The Beatings Will Continue ’til Morale Improves

Burner Nettles has posted quite a horrifying tale of (presumably) her experiences on the Playa this year, over at the official Burning Man blog.

Like it or not, this is the most prominent experience of the 2012 event for me.

The Dust was magnificent and just what I always hoped for! I wasn’t even bothered by the unbelievably long will call lines that I was helping my friend to navigate in her virgin year. I had secured childcare with the grandmas for an extended stay so that I could rock clean up crew with my dear friend and had arranged for the rest of our camp to leave us behind during Exodus with a bare bones camp.

Last year was my virgin year and found myself able to break out of the timid state of nearly catatonic awe I experienced that was only punctuated by seemingly catastrophic strife and euphoric joy. This year, I attended with only friends and no lover purposefully to gain a more independent view of the community and with the intent to participate more fully. I made a few very intense connections and had oddly synchronistic conversations and experiences and ventured to the wonder of deep playa often. I realize I’m being vague. It is due to the extremely intense experience that unfortunately colored my entire week and emotionally derailed my intended and planned commitments for post event clean up.

I arrived early to the Man burn to secure a front row spot for a fire dance troupe that I know from Oregon. I watched and beamed with love for my comrades and then viewed and felt one of the most amazing explosions I may ever see. Feeling deeply pulled and nudged by the waves of heat bursting out I intertwined deeply with the cyclical nature of the fire. The man fell and the rangers could not hold the crowd. I ran for the center to be in the fire. There, at the edge of the embers I found part of my tribe and joined them, to in essence, be one with the fire. Barebacked to the immenseness of that heat I had a deeply profound internal experience.

When it came time to separate myself and go off on my own, I decided I needed to remind my lover or my affection for him before I wanted to go back to camp and meditate on my experience. I headed to the satellite phone near 2 o’clock and esplanade. The phone conversation quickly became stressful as I am told that my dog has been hit by either a large truck or a tractor and the phone of course cuts out as there is a 3 minute time limit.

As I’m waiting for my turn on the phone again, I’m approached by a group of five large (highly intoxicated) men and a woman that I did not see initially. The largest man tries to talk to me and steps on my foot as I’m trying to back away. I try to convey that I am not having the best time right now and that i’d like some personal space. The man doesn’t move and moves his face uncomfortably close to mine, still trying to talk to me while i’m still trying to back up and he advances more. Finally, exacerbated by the gross infringement on my space, I tell him to fuck off and leave me alone.

After what seems like forever, it’s my turn in the booth, and I dodge away from the larg man hovering over me and into the booth. All of the sudden a very large and seemingly drunk female appears in the doorway and grabs me, throws me to the ground by my hair. Jumps on my back and begins to brutally assault me while her male companions crowd in, laughing, in what I can only assume is to protect what she’s doing from view. I hear the faint sounds of passersby exclaiming at the sight but, not doing anything. The phone hanging with my lover helplessly screaming “what’s happening?” on the other end.

Finally a woman yells, and the males drag the female off somewhere. People stand around me as I’m huddled in a ball confused and not knowing what to do. After a while of trying to reconcile in my mind whats going on, I asked someone to call my ranger friend who was on duty. I was taken to rampart and treated for my injuries by well meaning staff who reported the incident to the local authorities. Luckily my ranger friend was able to help me fill out the paper work because the girl broke my glasses and I’m pretty much blind without them. So much for driving my self home or spotting moop that’s smaller than a foot in diameter.

The rangers where unbelievably accommodating and helpful but it was difficult to process what had just happened and I found myself experiencing bizarre emotions and feeling extremely paranoind and then confused about what all of this meant. My ranger friend found a place to store my bike and gave us a ride back to camp. She cared for me and checked on me. I only left camp to use the lavatory after that until we left early monday morning.

My friend that I had planned to stay behind with decided he would leave early with me…I couldn’t drive my own vehicle anymore anyway. I just wanted to be as far away from black rock desert as I could. Well, more accurately I didn’t want to ever potentially run into the person that had assaulted me again. I packed up camp and sat in my tent during the temple burn drinking gifted liqueur and cuddling with a friend that elected to stay with me.

So now, today, I’m left with this sense of …what now? I had this wonderfully freeing experience that is almost completely overshadowed and replaced in my memory by three minutes of my life and the hours following. What does the mean about Burning Man? What does this mean about Burning Man for me? Should I return? What do I tell people about me experience? Most importantly what do I tell myself about my experience?

Yeah maybe I shouldn’t have told the guy to “fuck off,” but how long do you tolerate someone in your space forcing you to stay in close proximity to them before you become more assertive? What does this say about burning man culture? What about the people who stood around not helping me, just watching? One person had the balls and compassion to initiate the end of me being beating and my face being repeatedly slammed into the ground. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. From another perspective, compared to many others my experience was mild….what was it something like 3-4 sexual assaults A DAY reported this year..that’s the reported ones. two missing minors. From what I’ve gathered from long time rangers, this is a dramatic increase just this year.

I’d be interested in hearing the stories of others that had an unexpected negative experience and how they are dealing with that. I hope I will return and create a redeeming experience for myself. I hope the influx of amazing installations will continue and that that energy will foster the unmitigated exemplification of the principles. Though perhaps “Radical inclusion” is something that needs to be redefined, hopefully it will take care of itself as the energy redirects back into the fiery flow of creativity and community.

Does this really go on at Burning Man? Group bashings? In the line to the satellite phone, of all places? Wasn’t there someone there to help? Where was this mysterious sat phone? 2 0’clock and Esplanade’s not exactly tucked away in Deep Playa, this is pretty much the main thoroughfare. I spent a lot of time between Disorient and Root Society this year, and never saw the sat-phone line. Was this on the Playa, or in a camp?

And what about her claim that there were 3-4 reported sexual assaults a day? Has anyone else heard this, or got any facts?

I’ve reposted Nettles’ story here in its entirety, please comment with your own stories and opinions. If this is really going on, we want to know about it, we don’t want the BMOrg to brush it off with some milquetoast statement. Has anyone else experienced something like this at Burning Man before…ever? In 10 Burns since 1998, I’ve never so much as seen a punch thrown or an angry scuffle. Maybe a couple of pissed off neighbors with noise complaints, but they’ve come to the wrong party, they’d probably be pissed off whatever party they were at. There was never any hint that it might come to blows though. Group bashings? Who the hell is this group? A gang? Violence and Burning Man do not go together.

22 comments on “The Beatings Will Continue ’til Morale Improves

  1. Pingback: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss? | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  2. I know that violence does happen at Burning Man, but I find Nettles vague description of events she perceived under the influence of drugs does not convince me of anything about Burning Man. I feel plenty safe at burning man surrounded mostly by good loving people and about a thousand police officers and park rangers. I think people can learn from this story, but the lesson should be don’t take too many drugs and wander off by yourself. Almost certainly if Nettles had stayed with someone she knew, or was sober enough to remedy the situation/leave the area and find help this wouldn’t have happened. Burning Man is about a lot of things including learning hard lessons. This is not an easy trip, life isn’t and the party shouldn’t be either. Take necessary precaution.

  3. Well… I’m sensing that Burners don’t believe in justice at all. If you are completely anti-violence AND you say that “an eye for an eye” is some sort of evil, you are denying the good of justice. That ancient code (an eye for an eye) meant that 1) Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and 2) Whatever you do to another person SHOULD be done to you. That’s the RECIPROCAL half of justice. If you don’t treat others the way you would want to be treated, you have decided that there’s nothing wrong with your behavior, so justice (or Karma) would have that same thing be done to you. So under that ancient code of justice, a thief would have to repay double the value of what he stole. A rapist should maybe have his balls cut off. A murderer has forfeited his own life. When you say that ALL VIOLENCE is wrong, even violence done in the defense of the innocent, you are essentially setting up opportunities for criminals, like the one described in this woman’s account. The violent criminals KNEW they could get away with anything because they were surrounded by pacifists who wouldn’t want to stain their hands or dirty their souls by stepping in and VIOLENTLY putting a stop to their violent crime. What I’ve said was PROVEN with this story. Nobody wanted to be “violent,” so nobody stepped up, got involved and pounded those people into the ground. I don’t know what you’re going to do about that. Violence in defense of the innocent and the helpless should be considered a good thing, not a horrible, wicked behavior.

    • I agree with much of what you’ve said here. To be clear, I said I wouldn’t wish violence on anyone, not that I wouldn’t accept the necessity when appropriate. Non violence cannot solve all problems and it’s only cowardice not to act when violence is the apparent solution. I don’t think anyone here is arguing that.
      There is validity to the idea that no passersby were willing to step in and get physical perhaps because they abhor violence. However, I think you’re drawing a dangerous connection here, claiming that acts like the one perpetrated against Nettles are necessary to ensure that… acts like the one perpetrated against Nettles are prevented by people willing to get violent. That’s kinda like saying something is “true because it’s true”. Violence proving the necessity of violence. Two wrongs making a right, in a sense. Furthermore, from everything I’ve experienced and know about the BM community, being a vigilante isn’t really acceptable. And even if it was, this wasn’t an acceptable act of vigilante justice.

  4. She felt entitled to scream “fuck off!” to some random guy she didn’t like because that’s what all women feel entitled to do. It’s poetic that karma arrived in the form of a big bitch stomping our little princess into the dust.

    And she’s still crying about it.

    • Ruby, let me tell you a story about the monkeys. One day, monkey 1 did something to piss off monkey two. Monkey two, being a believer in violent, reactionary lesson-teaching, beats up monkey 1. Monkey 3 comes along, and having their own self-righteous, self-justified reasons, steps in and beats up monkey 3 in response.
      Extrapolate this mother fucker out a few million years and you have a bunch of evolved monkeys conducting endless war, terrorism, gang violence, etc, etc, because these monkeys still believe ramming the message home with violence is acceptable and valid.
      Unfortunately, this story is real, and some of those monkeys still control most of the world’s tools of violence. Your logic is completely bunk and is the at the core of so much of what’s wrong with the world of humans. And you think that it is valid at the mecca of community, spiritual development, good times, and positive intent. Wow. (Well, I suppose it is, with consent, in the Thunderdome)
      I hope the next time you piss someone off, they aren’t the type to follow your model, because I wouldn’t wish violence on anyone.
      Also, your concept of karma is deeply flawed. You’ve just described the barbaric “eye for an eye” policy that most of the civilized world has rejected at this state in our intellectual and social development.
      Say, is your playa name Monkey?

  5. A similar experience happened this year, I had an altercation with a man and his girlfriend. When it was clear they weren’t interested in talking it out civilly, we tried to leave the area. They stalked me and the girls I was with across the playa for over an hour attempting to cause a physical altercation with me. The guy broke a large el-wire prop I was carrying and the girl snatched my glasses, broke them, and threw them off an art car. Their behavior was extremely irrational and violent, and it really shook up our concept of burning man. The biggest problem was not with these bad eggs, but the number of people who witnessed all of this and made no attempt to intervene. Where has the sense of community gone?

    • If I was being stalked for an hour by agro people I would have made my way to one of the three ranger stations located at 3:00 plaza, center camp, and the 9:00 plaza, or found one of the roaming rangers. (There is usually one at the Man or Temple too)

  6. 2 and esplanade? wasn’t there a lot of very loud music? DJ’s and huge dance crowds? Only been thereabouts in the dark though…But I have seen some creeps, allthough someone pointed them out to me undercovers….What do I know….Hate to hear these stories…cannot imagine nothing bad happens really. But it does suck.

  7. I am really surprized that this ‘beating” took place. I go with about eight to ten women each year, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, friends,
    sometimes we go out alone at night but not often. What a shame. I would have stepped in and tried to stop it as if she were one of my own.

    • Agreed, I could never have walked by this. I would have shouted for everyone nearby to come help and stopped it immediately.

      • ahhh, white knighting is alive and well within the burner community. and here i thought chivalry was dead because feminist killed it.

      • Ruby, I’m curious if that’s sarcasm or not? Either way, it sounds like you’re making an assumption that I’d step in because it was a female getting beat up.

      • it’s best to not interfere when two people are fighting – man/man, man/woman, or woman/woman. this way you avoid getting a knife to the face for either party. the best thing to do is to call the police. interfere at risk to your own life. would you break up a fight between two dogs?

      • Well, hence the shouting for help, I wouldn’t have rushed in there alone.. now I see where you got the White Knight thing from. Having a Ranger nearby or a group of people willing to step in would be ideal, but every situation is different and must be assessed on the spot, right? So talking about the details on this one is silly since neither of us were there.

  8. My campmates found a girl, seimi unconscious in a kiddy pool, bleeding, naked, bruised, rope tie burns on her ankles and wrists. She had been out on her own and was attacked and then wandered off into this pool. She was taken to the Rangers and cared for at the med tent. BRC is a city. A big city. It doesn’t mean it is all safe and that everyone is kind, compassionate, and loving. We wish they were. It is so disappointing and sad to hear these tragic stories. I hope you make it back to BRC and find the amazing people and events that are there in the most unexpected places. I am so sorry to hear of your experience. These stories are out there. Take care of yourself and move forward in positivity..

  9. A couple of our campmates saw a woman chasing a man from her camp, yelling, with her fellow campmates helping her out. The man being chased pulled out a huge knife, but fortunately ran into a post or something, giving the others enough time to contact a Ranger who immediately called BLM on the scene, and the man was taken into custody. This was near the 9:00 Plaza.

  10. This sickens me. When did radical self-reliance become synonymous with having to stay in small groups for protection? When did BRC become the Serengeti? How did we move from a society that supports an builds up one another with inclusivity and become one of over-indulgent, self-centered, hyena type behavior? I am so disappointed even though its “just one incident” and yet it DID touch the lives of those who saw what was happening. That makes it an incident shared by many. In their neglect to aid someone in need, they embraced its happening. Those with the capability have a responsibility. In this environment where the week is set aside for people to relax and experience, this forceful oppression of one person taints the event for everyone. I am saddened and disappointed, and now, wordless.

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