Grist for the Millennium

Y2K hucksters cash in on fear of cataclysmic calendar crash 'n' burn

"My desire is to make people aware that this could be a real problem," Smith says. "And you cannot find a Y2K book out there that doesn't suggest putting a small portion of your money into something that's tangible, like gold. I can't help that that's what I do for a living. So, yes, there was a natural increase in our business as a result of the uncertainty that Y2K created."

Smith's Y2KNET has conducted eight summits throughout the country. Swiss America is mentioned on the flyers and has a prominent booth at the expo. Smith insists that although his overall sales are up, his Y2K awareness summits, CD-ROMs and newsletters are operating at a loss.

"We have competitors who tell you to take every penny that you have and send it to them to buy gold--that's foolish and borderlines on fraud," he says. "It would be easy to shake people up, but honest to God, that's not my desire."

Some of the content in Smith's summits and newsletters, however, would shake up any God-fearing Christian.

For starters, the apocalyptic fear mongering of Ken Klein. ("I [asked him to speak] because I want all points of view," Smith says, noting he does not agree with Klein's prophecies.)

Then there are the articles in his Y2KNET newsletter touting "Y2K Barter Packs"--assorted low-value coin collections you can trade with the blacksmith after the collapse of civilization. (Smith notes that article was written by somebody else and for a company called Swiss America Product Sales--a name he licensed but does not profit from.)

And Smith himself wrote an article saying the government might declare martial law, come into your home and collect all your gold bullion yet leave your Swiss America coins alone. (Smith says he doesn't believe that's going to happen, and, besides, "Let's face facts, if the government wants to come in and confiscate your kitchen sink, they can," he says.)

A bit exasperated at defending himself, Smith says, "Look, I know everybody thinks I do this for one reason--because it's good for business. I've tried desperately to change that, and, quite frankly, I am getting tired of trying."

Smith is frustrated. He wants to be liked. After all, he's the good guy--a Christian, a family man and self-made businessman. A capitalist, true, but one with a conscience.

Only Smith doesn't realize that he's sleeping at night on split hairs. He can't understand that the fearful messages Y2KNET distributes are his responsibility, regardless of whether he wrote it, agrees with it or is profiting from it. Hey everybody, Armageddon is coming, but you didn't hear it from me.

"Look, I like my life the way it is, I don't want it interrupted by this crap," he says. "But when I look at the interconnectedness of things, the global situation and the holdback of information by our government, I'm concerned."

He considers. "I mean, I'm concerned, but I'm not buying hydrated banana chips, machine guns and sitting on a stack of Krugerrands waiting for the end to happen."

If only his summit visitors could say the same.

Contact James Hibberd at his online address: jhibberd@ep.newtimes.com

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