By DeWayne Bartels
East Peoria Times-Courier
Posted Jun 20, 2012 @ 09:26 AM
East Peoria, Ill. —
In the Greater Peoria Area, planning for the apocalypse is easier than getting people to recognize one is coming.
That is the assessment of Shannon Keith, leader of the Peoria Preppers, a group dedicated to being prepared for the next natural disaster, financial meltdown or war on our soil.
Keith made this assessment as he shook his head in disappointment.
It was May 30. He sat in the Hardee’s in East Peoria looking at five other people. One was a reporter, another his friend, Kevin Gillick, and three strangers.
Keith hoped for a bigger turnout, but has resigned himself to the fact that he has an uphill climb in growing his group.
“There are a lot of urban ‘Preppers’ but Peoria is tough,” Keith said. “People around here don’t want to change their mindset.”
Keith said while he is disappointed by the lack of interest he is not discouraged.
“We’ll get there. This is not a fad for me. I’m in this for life,” he said.
Keith and Gillick, both Sunnyland residents, are very open about their group which sets them apart from many “Prepper” groups.
A larger group calling themselves “the “Patriot Preppers of Central Illinois” exists in Peoria. It has about 40 members from Peoria to Chicago to St. Louis. The leaders of that group do not welcome media attention.
One of their organizers in response to a request for an interview said, “Any prepper who gives interviews or uses their real name is foolish. Another one of the Doomsday Preppers was recently arrested.”
Keith and Gillick do not have the luxury of being underground if they are going to attract people to their cause.
But, both men are wary about media attention, of being labeled as “kooks” or extremists.”
Both men said they are neither, though Keith does have some of that in his background which he regrets.
“I was a member of a militia for a while. I got out. They were extremists,” Keith said.
“Because of that affiliation I am listed as armed and dangerous by law enforcement. I have to live with that.”
But, Keith said, he is not a dangerous person, just a cautious one and one who wants to help others prepare for the natural or man-made disaster that will come in a matter of time.
Keith is a cab driver and DJ. Gillick is a laborer.
Both men are self-taught in survival skills.
Their group has been in existence for about four months. They meet the last Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Hardee’s in East Peoria.
Keith and Gillick said they are open because their desire is to educate people on how to become more self-sufficient.
“This is a lifestyle about educating people on what can happen and making people responsible family leaders,” Keith said. “It’s important for people to be prepared. The government isn’t always going to be there to take care of you. Hurricane Katrina comes to mind.”
Gillick added, “It’s always been a part of me. Maybe it was something my parents instilled in me. I don’t like to be caught off-guard. I grew up in the woods.”
Gillick said he is not concerned about being open with his beliefs.
“People are entitled to think whatever they want about me,” he said. “If something happens they will be the ones knocking on my door looking for help.”