bunkers in case of a nuclear attack. Yet, it seemed that no one was thinking about the next step.
“When you came out of the fallout shelter, what then?” Bartlett wondered.
Bartlett’s warnings aren’t necessarily tinged with fear; the scientist seems to view self-reliance as a puzzle to be solved, just as he appears to take a special pride in showing off the efficiencies of his “off-grid” West Virginia cabin.
“It’s just plain fun, when you’re looking at the challenge: What do I have to do so I’m independent of the system?” Bartlett asks in “Urban Danger.”
Bartlett bought his property in the Monongahela National Forest in 1980. It cost about $1,000 to build the cabin, he says in the documentary, with much of the materials brought in by cart because the road was so rough.
The main attraction in the kitchen is a wood-burning cookstove, which also heats the house and its water. There is also a small propane stove, for use “as long as propane is available,” and a hand-operated pump that brings water up from an underground spring.
“Whatever level you’re concentrating on, being as self-sufficient as you can, as quickly as you can, is going to be the right thing to do,” he says.
In “America’s Cities,” a separate documentary with similar themes, Bartlett approvingly cites the financial adviser and author Howard Ruff — an influential figure among survivalists — who counseled that “the most important investment you can make” is to have a year’s supply of food for your family, and “the second-most important investment” is a thousand-dollar stash of silver coins and jewelry to bargain with in an emergency.
“This is great advice for anybody,” Bartlett says. “And maybe you can’t buy a year’s supply of food. All the Lord expects you to do is what you can do.”
Bartlett is a devout Seventh-day Adventist and an active member of his congregation in Frederick. When he enrolled at Columbia Union College, he planned to become a minister. He chose to become a scientist instead but earned an undergraduate degree in theology.
Like Bartlett, many of the people in the two documentaries are Adventists. Bartlett’s office confirmed that the films’ producers connected with the lawmaker because of their shared faith. (The producer of “Urban Danger” declined to comment on his relationship with Bartlett, and the director of “America’s Cities” did not respond to requests for comment.)
The idea that the end of the world is near, and that people will be judged, is a key tenet of Adventist beliefs. “It’s right at the core,” said Ronald Numbers, a University of Wisconsin professor who has written books on the faith’s history.
But Numbers estimated that only a small percentage of Adventists prepare for end times by moving to remote locations and storing food.
For Bartlett, the lifestyle his cabin affords him is ideal, regardless of whether disaster strikes.
“I have no television, and you can’t really get radio there very well. . . . We just don’t turn it on,” Bartlett says of his cabin in “America’s Cities.” “I enjoy being isolated. And I ask myself, you know, if the world fell apart I wouldn’t know it here, would I?”