Building Tribe, Part I – Forward Observer Shop

Building Tribe, Part I

I get asked a lot, both in training environments and via email, “John, I understand the importance of tribe, but how do I go about finding like-minded people to form a group? Should I join a group that already exists?” It’s a popular question in survivalist-prepper circles because it’s such a hard topic to consider.

Let’s think about this: It’s got to be people you can trust to not steal your belongings, to watch your back while you sleep or work, to not turn you in to the police or DHS as a “crazy, gun-nut prepper,” and finally, to not kill you when your back is turned. Yet, they also need to be interested in prepping so that significantly begins narrowing down the playing field, and let’s face it – there are a lot of preppers who seem to be running more than a few bricks shy of a load. Do you want the crazy dude that fantasizes about killing people to be pulling security while you sleep?  How do you know the socially inept, hermit-like prepper down the river isn’t a pedophile or rapist?

I am going to offer a simple, but admittedly challenging, process to building a tribe-like group of people for protection and mutual aid in times of discord.

Tribes and Bands

Evolutionary biology tells us that the human brain is capable of really knowing about 150 people, give or take. That is, speaking from the view of history and archeology, the outside limits of a tribe.  That’s a lot of people to know in-depth. It’s actually far more people than I’ve ever trusted over the entire span of my four decades on this planet.

The catch, of course, is that tribes generally are divided into sub-sets referred to as bands. These range from a dozen to two dozen or so adult members. The bands are tied together, sometimes by blood, sometimes by marriage or other oath, into the larger tribe. What we have to focus on is building our band, and letting the ties that bind us form those bands into tribes.

Identifying Your Band

Many survivalist-preppers will look at the idea of getting two dozen—or even a dozen—fellow preppers together into a group they feel they can truly trust, as being just as impossible as gathering 150. There’s a simpler way to go about it though.

Look around you and consider: who makes your survival important? Who in your life makes it necessary for you to be prepared to survive? Your kids, obviously. Your spouse, presumably. Who else? I’ll tell you straight up: if you cannot think of anyone else besides your wife and kids, you probably need to go ahead and eat your gun because you’re obviously a failure as a human being. Your siblings, your parents, your cousins, your best friend? Someone out there that you deal with regularly makes life worth living. Those people form the core of your band.

Out of those people, how many are actually capable of taking up arms in defense of kith and kin? Yourself, presumably. Your spouse, hopefully. Teenage or young adult children? Other adults? We don’t care at this point if they are interested in guns or even in prepping. Who could pick up a gun—with training—and bring the fight to an attacker?  Three or four families, with both parents, and even one or two kids total in their early teens can form the nucleus of a band.

In turn, each adult member of that band is going to have other friends who make life worth living. Those people will—undoubtedly—form their own bands of survivors, out of necessity. Aligned by mutual obligation of friendship or blood (kith and kin), you have just created the foundation of a tribe.

Forging Frith

The problem, of course, is that in today’s highly mobile American society, your “best friend” might be someone you’ve only known for a year or two. Even if they are preppers, they may not be close enough yet that you would feel comfortable relying on them to put their own life on the line to protect your family. We have to forge those bonds of loyalty that form the ancient concept of frith.

Tribalism—even at the band level—can be most simply defined as “us” versus “them”. We have to form a strong enough bond that our band members always identify as part of us. That is accomplished through episodes that build that mutual exclusivity. Recreational activities that separate the members of the band from the rest of society are a great way to begin doing this. Backpacking and camping trips, for example, are great tools for this, especially when something bad like poor weather or someone being hurt (minor injuries only, let’s hope), or something really awesome, like getting to watch a bear take down a deer, occurs. This is because later, as you recount the adventures, it doesn’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t there. That is reinforcing the mutual exclusivity. In my experience, there are few things that will make people feel like part of a team than complaining about bad weather in the woods.

But, I Don’t Know Any Other Preppers!

That doesn’t help, at first glance, if you don’t know any preppers. The reality, however, is that it doesn’t matter if they are preppers or not. It doesn’t even matter if they are into guns. It just matters if they are open and receptive to activities that you are. If they’re not… then why are you friends in the first place?

Most preppers, especially those concerned about being able to protect themselves and their families, would be well-served by dialing back the Doomsday rhetoric anyway. Seriously. What happens if the shit doesn’t hit the fan? The powers that be have done a pretty good job of patching things up enough to keep the boat afloat so far. Look at survivalist-prepper literature from the 1960s and 1970s. They though we’d all be fighting off hordes by now.

John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.


  1. It seems to me that starting a local/neighborhood co-op buying club for such items as pasture raised meats, various food items, food preserving equipment, water and food storage equipment, tools, ammo, etc would be a good way to get to know people and a way of learning about them and what their philosophies are in general conversations. If they share your philosophy the conversation can then be taken to the next level to judge their interest in starting a survival group or neighborhood protection group without giving away what your plans are.
    Here’s a good book that gives a lot of good info on how begin and build:

    “A Failure of Civility”
    A Book Review by: Matt Bracken

      1. Sam,
        It would be great if you could get Mike Garand and Jack Lawson on the podcast.
        Max Velocity would be a great guest also.

  2. It is helpful for us all to have access to examples, ideas and suggedtions for forming community among like-minded citizens. Please keep up the good work. God bless you]. Peace, Peter ~

  3. Great article.

    Some tribes will only form after the crisis, much like some troops do not form subgroups until after combat.

    And, no matter how much you plan, some of your tribe will not make it to post crisis, and you will have to add others. People need to consider how they will get new tribe members to adopt tribal norms. The Marines seem to do a superb job of this at boot camp.

    Character and honor are paramount, usually with some religious norms. You said it, can you trust this person while you sleep?

  4. John, enjoyed your article.

    The only other prepper I know very well and can trust is the owner of the company I work for and he lives 40 minute drive time from me. It’s kind of amusing that this guy is a prepper because he’s very much upper, upper middle class but he and his family enjoy gardening on a big plot and canning everything for the winter months.

    I can only trust one other person in my circle of friends and he’s not a prepper so if something bad goes down i’d have to feed him . it wouldn’t be a bad trade off though. He’s a hard working and very smart guy and I have taken him target shooting many times and he’s a pretty danged good shot. He also cleans the weapons once we get back from the range!

    It’s a real shame though. I know dozens upon dozens of people and few of them have given any thought about even stashing a months supply of food and water. And of course they think i’m crazy including my family.

    My problems finding other preppers to hang with come from three different positions.

    1) I’m an outgoing sales exec by day and pretty much a hermit by night. I like people but don’t want them around me too much. I like my solitude after a stressful day or week . I have hobbies that keep me busy and occupied. I’m known as a grumpy but generous person.

    2) Other preppers i’ve run into are often very odd and off putting.

    3) At 52 years of age I’ve become much more wise and cynical. The last 8 years I’ve been working hard to isolate myself from liars, thieves and lowlifes who reside in my neighborhood ( and there a lot of them ). Since I’ve enacted that policy in my personal life I’ve found peace.

    I’m pretty much on my own John and I’m fine with that. I’ve come to terms with having only a couple of people to rely on.

    I stay optomistic though. you never know who your going to meet.


    Snake Plisken

  5. Churches… remeber them… if you belong to one is a good place to start as well if they folks there have an open mind. The LDS do it well.

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