The Silicon Valley wealthy have become super doomsday preppers by buying remote New Zealand properties, getting eye surgeries, and stockpiling ammo and food

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Peter Thiel. Shutterstock and Neilson Barnard/Getty
  • Some of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest have developed a penchant for prepping for the apocalypse.
  • They’re turning to Lasik eye surgery and multimillion-dollar real-estate investments in New Zealand.
  • Investing for the end of the world has been embraced by the uber-rich, many of whom exist in Silicon Valley.

The so-called doomsday prepper community has been preparing for disaster, especially since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

A divisive political climate has also contributed to what has become increasingly uncertain times. A Texas bunker producer, who makes millions selling doomsday shelters, said his pro-Trump clients often bring up their political views, citing President Joe Biden’s administration as a reason for wanting to prepare for disaster.

The wealthiest in society, from Silicon Valley to Wall Street and beyond, take it to a whole other level, perhaps simply because they can afford to.

From buying up land in New Zealand to getting Lasik eye surgery, here’s how and why some of the biggest names in tech have invested in doomsday prepping.

Survivalism is a movement whose participants actively prepare for a political, social, or natural global emergency by stockpiling food, weaponry, and other supplies.
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A prepper in Warrenton, North Carolina on December 13, 2012. Chris Keane/Reuters
It’s more commonly referred to as “doomsday prepping.”
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A prepper in Warrenton, North Carolina on December 13, 2012. Chris Keane/Reuters
Source: The New Yorker
There are subreddits and Facebook groups devoted to the community, and it’s perforated pop culture in recent years, with TV programs like National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers” series that kicked off in 2012.
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A bunker at Utah Shelter Systems in North Salt Lake, Utah, on December 12, 2012. Jim Urquhart/Reuters
Source: The New Yorker
There’s an entire “doom boom” industry consisting of companies that sell emergency prep equipment.
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Phil Burns pulls a gun from his backpack full of survival supplies at his home in American Fork, Utah, December 14, 2012. Jim Urquhart/Reuters
Source: NPR
An estimated 20% of Americans participate in some sort of doomsday prepping, according to a survey by Finder, which tracks spending habits.
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A prepper’s home in Warrenton, North Carolina on December 13, 2012. Chris Keane/Reuters
Source: Finder
But how the average American prepares is going to look a lot different from how the wealthiest in society will go about it.
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Prepper Jeff Nice looks at his farm in Kinston, North Carolina on December 14, 2012. Chris Keane/Reuters
Investing in insurance for the end of the world has infiltrated the global elite lifestyle, and Silicon Valley’s most notable figures are no exception.
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Ex-Y Combinator president Sam Altman. Florence Fu/Tech Insider
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman told The New Yorker in 2017 that he bought motorcycles, guns, and ammo for his San Francisco home in the event of a disaster.
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San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Source: The New Yorker
He said he became inspired to take precautions for potential disaster scenarios after seeing the movie “Deep Impact.”
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A comet slams into the Atlantic Ocean in the movie, causing a tsunami. Paramount / ‘Deep Impact’
Source: The New Yorker
And while most have at least motorcycles, guns, and gold coins stocked up in case of a catastrophe, that’s at the tame end of the spectrum.
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Phil Burns, a firearms instructor, holds a handgun that he carries as part of his survival supplies at his home in American Fork, Utah, December 14, 2012. Jim Urquhart/Reuters
Source: The New Yorker
Huffman got Lasik eye surgery to increase his odds of surviving some kind of world disaster. Yishan Wong, who served as CEO of Reddit from 2012 to 2014, did the same.
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Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Source: The New Yorker
The head of an investment firm told The New Yorker that he keeps a gassed-up helicopter on standby at all times and has an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.
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An example of an underground bunker. Damian Dovarganes/AP Images
Source: The New Yorker
Tim Chang, managing director at the venture capital firm Mayfield Fund, told The New Yorker that he keeps a set of bags packed for him and his family in case of a disaster. He also invests in real estate for passive income and to have safehouses in place.
A man drags a suitcase. JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images
Source: The New Yorker
Ex-Yahoo exec and current 500 Startups partner Marvin Liao said he took archery classes to be able to protect his family in the event that all hell broke loose.
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A Cirque Berserk performer in 2016. Reuters
Source: The New Yorker
Doomsday real estate purchases have also become a trend.
The Survival Condo Project, a doomsday development. Courtesy of Survival Condo Project
LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman told The New Yorker he estimated that more than 50% of his “fellow Silicon Valley billionaires” have acquired some kind of doomsday hideaway spot in the US or elsewhere in the world.
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Reid Hoffman. Guru Khalsa
Source: The New Yorker
Antonio García Martínez, an ex-Facebook product manager who lives in San Francisco, bought five acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest. His island home features generators, solar panels, and weaponry.
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Washington State in 2015. Martinez’s land is not pictured. Ted S. Warren/AP
Source: The New Yorker
There could be many reasons why those with money in the Valley opt to invest in doomsday preparations.
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Peter Thiel. Scott Olson/Getty Images
One, as Huffman told The New Yorker, could be that Silicon Valley needs an exit strategy for when the angry masses retaliate against them for building the kind of automated technology that is replacing human workers.
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A robotic barista at San Francisco’s now-shuttered Cafe X coffee bar. Katie Canales/Business Insider
Source: The New Yorker
Political unrest is another potential factor.
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Activists protest the Palantir Technologies software company for allegedly helping ICE and the Trump administration in New York City, U.S., September 13, 2019. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Source: The New Yorker
But their mere wealth and circumstances could also be the simplest explanation, as well as the experience that comes with operating in the risk-heavy venture capital industry.
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Peter Thiel at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
As Wong, the former Reddit CEO, told The New Yorker, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this … is a logical thing to do.”
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Thiel’s net worth is an estimated $US2.3 ($AU3) billion. Andrew Harnik/AP
The most popular location for buying up apocalypse land has become New Zealand.
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Palmerston North, New Zealand, in 2011. David Gray/Reuters
“New Zealand is already utopia,” Silicon Valley billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel told Business Insider in 2011.
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Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011. Rob Griffith/AP Photo
Thiel owns two New Zealand properties and became a citizen in 2011.
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Then-President-elect Donald Trump shakes the hand of Peter Thiel at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty
Ex-president of famed accelerator Y Combinator Sam Altman said he also has his eyes trained on New Zealand in case of a disaster.
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Altman in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2018. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Source: The New Yorker
He told The New Yorker that he and Thiel had an escape route to New Zealand planned in case of some kind of cataclysmic collapse, like a nuclear war or a viral outbreak.
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Altman. Drew Angerer/Getty
Source: The New Yorker
The fixation on New Zealand could stem from one of Thiel’s favorite books.
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A view of Lake Wanaka in the Otago region of New Zealand. Ariel Schwartz/Business Insider
According to the Guardian’s Mark O’Connell, Thiel has long cited “The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State” as one of the most influential in his life.
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Thiel speaks at a Republican National Convention in 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Source: The Guardian
At its core, the book essentially details how a civilizational collapse would give way to the rise of the surviving “cognitive elite” who would then rebuild a new world after idling standing by – and hiding – as the existing way of life crumbled to pieces.
The front of a doomsday shelter. Courtesy of Survival Condo Project
Source: The Guardian
Thiel passed the book on through the Valley grapevine, spreading the concept to his colleagues in the tech community, according to The Guardian.
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Sam Altman. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Source: The Guardian
The book’s authors also pinpointed New Zealand as the prime spot to hole up until the dust settled following a fallout.
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Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Reuters
That fact, coupled with Thiel’s longtime fanaticism of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy – which was filmed in the country – is how Thiel and the rest of the tech elite made New Zealand their target apocalyptic hideout.
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Peter Thiel. Shutterstock and Neilson Barnard/Getty
According to The New Zealand Herald, Thiel bought a Queenstown mansion in 2011. He turned one of the home’s walk-in closets into a panic room.
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Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown in New Zealand in 2011. Alastair Grant/AP
Thiel obtained private citizenship of New Zealand in 2011 as well, despite only having spent 12 days in the country.
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Peter Thiel. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
And in 2015, he bought an estate on Lake Wanaka valued at around $US10 ($AU14) million.
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Lake Wanaka in 2008. Mark Baker/AP
Buying up New Zealand real estate became so popular among execs in the Valley that purchasing a house in New Zealand became Silicon Valley code for getting “apocalypse insurance,” as Business Insider’s Melia Russell reported in 2017.
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Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand in 2013. New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell/AP
Some tech execs have even reportedly already flocked to their bunkers in the country to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.
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A man enjoys some late afternoon autumn sunshine in a park in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sunday, April 5, 2020. Mark Baker/AP
And some in New Zealand resent that so much of the nation’s property has gone to wealthy foreign buyers who don’t live there permanently.
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Peter Thiel lives in Los Angeles, California. Tristan Fewings / Getty
Source: The New Yorker
So in 2018, the New Zealand Parliament passed a law barring most foreign visitors from purchasing homes or land within the country, which had begun exacerbating a nationwide housing crisis.
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Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, in 2018. Mark Baker/AP
“If you’ve got the right to live in New Zealand permanently, you’ve got the right to buy here. But otherwise it’s not a right, it’s a privilege,” New Zealand’s minister for economic development and trade David Parker said in 2018.
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David Parker in 2019. Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
The country of New Zealand requires foreigners who purchase land there to be “of good character,” a clause that affected former NBC host Matt Lauer when sexual-misconduct allegations arose in 2017.
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Matt Lauer. Slaven Vlasic / Stringer/Getty Images
Source:  Business Insider
Lauer purchased a 16,000-acre ranch valued at $US9.1 ($AU12) million in early 2017 before the allegations were made public. New Zealand ultimately allowed the former TV host to keep his land.
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Matt Lauer in 2016. Mike Sega/Reuters
The clause still applies to all New Zealand property owners – good character is “actively confirmed” throughout ownership periods.
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Lake Rotoiti on New Zealand’s South Island in 2016. Henning Gloystein/Reuters