Sheriff Reserves Right to Protect Kids

Guy Farmer of Carson City is a long-time critic of Burning Man. Recently in Nevada Appeal – the Lahontan Valley news – he shared his opinion about Burning Man’s “staring contest” with Pershing County.

Although both behemoth bureaucracy Black Rock City, LLC (aka BMOrg) and little-‘ole gun-totin’ Pershing County recently reached an agreement out of court, two local Judges (Jones and Wagner) and the District Attorney still think that the party, with all of its sex acts and drug use, is not a suitable place for young children.

A complex legal battle between Black Rock City, LLC, the powerful Bay Area entity that operates Burning Man, and sparsely populated Pershing County has ended in a judicial standoff in federal court. But if this dispute was a boxing match, I’d give the decision to Pershing County on points.

It was a David (a small rural county) vs. Goliath (Burning Man) battle from the beginning. The Burners sued the county last year, claiming that local authorities had no jurisdiction over the annual naked drug festival, which is held on federal land near Gerlach, about 90 miles north of Reno. The Burners objected to additional charges for law enforcement expenses and claimed the county couldn’t regulate their behavior on a remote desert playa in a national conservation area.

At the time he filed a countersuit against the Burners, Pershing County District Attorney Jim Shirley told me that “public servants shouldn’t back down just because a large multimillion-dollar corporation wants to bully us into not following the law.” The corporation, which grosses more than $20 million a year from Burning Man, opposed a modest increase in law enforcement expenses proposed by Shirley and the county, and rejected suggestions that the county could bar underaged children from the X-rated event. As an aside, it’s relevant to note that the festival’s federal landlord, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rakes in more than $1 million per year from the Burners.

As an aside, the event is not X-rated. First of all, that’s a voluntary rating applied to films by the movie industry. Secondly, it hasn’t existed since 1990. It’s also worth mentioning that the event currently pays more like $2 million to the Feds and other authorities.

Although Black Rock City unleashed hundreds of highly paid attorneys in the battle against Shirley and the county, both sides eventually reached an out-of-court settlement that gave the county most of what it wanted, starting with increased law enforcement expenses.

It was all about the money. Not freedom of speech and expression, not nudity and over-exposure to a Bacchanalian revel for thousands of underage Burners.

bondageAlthough Federal District Judge Robert C. Jones criticized the settlement, calling it “illegal, unenforceable and absurd,” he acknowledged that he lacks jurisdiction to void the contract and repeated his concerns about exposing children to public nudity at the annual festival.

The county’s concerns do not center on nudity, but rather on the blatant sexual conduct and the (illegal) drugs at the event,” Shirley told me in a recent email exchange. “The (Pershing County) sheriff still has all his rights to enforce Nevada law relating to children.” I sincerely hope the sheriff will exercise that authority when the 2014 edition of Burning Man rolls around in early September.

I’ve repeatedly objected to the presence of young children at the festival based on my own experience during a daylong visit to the event in 2008. That’s when I saw a naked middle-aged man cavorting dangerously near the area reserved for children. This occurred after several child molesters had been arrested at Burning Man in recent years.

rooster-art-car-burning-manWe told you about a pedophile who got busted, and was found to have made plans to attend Burning Man for a kidnapping. One of America’s Most Wanted is kite enthusiast Thomas Hanley, a child molester known to frequent Burning Man – a perfect place for someone who’s on the run, since no-one would think twice if they wear a mask.

We don’t know about any other arrests for this, but there are definitely registered sex offenders at Burning Man – and the presence of nubile, scantily clad teens is surely a case of statutory rape waiting to happen (age of consent in Nevada is 16 for straight sex and 18 for gay/bi).

My criticism has always been based on the widespread use of illegal drugs (not just marijuana) on public lands, and the highly inappropriate presence of children at an event featuring pornographic “art” and public performances. For example, there was the mechanized depiction of sodomy at the Jiffy Lube Camp a few years ago. You get the idea.

ROPEDThe issue is not just nudity. It’s tens of thousands of sexual freaks in a place where almost everyone is partying out of control for a week, on every kind of drug you can imagine, including Viagra. There are fetishes, polyamory, bondage, all kinds of freakery – and it could be going on anywhere. Last year I met some burgins whose first act at Burning Man was to slide down a rat’s ass into an art car – filled with gay guys tied to the wall wearing ball gags! They just thought they were going on a cool slide, boy did they get a shock.

Mr Farmer concludes that it’s all about the money:

A Reno newspaper recently estimated that Burning Man generates some $35 million worth of economic activity in Northern Nevada, and Reno Mayor Bob Cashell has warned Pershing County not to interfere with that sizeable cash flow. BLM remains silent on the issue. In other words, collect the money and forget about the children. My hope, however, is that Pershing County will exercise its authority to regulate public conduct at Burning Man, and that the more enlightened Burners will finally decide to leave the little kids at home, where they belong.

Make Burning Man an over 21 event, and suddenly the “sting” goes out of it. There’s no danger of statutory rape, and no need for any camps to check IDs. Leave your wallet at home when you go to Burning Man, showing a drivers license to be gifted a shot defeats the purpose of “Decommodification”.

[Update: this article has generated a few comments on the Interwebz. We should remember the effects of Playa Dust on young lungs. The Scumfrog expressed it very well:

The more arguments you give to defend children’s presence at BM, the more I completely fail to see the point of ever bringing your child there. Let’s face it; if you strip away the drugs and the loud music and the open playa and the radical self expression; you might as well go to an outside art exhibit in the real world, topped off by an hour on the trampoline, and of course doing all of this while the kids are wearing their favorite costumes. You don’t need to be at Burning Man for that. In short; a good parent makes sure that their kid’s life is like BM every day of the year. Because kids can live like that. Adults need to escape to this special annual event to act like kids one week a year, but kids can act this way year round! Bringing your kids to BM is like opening a Starbucks inside a Starbucks. There is no need for it whatsoever. The only need is the need for the parents to proclaim their extreme liberalism to the outside world. There is not a single lesson that an 8 year old can only learn at BM and not anywhere else in the world. Those special lessons that the playa provides are life lessons for adults. WE benefit from BM in that way, but for kids, it’s all just a playground.

22 comments on “Sheriff Reserves Right to Protect Kids

  1. Can’t we have one adult Disneyland of debauchery without children? There are so many places like Disneyland for kids. If you want to give your kids a better than Burning Man experience, take them to the Maker Faire. All the best art cars from Burning Man and far more for kids. Listen BREEDERS, either make other arrangements for your kids or don’t attend the Burn and stay with your kids like good parents. Don’t penalize the rest of us for your failure to use birth control. Kids at the event gives government ample license to fuck with everyone and they do in major ways: because of your pig-headedness. I’ve also met a lot of girls who attended as teens and every one is a serious drug addict and quite mental. I would never bring a daughter there. You parents think you are being cool, but you are not. Burning Man was not designed to be a kid event. Just stop.

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  4. It’s funny, isn’t it, that in a state that has legal prostitution there is all this hullabaloo about whether or not children may or may not see lewd behavior at a festival? Or may be preyed upon by child molesters. Or see drug use. In a state that includes the oh-so-safe-and pure cities of Reno and Las Vegas. But of course, children are barred from entering the city limits of both of those towns, right?

    This is just an excuse to shut down a festival that freaks out SOME of the people in the state, plain and simple. If they got their way on this one and made the whole festival 21 and over only, they would then proceed to find OTHER reasons to shut it down.

  5. “I personally have never smelled or seen drug use at Burning Man nor have I seen an actual sex act at Burning Man. ”
    HAHAHAHA you were not at BM!!!!!!!!

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  7. Make Burning Man an over 21 event, and suddenly the “sting” goes out of it. There’s no danger of statutory rape, and no need for any camps to check IDs. Leave your wallet at home when you go to Burning Man, showing a drivers license to be gifted a shot defeats the purpose of “Decommodification”.


  8. Personally I would rather kids stayed home because I believe that there are sexual and physical boundaries that are pretty loose at the burn and kids don’t have the developmental ability to reflect on what they see in the same way that adults do. However, I would also rather that no one tries to tell anyone else how to parent and if someone feels it is right to bring their family then far be it from any of us to make that decision for them. If the government is worried about molesters, then why don’t they focus on getting them in jail and protecting the kids Alll Year Long. One in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted or molested in their lifetime…. Work on THAT for crying out loud!!!

  9. I have experienced both Burns, the childless and the one with children. Both are very different particularly as they take place at very different times of the day. My experience is that you see at BM what you seek. I have never encountered much sexual behaviour other than a kissing booth (and that was at a No-Child-Burn). In my opinion it is only a minor part of what is going. The beauty of BM is that everyone can experience it on their own level and a child’s view on this festival is just magic. It is a shame to think that we can’t let our children run around freely with such danger around, but frankly recently I called the police as I noticed a pedophile molesting a girl at our local (Auckland, New Zealand) playground, i.e. inappropriate behaviour is not exclusive to BM and all of us parents will be protecting our children. Overall I had a great response from other burners who thought that children are the personification of the spirit of BM.

      • child molesters will always prefer their own homes and the homes of close friends and relatives to any public space… but I think you’re pretty much right about this

      • When I was a kid, I was molested at a restaurant. In public. In other words, it can happen anywhere, and singling out one specific activity or venue is silly. To answer your question directly, Burning Man is a terrible place to actually get away with this crime, because parents are present. When I brought my daughter, either I or my wife were always present.

  10. My first year at Burning Man I was amazed at a LOT of things. The art. Omg, how can you talk about BRC and not talk about all the freaking art? For every sexual act or situation you encounter, there’s mind blowing, heart rending art. And no, it’s not all about fucking.
    Also, after day one I frankly was desensitized. I guess maybe this politician/judge/whatever is permanently locked in the mental age of 14, but I was ready to go find the people talking about interesting stuff. And I did. I live in a state where I can find drugs and kink (in some form) pretty much with minimal effort. A mimosa breakfast and lively discussion on particle physics? Yeah!! Fun!!

    As for kids, I saw them at our art project and answered their questions. And on burn night, I had a great conversation with a little guy dressed like Anakin Skywalker (his pregnant mom was taking a rest and dad was in line for the portapotty). He asked me if I wanted to have a duel. Well, how could I decline?
    Luckily, dad saved me minutes later because I was getting TROUNCED.

    Leave things as they are, or read the principles thoroughly, and spend 11 days or more volunteering out there. Stop judging what you don’t understand, stop fearing it, and stop killing what you fear. I’m Muscogee Nation. People with your mind set have always done this with some ridiculous excuse. Just stop. The kids are alright.

  11. I’m a parent burner (of six children) and have taken two with me to the festival so far. I’ve stayed in Kidsville and independently and have had no issues or problems with my children experiencing anything inappropriate. Kids are schooled hard (like adults) on safety requirements and precautions and yes, on the whole Burners are a protective and responsible group understanding what is required for a healthy and happy burn. The vast majority of families who burn together are well educated about the facts (not the hysteria propagated by law enforcement or other concerned but uneducated sorts). Burners do a great job of self-regulating activities of a mature nature. I would be furious if my children could not attend (if they are choosing to) as the burn is a really special and fun event for all of us. I do notice that some burners seem uncomfortable by the presence of children but I would suggest this is due to some issue of their own and not the fact that my kid is there having their own awesome experience. If anyone’s perspective on BM is that it’s just a debauchery fest, they should get their view out of the gutter and check out the beauty and wonder that is far more prevalent at the event.

  12. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with kids and teenagers running around at Burning Man.

    Yes, kids have Kidddie Camp, but this is a harsh environment with lots of adult themes that children simply shouldn’t be exposed to. There have been several teenagers that have camped with my crew throughout the years, and its always the same old story: they’re too immature to practice self control and end up taking too many drugs to the point were we have to take care of them or even take them home.

    I was first invited to Burn when I was 13 years old, my aunt was going and she had extra room in her car. I’m glad that I declined and waited until I was 22, I simply wasn’t mature enough back then to really appreciate it. I might have had fun, but it would have also been extremely overwhelming (it was overwhelming at 22) for a kid just starting puberty.

    Everyone agrees that Burning Man is for adults. Some people bring there kids along, but they aren’t going to BM for their kids, they’re going there for themselves. Can’t we just make it Adults Only?

    • Rico Suave, you and I disagree on a number of points.

      1. Your discomfort with young people at Burning Man is about your issues, not theirs. The Burner ethic requires that you take responsibility for your own experience, rather than demand others behave in a fashion that makes you more comfortable.

      2. It’s not up to you to tell me what my children simply shouldn’t be exposed to. I’m a parent, and raising my kids is my responsibility. If I’m satisfied with the preparation they’ve had for what they’ll encounter at a Burn, if I’m happy with the quality of their choices and the responsibility of their actions, then I’ll allow them to attend whatever event they want. Who are you to make parenting decisions for my children?

      3. Everybody does NOT agree that Burning Man is for adults. Everybody *I* know agrees that it’s for responsible capable Burners. Adults who aren’t emotionally mature enough to handle the temptations and distractions and challenges of the playa, or who can’t take care of themselves, or who aren’t radically self-reliant participants responsible for their own experience, shouldn’t be there. Kids who are being taken care of by their parents can certainly be there, if they and their parents so choose. And teenagers who’ve demonstrated that they can take care of themselves should certainly be permitted. Except there’s no reason they should have to demonstrate it to *you* to get permission, unless they’re your teenagers.

      My two sons have attended the largest regional burn in the country every year for the last 12 years, since they were 4 and 8 years old. They were brought up in the community, and I’d argue that they’re emotionally better prepared and significantly better behaved than most of the “adults” who go to Black Rock.

      As far as I’m concerned, the true value of Burning Man and the Burner community is the example it sets of creativity, freedom and responsibility, the opportunity it provides to explore those things, and the extent to which that example and that opportunity can bring about change in society. But you don’t change society by re-educating adults; you change it most successfully by educating youth differently.

  13. I have personally dealt with the Sheriffs at Burning Man, threatening to take my son away at age 16. The Sheriff explained that children have no rights in Nevada and that there were people at the Burning Man event like Charles Manson. He asked me, “Who is this cat you are camping with, what does he do for a living and how long have you known him.” All the while keeping my son and I separated and not giving me any rights at all. I did answer all the questions and the Sheriff stated he was going to do a background check on my camp mate, told me he had a right to take my son away and proceeded to tell me that my camp mate did something to my son. I was thinking, wow, this guy is self projecting. I replied to the sheriff, “If you are going attacking my son like you at me, he is an introvert that and thinks about algorithms and does not talk when people aggressively attack him. I explained that we had only been there 20 minutes and he had to go to the restroom. Furthermore my son had purposely gotten lost to find another 16 year old friend at kids camp and my son had no idea that he may not ever be able to find our camp site again as it had changed in that 20 minutes. Had I wrote our camping address on his body I would not even had been concerned. The Sheriff released my son to me and quite honestly that sheriff was scary crazy to me, creating things that were not even close to what had occurred. I personally have never smelled or seen drug use at Burning Man nor have I seen an actual sex act at Burning Man. I’m aware that there might be camps that facilitate sex positive environments however, I have never actually seen one at Burning Man probably because I never looked for one. I do wonder if actual registered sex offenders should register within the city and carry ID as they are required to by law anyway. I find people that attend Burning Man very supportive and protective of each other. While there my friends and I were surrounded by police while they were rolling a tobacco cigarette in the dark away from everything. The police did verify it was tobacco. This happened twice, both times being tobacco. Dealing with law enforcement has been my biggest experience of violation at the event.

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