Burning Man was big in the news last week because unexpected rains turned the once dry lakebed (the ‘playa’) on which the festival sits into a thick, muddy, impassible mess. There was a lot of wild fake news about Ebola and notions that the organizers should have anticipated rain (the last time there was any measurable rain at all was almost a decade ago and then it wasn’t close to the amount of 2023. The last significant rain was over 20 years ago) but all of those completely miss the truth which is that rain or shine, Burning Man has always been laden with scandal, corruption and controversy.
Burning man is an annual festival that takes place in the farthest northern regions of Washoe County, Nevada. The festival hosts tens of thousands of attendees on federal land at a location known as ‘the Playa.’ This festival which boasts base ticket prices of $575 per person + $150 vehicle registration or $2,700+ for a VIP experience takes place right on publicly owned federal land. On its face, this is a perfectly reasonable practice. Not all federal land is protected land in fact most isn’t. Most federal land’s entire purpose is for “public multi-use” meaning sporting, camping, cattle grazing and art festivals. Private users can lease federal land from the public to use for all sorts of things and Burning Man is no different.
With its expensive ticket and limited attendance allowable, it’s nowhere close to an equitable for communal event. It’s a party for rich people to get dirty and look at expensive art in SteamPunk costumes. And despite the festival’s branding as an anarchico-communist fairyland where everyone shares and everything is wild and free, it’s actually one of the most bureaucratic and federally overseen events of any in the entire country.
In fact, Burning Man holds the most expensive federal land lease in the country. The last round of negotiations which concluded in 2019, Burning Man walked away with a 10-year lease which sets not only their fee but also their allowable number of attendees and contractual obligations to the federal government such as waste removal and other environmentally related expectations. The monetary gain to the federal government is not limited to their lease fee. It also includes a regularly disputed annual reimbursement provision for services like law enforcement and a percentage of their gross revenue. It’s worth it to the Burning Man organization for their $40 – $50 million haul each year.
These negotiations are what make the Burning Man organization a prime candidate for corruption issues. The federal land regulator, the Bureau of Land Management (the original BLM), has one of the worst reputations in the entire federal government for efficacy, transparency and customer service. It is a low bar, but the BLM really likes to brush the ground as close as they can on their limbo of poor governance.
If you think 70,000 people trapped in a muddy lakebed is a problem – take a gander at these scandals:
Burning Man and Federal agents have been accused of routinely covering up, dismissing and otherwise not adequately managing rampant sexual assault issues
For years before the #MeToo movement even had breath, whistleblowers from the festival had been trying to call attention to the rampant issues of sexual assault including drugging and rape. Local law enforcement has repeatedly attempted to escalate these issues to BLM rangers tasked with the safety of the citizens on the playa and has implied if not outright accused the Burning Man organization of underreporting. There have been many first-person tales of abuse where women are attacked, and people treat their assault as if it’s a simple fact of life. The culture of the playa. The system of dealing with crime of any kind, but particularly sexual assault, is deeply broken. The handful of BLM rangers have the ability (regardless of what their authority may be) to decide whether or not reports of assault or any other crime are given to local law enforcement to investigate. Along with the federal government who has completely washed their hands of responsibility, the Burning Man organization has resisted any and all attempts to even acknowledge their problem and in fact has reportedly refused to allow local law enforcement to processes rape kits on site even though time is a critical factor in the ability to collect evidence of a rape. Beyond the festival and the government’s alleged outright resistance to managing these issues, the very culture of the precious ‘playa’ makes victims of women. The unprosecuted and casually accepted drug use as well as the idea that there is no sense of individual property, including your body, makes women vulnerable and makes them fearful to seek help due to their illegal activities.
A BLM law enforcement bad guy was finally taken down by demands for Choco Tacos
In what’s reverently referred to as the ‘Choco Taco Standoff’ now infamous former BLM law enforcement senior official, Dan Love, was caught essentially extorting the Burning Man organization for luxury accommodations in exchange for their permit and the services of BLM law enforcement rangers. Among his demands were free tickets to a sold out event for his girlfriend and friends, an air conditioned tent, and a freezer full of Choco Tacos. The Burning Man organization finally stood up to Love who had been increasingly aggressive about his demands over his many years of corruption and the Trump Department of Interior canned him after a Government Accountability Office report confirmed his misdeeds.
What is little known is that Dan Love is also the man the left backed whole heartedly in his standoff against the Bundy family. In 2014, under Love’s absolutely catastrophic mishandling of a minor grazing fee dispute, BLM law enforcement needlessly murdered four cows including a steer in a completely ridiculous helicopter round up of cows who were trespassing on federal land. It apparently never occurred to Love and his federal boots that they could have simply liened the funds from the sale of the cattle. Regardless of who was right or wrong in the issue of trespass and the subsequent events with militia groups, the BLM, without question, took the path of most resistance in resolving the problem. There would have been no stand off if not for the wanton mismanagement of Dan Love. A federal judge ultimately had to toss out the entire case against the Bundys in regard to this incident because Dan Love was proven to be a less-than-credible member of law enforcement whose testimony could not be considered trustworthy to the court.
Not only did the federal government believe every word of the report Love wrote regarding the Bundys and his innocence in the event, they actually promoted Love. If it wasn’t for a bunch of rich people playing in dirt refusing to pay for ice cream, Dan Love and his corruption would still be in charge of western federal land law enforcement and no one would be the better for it.
And despite all of this: the very same rich people who yell at everyone about feminism and hate President Trump for being an evil mean man and cry about climate change will go out to that lakebed every year just to roll in the dirt and pretend to be free. It never occurs to them to try actual freedom.