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“the oddest congressman”
January 5, 2014 1:28 PM   Subscribe

The Congressman Who Went Off the Grid
Roscoe Bartlett spent 20 years on Capitol Hill. Now he lives in a remote cabin in the woods, prepping for doomsday.
posted by andoatnp (72 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hope he's printed out all his bitcoins.
posted by Behemoth at 1:34 PM on January 5 [21 favorites]


He’s a Second Amendment proponent who has never owned a gun.
Once the Graboids learn how to use the internet they'll finally know the correct goddamn rec room to break into.
posted by Redfield at 1:42 PM on January 5 [9 favorites]


Now he lives in a remote cabin in the woods, prepping for doomsday.

one ex-Congressman -- that's to be expected.
three or more -- I'm starting to get worried.
posted by philip-random at 1:56 PM on January 5 [15 favorites]


If you check the Talk page, you will see they have stripped his Wikipedia entry of an embarrassing reference to the Sun Myung Moon scandal.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:57 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]


I am extremely impressed with that cabin. Dang. My hiking club also has a cabin in the wilds of West Virginia which the members built with their own hands years before I joined. It's . . . solid. That's about all that can be said for it though. AND, through talking with other members, I have learned that it was a PAIN to build, especially carting the cast-iron stove into the woods in a wheelbarrow.

Bartlett's cabin? Nicer than my current house. Sheesh.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:11 PM on January 5


... stresses his reliance on only very basic technology to make his little corner of West Virginia livable—the solar panels ...

Boy are people good at glossing over contradictions.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:16 PM on January 5 [38 favorites]


What about that one who turned blue from drinking silver colloidal "medicine"? Maybe he was a State politician, though, not a Congressman.

You can't ask for better truth in advertising than a politician doing that - it says, very clearly, "I'm crazy as hell, but you elected me anyway". Perhaps something like delivering speeches dressed in a Big Bird costume would be the peer of this, but the silver is for life.
posted by thelonius at 2:16 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Limiting the role of government consumed much of his life for the 20 years he spent in Congress,

Sorry to be a dick, but I do hope he is consumed with fear up there in his little cabin. Like, I hope he has nightmares every night. Yeah, I'm bloodthirsty.
posted by angrycat at 2:18 PM on January 5 [25 favorites]


I always love it when these doomsday/prepper people have "internet via satellite" in their "doomsday cabin." Because these things just run themselves.
posted by nevercalm at 2:20 PM on January 5 [14 favorites]


People who think that they should be prepared for the collapse of civilzation are allowed to have internet access and TV and such, you know. And having it doesn't mean they believe it will keep working after civilization collapses.
posted by Flunkie at 2:28 PM on January 5 [26 favorites]



one ex-Congressman -- that's to be expected.
three or more -- I'm starting to get worried.


A member of the House? Pshaw!

Harry motherfucking Truman refused to evacuate when Mt. St Helens was gonna explode.

"I don't have any idea whether it will blow[...] But I don't believe it to the point that I'm going to pack up."Truman discarded all of his concerns about the volcano and his situation, at one point stating, "If the mountain goes, I'm going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain't gonna hurt me... boy." According to The Bulletin, he responded to being knocked from his bed by precursor earthquakes by moving his mattress to his basement.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:30 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


If you read beyond the first few paragraphs you'll find this is not Ted Kacynzski. He has a wife and ten children who presumably put up with this, and has a consulting job that he occasionally goes to. Obviously all that physical activity is making Bartlett healthy. Yes, he has the Internet and solar panels, but with all the cabins and redundancy they likely could simply huddle up if the solar panels broke down.

Terrorism is not necessarily destruction but disruption. Look at how a couple of young men with a backpack bomb ended up disrupting Boston for an entire day and putting the city in fear. Any two-bit terrorist can see that, and with the declining cost of technology it stands possible that an organized group, say a rogue foreign government, could deploy EMPs.
posted by calwatch at 2:32 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


hal_c_on is going to confuse Millennials reading the thread big time
posted by angrycat at 2:32 PM on January 5 [16 favorites]


Harry motherfucking Truman refused to evacuate when Mt. St Helens was gonna explode.

Yeah, not the former US President Harry Truman, just some random guy named Harry Truman.
posted by Slinga at 2:37 PM on January 5 [19 favorites]


hal_c_on is going to confuse Millennials reading the thread big time

That billet was already filled by nature.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:39 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Yeah, not the former US President Harry Truman, just some random guy named Harry Truman.

WHAT THE?!?!?!

Ok. I've been telling this story for like a decade and NOBODY has ever corrected me. Thanks, Slinga.

My bad.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:42 PM on January 5 [26 favorites]


I like hal_c_on's version better, so Ima stick with that.
posted by Think_Long at 2:46 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]


The Congressman Who Went Off the Grid

... ah, so he's one o' them greenie liberal whackos ...


... lives in a remote cabin in the woods, prepping for doomsday ...

... ah, so he's one o' them paranoid conservative whackos.


Wait ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:49 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Take a memo!

Idea for film: "The Loneliest Congressman". Political rom-com with manic pixie dream staffer love interest. Call Clooney's people.
posted by thelonius at 3:01 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


...especially carting the cast-iron stove into the woods in a wheelbarrow

At least look at the picture at the front of the article, he's got a road and a John Deer tractor with a front bucket. Out of the way but probably within 30 minutes of a store. And if you sound really crazy fewer annoying folks come around to bug you. Nice.
posted by sammyo at 3:07 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


The nearest shopping mall is more than an hour’s drive away.

Rustic.
posted by sammyo at 3:09 PM on January 5 [21 favorites]


hal_c_on wins the Emperor Reverend Moon's crown!
posted by bukvich at 3:31 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


We laugh, and I, at least, find this man's politics and many of his actions in congress revolting, but this article does trigger my deep-seated fear of societal collapse. I find it hard to come by information about this on the internet that isn't propagated by racist, fanatic survivalists hoping to act out their grim power fantasies, but what are the actual scenarios we'd face if an EMP from an errant solar flare or some kind of bomb knocks out power in North America in the long term? Will I starve, freeze, or be eaten by marauders? Or is there a better scenario?

I guess I'm just worrying out loud. If this is actually dumb and unlikely, please tell me! That would be great.
posted by branduno at 3:33 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Did he go so far off the grid that he is living without his pension and health care?

Or is he actually just retired?
posted by srboisvert at 3:42 PM on January 5 [40 favorites]


TFA links to both a NatGeo article, and a Lloyd's of London analysis on that exact topic, Branduno. My takeaway from the analysis is that we probably will be having another superstorm sometime within the next 50 years or so, and the likelihood of it causing quite a bit of damage is high, but a doomsday scenario isn't going to happen, and the likelihood of the Eastern Seaboard losing the grid altogether for very long is pretty low. The numbers in the article are the worst-case scenario.
posted by KGMoney at 3:43 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


benito.strauss: "
Boy are people good at glossing over contradictions.
"

An American politician adept at glossing over contradictions?!
An American journalist adept at glossing over contradictions?!

This is my shocked face.
posted by chavenet at 3:44 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


This is my shocked face.
posted by chavenet at 3:44 PM on January 5 [+] [!]


Probably something wrong with your solar panels.
posted by klanawa at 3:45 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]


but what are the actual scenarios we'd face if an EMP from an errant solar flare or some kind of bomb knocks out power in North America?

You'll probably be fine.
posted by gkhan at 3:46 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


I'd rather take my chances with errant solar flares than errant Tea Partiers.
posted by arcticseal at 3:48 PM on January 5 [13 favorites]


WHAT THE?!?!?!

Ok. I've been telling this story for like a decade and NOBODY has ever corrected me.


well, don't stop now -- it's on its way to becoming folklore
posted by philip-random at 4:00 PM on January 5 [5 favorites]


We laugh, and I, at least, find this man's politics and many of his actions in congress revolting, but this article does trigger my deep-seated fear of societal collapse. I find it hard to come by information about this on the internet that isn't propagated by racist, fanatic survivalists hoping to act out their grim power fantasies, but what are the actual scenarios we'd face if an EMP from an errant solar flare or some kind of bomb knocks out power in North America in the long term? Will I starve, freeze, or be eaten by marauders? Or is there a better scenario?
I plan on joining Forktine's militia.
posted by Flunkie at 4:07 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


You'll probably be fine.

But will your computers and the contents of their hard drives/SSDs be fine, or will you wake up to a digital Year Zero?
posted by acb at 4:09 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


What about that one who turned blue from drinking silver colloidal "medicine"?

That's failed Montana politician Stan Jones.
posted by msbrauer at 4:24 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Thanks, KGMoney, I missed those links in the article. That's relatively reassuring, though I kept wishing the Daniel Baker that the National Geographic article was quoting would stop saying "Imagine what the consequences might be," and actually just lay out what the consequences might be. Still that and the Lloyd's report make me feel better.

Thanks everyone, I think I can go back to worrying about my usual doomsday scenario, which this article also made me worry about: the Tea Party dismantling the federal government.
posted by branduno at 4:25 PM on January 5


I plan on joining Forktine's militia.

See, that's actually great. Probably if it all goes wrong we should just be nice to each other. That's what I think. I think it would be good if we're just nice.

But will your computers and the contents of their hard drives/SSDs be fine, or will you wake up to a digital Year Zero?

Yeah there's also that. But if the solar flares or whatever are also enough to knock out backups from cloud storage, I guess I'm not longer worried about my DRM-free copy of Fez.
posted by branduno at 4:39 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


The article hangs on the implicit assumptions that preparedness is an outgrowth of a paranoid political outlook, and that concerns about sustainability, scarcity, living with less, increased self-reliance deserve to be marginalized and mocked. You don't have to be paranoid (or a right-winger) to be prepared, and if this were an article about a retired liberal congressperson living his principles through solar power, reducing oil consumption, root cellaring and using a grain mill, the frame would look very different.

I had friends in Bartlett's district, conservative Republicans, and I remember hearing the rustle of newspaper, a sigh, and "Oh, Roscoe" followed by a rueful chuckle over Roscoe's Follies on more than one occasion. Bartlett represented himself as a good old boy -- the exact type of person who would have a cabin in WV, and display antlers, and appeal to "the Real America." So, uh, *shrug,* this profile evinces an entirely ridiculous measure of amazement.

I have no love for his politics. At all. I have some respect for his conscious decision to abandon much of the ease he could be enjoying as a retired .gov (all the while suspecting that there's some good government healthcare that has helped him reach his current spry state). Do you know how much *labor* is required to live as he does? He has put in work, and has spent time planning, and no matter how much I might disagree with his political history and actions while in office, I admire many of his current practices and wish more folks would start gardens and put up the harvest.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:56 PM on January 5 [23 favorites]


His politics are irrelevant. Evaluate the threat without regard to them, lest you end up in the camp of people who are climate change deniers because Democrat Gore warned about them.
posted by adipocere at 5:15 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Whenever an article says that someone in the 40s 0r 50s "worked their way through school" to get multiple postgrad degrees, it really irritates me that they never mention how much schools cost vs wages earned back then. Don't expect me to be impressed in the absence of actual facts, Politico.
posted by elizardbits at 5:15 PM on January 5 [28 favorites]


Yeah, not the former US President Harry Truman, just some random guy named Harry Truman.
WHAT THE?!?!?!
Ok. I've been telling this story for like a decade and NOBODY has ever corrected me. Thanks, Slinga.
My bad.


If you've watched Twin Peaks, I have some more bad news for you...
posted by one_bean at 5:16 PM on January 5 [5 favorites]


From Wikipedia:
"He is a member of the Republican Party and was a member of the Tea Party Caucus.'"

Say no more.

This just in... prominent fringe conspiracy theorist behaves surprisingly like a fringe conspiracy theorist.
posted by markkraft at 5:36 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


There is no such thing as a "random" Harry Truman, dammit.
posted by spitbull at 5:36 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


For an otherwise standard issue douchebag conservative he's way ahead of the curve as a former congressman who acknowledges peak oil and voted for infrastructure upgrades. The electrical grid is a real problem and all it takes is a political choice to maintain and upgrade it. The labor and materials are there. Our politics follow from the narrative of quarterly profit reports, so it doesn't happen.

In Bartlett’s case, that’s a lifestyle that relies on the government and other people as little as possible.

This is where preppers typically miscalculate - if we're reduced to more or less 19th century technology at some point in the near future you're not going to survive for more than a year without being part of a sizable community that works together. The illusion of rugged individualism can only exist in an industrial age world where energy is effectively free.
posted by MillMan at 5:37 PM on January 5 [21 favorites]


I like the Harry Truman prepper story, facts be damned.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:39 PM on January 5


I would out, though, that THAT Harry Truman (having retired before ex-presidents were entitled to a pension, a staff, or any other benefits) lived for years on his modest army pension, as he and Bess travelled the US in a camper. It sounds like a brilliant idea for a sitcom, in my view.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:41 PM on January 5 [9 favorites]


Limiting the role of government consumed much of his life for the 20 years he spent in Congress, leaving little time simply to sit by his lake and watch the sun go down and the bats come out.

The things this man did just to avoid stopping in bat country. And now there he is, all the time.
posted by compartment at 5:41 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


There is no such thing as a "random" Harry Truman, dammit.

I don't know, I've had a peek at the DM's guide and found Table 17-3, which clearly says Harry Truman gets to be President on a roll of 00, but allows for the possibility of other Harry Trumen.
posted by JHarris at 5:50 PM on January 5 [12 favorites]


I'd like to live in a remote cabin in the woods. Oh, the sweet sweet quiet.

If it required me preparing for doomsday, I'd probably see it a fair trade.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:55 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Nature isn't quiet, though! Nature is fucking loud and doesn't care in the least for any of that sleeping past dawn nonsense. Also nature likes to bite you in places that are inconvenient to scratch.
posted by elizardbits at 5:59 PM on January 5 [9 favorites]


It's still quieter than my old neighbours in Texas.
posted by arcticseal at 6:09 PM on January 5


Harry Trumans are the product of Intelligent Design. It is obvious only God could make a Harry Truman. Just look at the fucking hat, for starters.
posted by spitbull at 6:17 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Having lived over an hour from the nearest mall, in a cabin so old it had a historical plaque, this would only be an ideal if one has the money for his sweet set up. And if one enjoyed living that rural. Nature is dangerous. Nine months in the cabin cured me of any Snow White Syndrome I may have had after becoming a pagan. After having spent most of my life learning survival skills, the cabin left me with a strong desire to run towards the epicenter of any disaster that would lead to a survivalist life-style for those that lived through it.

It does seem, with his intent to build enough houses for all ten of his adult children, he IS planning some form of community. I see it going rather Colorado City in a couple generations.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:36 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


It's suddenly just struck me that the Doomsday preppers mindset feels like they've got a little bit of the Cozy CAtastrophe thing going on.

And this guy isn't the oddest congressman - that would be Jim Traficant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 PM on January 5


Nature isn't quiet, though! Nature is fucking loud and doesn't care in the least for any of that sleeping past dawn nonsense. Also nature likes to bite you in places that are inconvenient to scratch.

Will nature keep pestering me to give it something to eat at the crack of dawn? If nature can fend for itself while I put in a pair of earplugs, it still sounds like a good deal.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:38 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Itdoes seem, with his intent to build enough houses for all ten of his adult children, he IS planning some form of community.

A couple generations after The Fall, the young bucks of Clan Bartlett will periodically sharpen their spears and swords in preparation for raising the nearby villages...
posted by happyroach at 1:11 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


a strong desire to run towards the epicenter of any disaster that would lead to a survivalist life-style for those that lived through it.

I plan on putting in a token effort at surviving, for the sake of appearances, and then red-shirting out of here before the serious cannibalism starts up.
posted by thelonius at 2:12 AM on January 6 [6 favorites]


I figure that'll happen whether I plan for it or not.
posted by box at 3:28 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit: Harry Truman (having retired before ex-presidents were entitled to a pension, a staff, or any other benefits) lived for years on his modest army pension, as he and Bess travelled the US in a camper. It sounds like a brilliant idea for a sitcom, in my view.
The Littlest Ex-President.
Pitch: former President HARRY S. TRUMAN roams from town to town helping people in need.
Potential stars: Joshua Jackson, Katie Holmes, London the Dog.

The Incredible Ex-President.
Pitch: After dosing himself with blasts of gamma radiation, former President HARRY S. TRUMAN roams from town to town helping people in need.
Potential stars: Joshua Jackson, Katie Holmes, London the Dog.

Call my agent to see a spec script.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:54 AM on January 6 [7 favorites]


as somebody with mobility impairments, my model for survival post-apocalypse is Herschel minus the Bible and daughters. Also I would shoot more people than he does, I think, because I have a shorter temper.
posted by angrycat at 6:05 AM on January 6


Harry Truman serenading Lauren Bacall.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:20 AM on January 6


This has nothing to do with the topic, really, but I was once walking through the Cannon Tunnel from the House side to the Capitol en route to the Senate side, and I passed Bartlett. I knew it was him because he was talking VERY LOUDLY on his cell phone, and he made sure that the person to whom he was talking know that ihe was ROSCOE BARTLETT.
posted by wintermind at 6:21 AM on January 6


Bartlett wasn't a bad guy. He was generally pretty libertarian, but had a decent environmental record and wasn't a grandstander, like the current crop of teabaggers that the exurbs have elected. He and Wayne Gilchrest from the eastern shore of Maryland were the last of the rural moderate Republicans in Maryland.

Gilchrest got primaried from the right, and Bartlett got redistricted into some urban areas where he had zero recognition. Gilchrest ended up endorsing the Democratic challenger, saying "Let's see, the Republican Party, or my eternal soul?" and "Party loyalty, or integrity?"

Bartlett is a bit of a doomer, but he's not a militia member or anything. He's just sort of a crank, like lots of old engineers turn into.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:29 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


See, that's actually great. Probably if it all goes wrong we should just be nice to each other. That's what I think. I think it would be good if we're just nice.


The gigantic ice storm in 1998 that knocked out power for weeks over vast areas is probably as good a model as you might have for seeing how people react to being plunged into the stone age, and a good after action report is the article Powerless, from Wired in April, 1999
posted by dglynn at 9:19 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


They're the Harry Trumen!
The very rarely blue men!
They sometimes prep
And march lock step
It's the Harry Trumen!

I expect royalties if this becomes the sitcom theme song.
posted by jiawen at 9:20 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


I love this thread so much.
posted by Ratio at 9:45 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I have to laugh at his "log" cabin, which is a high-end manufactured kit house made of machined "logs" of a type like the one up the road from my shitty shitty moldy sagging leaky cabin in West Virginia, which has glass-fronted wine refrigerators, a goddamn Aga stove running off a huge propane tank, a humidor room, and permanently installed Christmas lights. Also, if his place is a four-hour drive from DC, it's probably somewhere in the Eastern Panhandle, which is only vaugely remote. This guy's about as genuinely roughing it as Thoreau was when he built his playhouse in his mommy's backyard. Wish I had a solar panel at my place, so I could watch Bridesmaids on my laptop while squirrels mate in the attic without having the battery run down, but I don't have his big ol' pension.

I suspect a lot of the seeming weirdness of Roscoe Bartlett is exaggerated by the fact that most folks don't live in a hotbed of Adventism, because I grew up a half hour away from their holy land, Takoma Park, Maryland, and Adventists are all sort of weird in the ways he's weird. It's just part of the Adventist cosmology of half-hippie-health-nut/half-zany-American-Christian-eschatologist in a very similar vein to the wonky aspects of LDS (Note here that your mileage, religiously speaking, may vary).
posted by sonascope at 9:59 AM on January 6 [6 favorites]


From "Powerless," linked above:
Without power, many people discovered that their first source of support was not their government, but their neighbors, who banded together in homes with generator-powered heat or woodstoves.
It's not that there was no role for the government during this calamity, either:
In an outage, generators are precious. During the ice storm, they saved thousands of lives and businesses, and the effort to distribute, install, and fuel them was perhaps the most pivotal service that government performed.
But yeah, being prepared means acknowledging at some level that the government (in whatever federal or local form) may not be able to respond to everyone's needs immediately, and prepping can serve as a buffer until the cavalry comes; neighbor relations are very, very important in this period and lone wolf fantasies are no replacement for mutual aid in a tight spot.

Suggested reading on preparedness:

* Amanda Ripley's "The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why."
* A short list of Ask MetaFilter posts on disaster preparedness
* Grace under fire; Being Winston Wolf For Dummies
* Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out
* Red Cross First Aid classes

Doomsday is the wrong frame (although I think Bartlett has a point about realistically evaluating and supporting the strength of the U.S. electrical grid). Without electricity, could you keep a cool head, a warm body, and a full belly for three days? A week? That's worth thinking about, but not being afraid of, because it could happen. (She says, as she waits for ice to accumulate on the swaying power lines.)

My .02 anyhow.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:04 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]


What does he expect to happen to his solar panels when the EMP or solar flare hits?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:08 AM on January 6


He probably expects that they will stop working.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:13 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I remember watching Mount St. Helens blow from my vantage point in SW Portland, and thinking "Well, so much for the Marshall plan."
posted by malocchio at 11:23 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


if this were an article about a retired liberal congressperson living his principles through solar power, reducing oil consumption, root cellaring and using a grain mill, the frame would look very different.

Indeed, if this were an article about someone completely different with different motivations, it would be a different article.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:17 PM on January 6


That was my congressman. If you had told me that someday he wouldn't seem so bad, I wouldn't have believed you.
posted by acrasis at 5:42 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Harry S Truman had been dead for more than seven years ... yet he still refused to evacuate. #americanhero
posted by lukemeister at 8:46 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


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