Survivalism is the practice of disaster preparedness. Although there are many types of survivalists, all believe that the collapse of society is imminent, either as a result of man-made disasters like nuclear holocaust or overpopulation, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and famine.

Survivalist practices range from the merely cautious (the building of bomb shelters during the 1950s or stockpiling water and canned goods in anticipation of Y2K) to the conspiratorial (preparing for a coming race war or biblical apocalypse). Kurt Saxon, a survivalist writer, claims to have coined the term in the 1970s.

Saxon (given name Don Sisco) is a former John Birch Society member, and the author of numerous self-published books and pamphlets, including The Poor Man’s James Bond, a guide to homemade explosives, and Granddad’s Wonderful Book of Chemistry, featuring methods of home manufacturing of bombs. Saxon gained notoriety in 1970 after appearing before a Senate subcommittee investigating bombings and terrorism.

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, survivalism has become closely associated with several white supremacist groups, like the Posse Comitatus, the Christian-Patriots Defense League, the Covenant, Sword, Arm of the Lord, and Aryan Nations.

Unlike Saxon, an atheist whose writings often debunk conspiracy theories favored by right-wing extremists, members of these groups subscribe to Christian Identity theology, which teaches that Aryans are the true Israelites and that Jews are the literal children of Satan. Believing that the United States is on the verge of collapse and a race war, in the 1980s several of these groups created armed compounds in rural enclaves.

They stockpiled food, water, and weapons and began paramilitary training in preparation for the defense of the white race against the forces of the Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG), a Jewish-controlled shadow government they believed was amassing United Nations troops near the U.S.–Canadian border.

Many of these groups disbanded in the mid-1980s, after well-publicized skirmishes with federal authorities: leaders of the Posse Comitatus and the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord were convicted after separate shootouts with the FBI in rural Arkansas in 1983 and 1985 respectively. Aryan Nations and various splinter groups persist, however, with the movement energized after the incidents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.