Karp Lykov, Randy Weaver, And The Illusion Of The Third Choice

In 1936 Karp Lykov fled with his wife and two children into the wilderness to escape the Communists. As is recounted in this news paper article about his only surviving daughter….

Her father had taken the decision to flee civilization in 1936 after a communist patrol arrived on the fields where he was working and shot dead his brother. Gathering a few meager possessions and some seeds, he took his wife, Akulina, their nine-year-old son, Savin, and two-year-old daughter Natalia, and headed off into the forest.

Over the years they retreated deeper into taiga, building a series of wooden cabins amid the pine trees. When their metal pots had disintegrated beyond use, they were forced to live on a staple diet of potato patties mixed with ground rye and hemp seeds. The Lykovs subsisted mainly on trapped wild animals and cultivated potatoes.

They had no firearms, no salt and did not know how to make bread.

Mr. Lykov was not prepared to live in the wilderness. As a poor deeply religious Old Believer Russian peasant he had more of the necessary skills than your average American. Even still, he was not ready for the challenge he took on regardless of whether you judge him by the standards of his time or the standards of a modern day “survivalist.” And yet, he and his wife managed to have two more children and he lived for more than forty years out in wilderness. At his death in 1988 he was well beyond the average life span for a Russian male (he died at around 86 years old of age if the dates in his Wikipedia article are correct).

All this did not come without cost. He lost his wife to starvation in the 1960s. All his children except one would die at a younger age then he did. It could be questioned whether he really gained anything by fleeing to the wilderness. But if you judge him purely by the metric of survival; he did pretty well for not being prepared and trying to live in one of the harshest climates in the world. And he lived free to practice his religion as he saw fit all the while that the communists ruled his land.

Contrast Lykov’s experience with that of Randy Weaver. Randy had a lot more time and money to be prepared for dealing with an oppressive government. As we read on Wikipedia….

Randy Weaver, a former Iowa factory worker and U.S. Army Green Beret, moved with his wife and four children to northern Idaho during the 1980s so they could “home-school his children and escape what he and his wife Vicki saw as a corrupted world. In 1978, Vicki, the religious leader of the family, began to have recurrent dreams of living on a mountaintop and believed that the apocalypse was imminent. After the birth of their son, Samuel, the Weavers began selling their belongings and learned to live without electricity. They bought twenty acres (8 ha) of land on Ruby Ridge in 1983 and began building a cabin; the property was in Boundary County on a hillside on Ruby Creek opposite Caribou Ridge, northwest of nearby Naples.

The Weaver family was working class poor by American standards. But compared to the Lykov family they had far more wealth with which to prepare. And because of Mrs. Weaver’s apocalyptic views, they spent many years preparing to live with an oppressive government (They feared a coming one world government). On top of all that, Mr. Weaver was associated with the one branch of the US military that specifically trains to wage resistance to tyrannical governments (contrary to the Wikipedia article, Mr. Weaver was a support troop for the Green Berets, not a Green Beret himself). With all these various advantages, the Weaver family should have been far more prepared to deal with a police state then the Lykov family was.

But Randy Weaver was not prepared to deal with an oppressive government. He would have been just as prepared to deal with an oppressive government if he had stayed in suburbia with all the comforts of civilization. While he claimed he was preparing for a coming apocalypse, all he was doing in reality was helping his wife deal with her mental health issues because he was in no way prepared to deal with true oppression.

His tough talk and desperation for money brought him into a trap set by Fed to turn him into an informant. As a result, what he claimed to be preparing for became a reality. He was a man targeted by the government. If he truly believed the government was as bad as he claimed it was, he should have done like Karp Lykov and fled as soon as he knew he was a target. If he did not really believe the government was that bad then he should have turned himself in and tried to beat the charges on the grounds of entrapment (which he did in fact do after his wife and couple of other people died). But instead he choose to turtle up in an absolutely indefensible location that was not even good location for a last stand.

It was the worst choice he could have made and it went against what anyone with any knowledge of how to deal with oppressive governments would have taught (including the Green Berets he was associated with in his military days). Even if his goal was to take as many Feds with him as possible, he still made the wrong choice as turtleling up deprived him of any opportunity to do this (the only Fed to die was killed by young friend of the Weaver family who patrolled out from the house instead of staying inside).

I suspect that most people will struggle to see the point of this comparison. After all, even the supporters of Randy Weaver don’t argue that he was some kind of genius role model. But I would hope that everyone would understand that if it America was the equivalent to Stalin’s Russia then Randy Weaver would not be alive today. This matters because if you look beyond paranoia and poor decision making, what Randy Weaver spent his life doing is exactly what a lot of people think of as being the ideal way to prepare. A lot of people wish they lived on a remote chunk of land where they could be “self-sufficient” and so isolated from the problems of the world. Even more people have plans to “bug out” the wilderness should the worse come to pass. But Randy Weaver did what other people only fantasize about and it did not do him any good.

It is true that he in part brought the Feds on his own head by his own choices. But lots of people were targeted in Stalin’s Russia through no fault of their own. If Randy Weaver had been one of those people in Stalin’s Russia would he have fared any better for all his preparation?

Randy Weaver’s basic problem is that he thought he was building an ark in the wilderness where he could be safe from all troubles. When trouble came, he had only two valid choices; surrender and try the courts or flee and try the wilderness. In his mind, he had good reasons to believe that neither choice would work. So he was chose to stay in his ark that was no ark at all until events brought him to a choice that he could have made in the very beginning.

On the other hand, Karp Lykov understood very clearly that he had no ark and that his only choices were to stay with the murderous communists or flee to the wilderness. You can argue that he gained nothing by making the choice that he did but he at least did not delude himself into thinking he some kind of security provided by being “prepared.” I am sure he knew full well that he and his family could have died out in the Siberian wilderness when he made the choice to run but for him it was better to face that then what the communists would do to him and his family.

On the whole, Mr. Weaver’s story ended on happier note than Mr. Lykov’s although that was solely the result of the fact that Mr. Weaver did not live in Stalin’s Russia. But I choose Karp Lykov’s story as a contrast to Randy Weaver precisely because Mr. Lykov’s story did not have an unambiguously happy ending. I could have talked about how some Jews successfully fled to the wilderness in the Ukraine to escape certain death at the hands of the Nazis. I could have talked about how Eusebius records that Christians fled to the wilderness to escape Roman persecution (although to be fair he also lists the names of some who fled to the wilderness and never came back alive). But that would have fed into the tendency of people to imagine that the choices that face them under tyranny are simple and made it seem like if you do the right things you will get the right results. The reality is that the people who did survive doing those things survived in spite of it seeming like a crazy idea. There were plenty others who tried the same thing and still died.

I can’t blame Mr. Weaver for thinking that he would not get a fair trial given the efforts made to entrap him and the false court date he was sent. If he had been in Stalin’s Russia he would have been right to dismiss any thought that the courts were impartial. I can’t blame Mr. Weaver for thinking that it would be crazy to run off into the wilderness with a wife who was still nursing an infant child. It is almost certain that the feds would have caught up with him eventually even if he had run. What I do blame him for is thinking he had a third choice.

In the broader community of those who prepare for tough times, I see many people who are convincing themselves that if they just try hard enough, they will guarantee themselves a third choice. They hope to create an Ark that will prevent them from having to make impossible choices between bad and bad. I suspect many of them are just creating the situation where they will sit around passively waiting for their doom to overtake them just like Mr. Weaver did because they can’t let go of the idea that have an Ark.

On the other hand, I don’t know if Mr. Lykov made the correct choice. I am pretty certain that he would have died along with his brother if he had stayed but it is possible it would have worked out better for his family if he had make that sacrifice. Regardless if the choice was “correct” or not, I respect Mr. Lykov for making a choice when others would have just cowered in fear waiting for whatever would come. I hope that if I am ever faced with a similar situation, I will make a conscious choice rather than simply be ruled by fear or the false hope of a third choice.

It is important to realize that even people who are not preparing can cling to the delusion of the third choice. Many people went into the soviet gulag just as deluded as Randy Weaver but in the opposite direction. They kept telling themselves (as others) that there had been some kind of mistake in their case and that soon someone would realize that they were not an “enemy of the people” and let them go. They believed in a third choice of justice in Stalin’s Russia even when it should have been obvious that no such thing existed.

But I have chosen to focus more on those who prepare because they typically like to think that they are not like the rest of the “sheeple.” This sense of unwarranted superiority is something I sometimes find in myself. And so I try to remember the history of those who deluded themselves into thinking they had an “Ark” and I also those who made choices that I admire and yet still paid a terrible price. That is why I find it worth pondering the fates of Mr. Weaver and Mr. Lykov.

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