This story is part of “At Risk in the Trump Era,” a four-month investigation by USC Annenberg advanced radio students, exploring how vulnerable communities across Southern California react to the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The series profiles individuals burdened by new worries — looking for work, signing up for school, or even deciding whether to publicly express their sexual orientation or religious affiliation.
Jenny Lower brings us the story of Adam Vondersaar. He welcomes Trump's presidency and sees it as a way to highlight his beliefs in libertarianism and what he calls "maximum chaos."
Adam Vondersaar loves guns. Their smell reminds the 34-year-old software engineer of his childhood. One crisp, wet morning at a shooting range buried in the hills near Santa Clarita, he easily discharges 100 rounds from a Glock 19 and a Kriss Vector.
"Some of my fondest memories of being a young kid is reloading rounds with my grandfather and then doing some shooting with my dad, like skeet shooting,” he says. Guns are just “part of my life.”
Vondersaar is a pretty good shot. He’s a straight shooter in conversation, too. Since Donald Trump’s election last November, some California conservatives have been trying to stay under the radar. That’s not the case with Vondersaar, who openly identifies as a Trump supporter.
But he isn’t your typical conservative. He supports the Second Amendment. But he also thinks necessities like health care and energy should be free. And he identifies as libertarian.
He says libertarianism "basically means just leave people alone, and the government has no business deciding what people can and can’t do within their personal lives."
Unlike many conservatives, he and his wife Melanie identify as atheists. They oppose Republicans' focus on issues like abortion and gay marriage. They also dislike what they call Republicans’ portrayal of themselves as “God-fearing Christians.”
“I’m not popular with my Democrat friends or my Republican friends because I hate religion with a passion,” Vondersaar says. “It’s just nonsense to me.”
This election cycle, he chose Trump for an unusual reason -- a personal philosophy he calls “maximum chaos.”
“I want him to go in and wreck the establishment,” Vondersaar says, laughing. “The Republicans don’t like him, the Democrats definitely don’t like him. Both teams need to be gutted.”
"Maximum chaos" -- it sounds like a phrase you’d hear in a punk rock band. Which makes sense, because Vondersaar used to play guitar in a punk band.
“There were several little bands that they had,” says his mom, Angel. “‘Like-Minded’ I think was the first one, and then the ‘Purple Monkey Dishwasher’, or something like that,” she joked. She lives across the street. This afternoon, she is curled up on her son’s couch, doing that thing all moms do -- brag about their kids.
Vondersaar’s most successful band was called Ikarus, after the "Kid Icarus" video game and the Greek myth. They played the Warped Tour Festival and a bunch of clubs in Hollywood, including the famed Roxy Theatre.
"I was in there and I’m like, ‘Adam, Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and all of them used to play here!'" Angel says. "They were in this little stage, and here you are playing."
In high school, music and sports kept Vondersaar going. He was the "punk rock jock," the captain of the football team with a blue mohawk. His anti-establishment tendencies started around this time, too.
One day in high school, “I decided to do an experiment with chemicals in a toilet,” he says. “You know, messing around with elemental sodium, reacts a little violently with water. It just causes, like, little explosions.”
He couldn’t have picked a worse day for this prank. It was April 20, 1999 -- the same day as the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado. That tragedy became known as one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. With the whole country on edge, the response to the incident at his high school near Lancaster escalated fast.
“It's like SWAT team, hazmat, so many fire trucks, cops roll in, evacuate the school,” he says. “It was just bad.”
Vondersaar and his friends were afraid to come clean, so they kept quiet. A month later, a classmate turned them in. But he says that even though a diverse group of people were involved -- all his high school buddies -- school and police authorities didn’t treat them equally.
“They pick[ed] the two German last name kids, like super white kids, and they’re like, ‘You're a part of the trench coat mafia.’ I’m like, what dude? We were just messing around,” he says. “I got shafted so hard. They made an example of me.”
He got expelled, wound up in Juvenile Hall, and went to a continuation school. He tried to make the best of a bad situation, plowing through schoolwork. But the experience made him lose faith in institutions like public schools and the justice system. He learned to rely on himself.
As an adult, self-reliance to Vondersaar means planning for every contingency. These days, he is part of a survivalist group.
He calls it “a preparedness level for maximum chaos. It does sound funny, when you talk about it. Because it is a little, like, weird -- those crazy prepper people. But it’s just insurance.”
He won’t say how many people are in the group. They don’t recruit openly. But Vondersaar says their activities, which emphasize practical skills like CPR training and canning food, amount to adult Boy Scouts.
“We have [a] storage container with water and food and things like that," he says. "And then we have rally points where we can meet when the services go out so we can pool our resources and survive, until, you know -- whatever.”
Vondersaar isn’t sure society will devolve to this point in his lifetime. But he says like all empires, the American system will eventually fail. Maximum chaos will be inevitable.
“It’s going to happen. There’ll be a period of bad things. Or there could just be an implosion,” he says. “That would suck, but that’s human nature -- it’s survival of the fittest. The people who are prepared will make it through. That’s how we founded the country.”
Some of Vondersaar’s ideas sound pretty wacky to his family. Most of them are liberal. But his cousin Melissa Brand has figured out how to deal with his politics.
“I did unfollow him, so I don’t see it on my newsfeed anymore. Every once in a while I’ll go check on his page, see what he’s doing and stuff,” she says, “but on my own time.”
Brand and her sister grew up with Adam, though she now lives in Orange County. They’re still close, and so the cousins mostly avoid talking about things like maximum chaos.
“He’s still family, and I love him. We’re able to kind of make fun of ourselves. So we keep it peaceful,” she says.
For now, Vondersaar is focused on a different kind of chaos. He and his wife Melanie are expecting a baby boy any day now. They still need to pick a name. It’s a “contentious issue,” Melanie jokes.
“I prefer the name Charlie but Adam doesn’t like it,” she says. He’s rooting for Warner.
In the meantime, Vondersaar has plenty to keep him busy. He and Melanie just moved from their condo into a new house with a swimming pool and got a long list of home improvement projects.
First on the list: He needs to clear the extra ammo and the gun safe out of the nursery. And then paint it baby blue.