Burning Man continues to get lots of coverage in the mainstream global financial press. This one in Business Insider was published while we were out on the Playa. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.
The freedom-loving hippie “burners” attending the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nev. this week may believe they’re communing in a happy cocoon with no laws.
In reality, undercover federal agents from all over the West are swarming the “temporary community” as they do every year and busting people for doing or selling drugs, local attorney and former cop Arnold Brock tells Business Insider. These agents do whatever they can to fit in at the 50,000-person festival, which Brock called a “unique event” that’s kind of like Woodstock.
“Last year we had an undercover agent dressed up as catwoman,” Brock says. “They will do whatever they do to … ferret out what they are considering criminal activity.”
Brock has an entire page on his website devoted to the “Burning-Man Related Arrests” that can happen to out-of-towners attending the festival. The festival goers might have their guard down and could be easy targets.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for undercover agents to go have a little fun and work a limited geographic area,” Brock says. “And that is exactly what they do.”
In some cases, Brock says, federal agents will even follow vehicles involved in larger drug deals from out of state and bust them once they arrive at Burning Man. Last year, 350 people were arrested there, according to the Reno Gazette.
Some burners have accused the cops of being overzealous in recent years. Festival attendees have complained about undercover female agents explicitly asking male burners for drugs as well as drug dogs brazenly roaming the camps, the Associated Press reported back in 2010.
Federal officials, however, said Burning Man needs to be policed.
“I don’t want my guys to be party poopers, but we have a job to do,” Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Land Management, told the AP. “[Festival goers] are not bad people, but they like to use drugs.“
UPDATE: Reno news KRNV Ask Joe: How many crimes occur at Burning Man ?
Patty Gordon wrote in saying she has heard there are many serious crimes committed at Burning Man and she wants to know if that’s true ?
Patty, Pershing County is considered the lead law enforcement agency when it comes to Burning Man. I checked with Sheriff Machado in Pershing County. He did not have complete numbers but I did a get partial list. There are 50 investigative cases which are now open and being investigated. Machado says the crimes reported at burning man this year included open and gross lewdness, twelve sexual assaults, battery and various property crimes and DUI. A total of 15 people were taken to jail. Keep in mind there are more than 60,000 people up there for burning man, but there clearly are crimes being committed during the festival.