When civilization collapses, J.C. Cole will be ready.
He’s founded Safe Haven Farms, a maximum security compound to ride out the next pandemic or climate-change disaster. And those who can afford to join him will also have a shot at survival, he promises. But the price tag isn’t cheap.
A $3 million investment in his startup isn’t just about getting admission. Members “also get a stake in a potentially profitable network of local farm franchises that could reduce the probability of a catastrophic event in the first place,” writes Douglas Rushkoff in his new book, “Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires” (W.W. Norton).
Cole, 66, has two farms in development, one outside Princeton and the second somewhere in the Poconos, which he envisions as “a network of secret, totally self-sufficient residential farm communities for millionaires, guarded by Navy SEALs armed to the teeth,” writes Rushkoff.
The developer, who says he’s not independently wealthy but “did well in real estate,” won’t share the exact locations of either farm, at least not to outsiders, nor will he pose for photos — as his concerns about security and the end of the world rides high.
“The majority of Americans do not have an insurance policy by their choice,” Cole told The Post. “If/when the supply chain collapses, these people will not have food. A certain percentage of them will break the law and do whatever possible to get food. Therefore we want to remain ‘not findable.’ ”
Cole is far from alone. The world’s richest are increasingly “insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion,” writes Rushkoff.
And while many billionaires have claimed that their interests are in saving the world—sometimes they even get into pissing matches on social media about who is more benevolent — Rushkoff argues that the ultimate goal of the super-rich is to protect themselves.
For the wealthy and privileged, writes Rushkoff, the future of technology is about “only one thing: escape from the rest of us.”
And they’re escaping in style. Texas-based Rising S Company sells luxury bunkers that run up to $9.6 million for the “Aristocrat” model — which comes with a private bowling alley, swimming pool, “bullet-resistant” doors and a “motor cave exit,” so you can sneak out for errands like Batman.
California-based company Vivos sells luxury underground apartments, converted from Cold War missile silos and storage facilities into “miniature Club Med resorts,” writes Rushkoff.
Ultra-elite shelters like The Oppidum in the Czech Republic—billed as “the largest billionaire bunker in the world”—include amenities like simulated natural sunlight, a wine vault, and a place to hide all your stuff that’s “impregnable” to hostile outsiders.
“You’ve worked hard over many years, taken risks, seized opportunities, made your vision a reality,” the company’s website tells its billionaire customers. “Your reward is the means to acquire and curate all the beautiful, rare and precious objects you desire.”
Luxury yachts large enough to be a billionaire Noah’s Ark are seeing huge surges in sales— 887 superyachts were sold globally in 2021, a 77% increase from the previous year — and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, 58, even commissioned a smaller companion yacht for his main superyacht, as a separate space to store his helicopter.
New Zealand has become a prime destination for billionaires seeking doomsday refuge, from Google co-founder Larry Page, 49, to Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sam Altman, 37, who let it slip in a 2016 interview that he and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel had a mutual agreement to escape to Thiel’s New Zealand compound via private jet at the first sign of society’s collapse. (Thiel’s owned the property since 2011 but hadn’t made the news public.)
But the billionaire bunker, whether on land, sea or someday (ostensibly) on another planet entirely, is at best a temporary fix, “less a viable strategy for apocalypse than a metaphor for this disconnected approach to life,” writes Rushkoff. “Like a hiding toddler who thinks holding their hands over their eyes can prevent them from being seen,” the billionaires who rely on a safe haven from the outside “are in for a surprise.”
Thiel discovered this recently when the 54-year-old entrepreneur — worth an estimated $7.4 billion — learned that his plans to build a 477-acre “doomsday” home overlooking Lake Wānaka in New Zealand was being blocked by environmental groups.
Even the preexisting bunkers offer only nominal protection, and the probability of one of them “actually protecting its occupants from the reality of, well, reality, is very slim,” writes Rushkoff. Whatever threat they’re trying to escape — toxic clouds, plague and radiation — it all has a way of “spreading and seeping through the most well-thought-out barricades.”
Cancer-causing microplastics “are as plentiful in the polar ice as they are in the typical European town,” Rushkoff continues. “There is no escape.”
But survival may not be their only rationale for disappearing. The “seasteading” movement— a “Minecraft-meets-Waterworld future,” Rushkoff writes, in which the wealthy live in independent, free-floating cities — is not just about “aquapreneurs” escaping the dry-land apocalypse. It’s also about creating a new ultra-libertarian civilization free from taxes, anti-monopoly regulations, and meddling politicians.
As the Seasteading Institute website explains, “We’ve had the agricultural revolution, the commercial and industrial revolutions, but why not a governance revolution? Enter the sea.”
If they can’t find sanctuary for their bodies, they can still outsmart the end of the world by having their minds preserved. Silicon Valley tech billionaire Altman paid $10,000 to startup company Nectome just to be on the waiting list to have his brain uploaded to a computer.
‘[It’s about] only one thing: Escape from the rest of us.’“Survival of the Richest” author Douglas Rushkoff, on post-apocalyptic planning
Who joins Altman (or has already joined him) remains to be seen. This past July, Dogecoin creator Shibetoshi Nakamoto asked his followers on Twitter if they’d ever “upload your brain to the cloud,” and Elon Musk, 51, cryptically responded, “Already did it.“
Before coming to the United States, Cole spent 18 years in Eastern Europe, serving as a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia in Northern Europe. He witnessed firsthand the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he insists we should be learning from the Soviets’ mistakes.
“I am deeply concerned with what I see happening in Europe, especially with energy and food,” he said. “That can easily happen here.”
His biggest concern isn’t a violent confrontation with the armed mob on the other side of the fence. It’s “the woman at the end of the driveway holding a baby and asking for food. I don’t want to be in that moral dilemma,” he told Rushkoff.
Cole hopes Safe Haven doesn’t just provide protection from those wealthy enough to afford it but becomes a prototype of how sustainable farms can be used to make sure everybody has enough food to eat and protection from the elements.
He won’t reveal exactly how many wealthy investors he has, but he does claim the farm’s community will be evenly split between the rich and those with skill sets to “rebuild the country,” including doctors, machinists, and security.
But Cole’s ultimate goal, writes Rushkoff, is to ensure “there are as few hungry children at the gate as possible” when the time comes to lock down.
“The mindset that requires safe havens is less concerned with preventing moral dilemmas,” writes Rushkoff, “than simply keeping them out of sight.”