How I Got Kicked Out of Burning Man Last Year

rangers k9

A guest post from Kevin O’Neill.


How I Got Kicked Out of Burning Man

By Kevin O’Neill

I got kicked out of Burning Man last year. To this day, I can’t quite tell you what offense I committed heinous enough to warrant it. Neither could the law enforcement officers or rangers that escorted me out, for that matter. We were all shrugs, head nods and baffled faces, as we drove through the desert night, kicking up a cloud of dust behind us on the road to Reno.

 

It all went down the Thursday before the burn. I’d been looking forward all week to my girlfriend arriving to meet me that afternoon. Her birthday was burn day this year and she could only make it in from Chicago for the weekend. I had gotten early entry as a plus one to a veteran ranger friend of mine, who I had driven to my first burn in 2012 with. This year we were all camping together at Ranger Outpost Berlin.

 

Having rangered 5 times at the Great Lakes Regional Burn, Lakes of Fire, I thought camping with the BRC Rangers would be a good opportunity to learn from the pros, get immersed in the culture, and ready myself for my third trip to the playa, when I would finally be eligible to start training for dirt shifts on the playa. If nothing else, they had a kitchen, I didn’t really use because they kept mentioning how good the vitamix 300 vs 5200 review was and I just didn’t wan to touch anything. they had a shower, which I was able to use once to rinse off the layers of dust skin I had grown during 2 windstorm greeter shifts. I had to be presentable for my girl. After all, she was flying in from across the country to be with me on her burn day birthday at our favorite place on earth.

 

My girlfriend flew in from Chicago to Reno Thursday afternoon during my last greeter shift. I called her when I got off. She was at the airport, about to board the Burner Express Bus. We arranged to meet at the shuttle drop off location by 3 and G, a couple blocks down 3 from Berlin, which was next to the keyhole at C. Just about the only thing I was on time for during the burn was arriving at the moment the shuttle dropped her off. It was serendipity, really. While walking back to camp with her stuff, I broke the news to her that our Ranger friend, who brought us to Berlin, was still out and about with her bike. A week before, in Chicago, all three of us were loading up my bike and hers on the Cobra bus to transport them 2,000 miles to the middle of the northern Nevada desert. It was there that my friend agreed to lend her bike to our Ranger buddy for the week until she arrived. There was one explicit condition she had: that the bike be returned to her upon her arrival at camp.

 

Suffice it to say, when we reached camp the bike was not there. Having had a negative experience where her bike was stolen from her during her first burn the year before, she was disappointed by her new bike’s absence. The bike was still where it had been locked up since the day before, when we rode it to the naked greeter shift, somewhere between Rod’s Road and 5. By the time it did make it back to camp, it was dark, cold, and we were about to evicted from Black Rock City.

 

I knew my friend had a shift that night, but I didn’t know when. After asking the rangers around the outpost Berlin if they knew the whereabouts of our ranger friend or when he might be expected back, we had no answers.

My girl and I decided to go for a walk in the meantime. She had had her heart set on having a dusk bike ride out to deep playa as soon as she got there, but a stroll around the neighborhood would have to suffice. We met our neighbors at a campsite toward the keyhole at C. They asked how we were, and we told them about my girlfriend’s birthday, how she had just arrived from Chicago earlier that day, and how we were walking around until our friend got back to Berlin with her bike. They encouraged us to seek help with the rangers at Tokyo Outpost, on the other side of the playa, because they might be able to look up his schedule to see if he was working that night and when. They said the Tokyo rangers would be more helpful.

 

We, instead, returned with this idea to our campsite at Berlin. After mentioning the notion to go Tokyo to ask about our friend’s schedule, the Berliners acted like “anything that Tokyo can do, we can do better.” While my girlfriend inquired about our friend’s schedule and when to expect him back, I passed out in my tent from the exhaustion of 48 hours of no sleep, during which time I was working 12 hours of sandstorm greeter shifts. Sometimes you just gotta go to Robot Heart for the deep playa sunrise set. Sometimes you have to lay down before you collapse. It’s all about balance.

 

I woke up to the sound of yelling. My girlfriend rushed into my tent, telling me that there was a ranger accusing her of going into tents that weren’t hers. Groggy and disoriented, I staggered out of my tent to be met by a guy in a ranger outfit, accusatory and hostile in nature. With an inflammatory tone, he demanded to know who we were, and what we were doing at the ranger’s camp.

 

“I’ve been camping here at Berlin for 5 days as a guest of my friend, a Black Rock ranger of 6 years,” I told him. The ranger before me said he didn’t know my friend, and interjected his doubt of what I told him and his suspicion that I was not supposed to be here. I insisted that he leave. He did leave by the by, only to return with more rangers shortly thereafter.

By this time the sun was settling behind the mountains, the temperature had dropped. I grabbed the first shirt with long sleeves I could reach, which happened to be my friend’s Black Rock City Ranger shirt. I had mistaken it for my similar Lakes of Fire Great Lakes Regional Ranger shirt that I had gotten a couple of years before, my 3rd time Rangering there. Now I was wearing a ranger outfit too. Similar in color, texture, and size to the Lakes of Fire Ranger issue, it was an honest mistake grabbing the BRC shirt instead. But it did turn out to be a huge mistake.

When the ranger who confronted us and disturbed me from my dust coma returned with more rangers, he saw my friend’s ranger shirt and said I was impersonating a ranger. He claimed I was there to steal from the tents of rangers.

 

At this point, we had drawn enough attention asking about my friend’s whereabouts, and getting into a yelling match with an unrangerly ranger, the situation was escalating fast. Rangers were gathering by the minute, surrounding our tents. Ever been surrounded by rangers before? It’s a little threatening. I may have offered to jump kick the unrangerly ranger who started this whole defuckle. I wonder if I can even do that.

They said I was trespassing. Without my friend there to corroborate, all I could do was remind them that I had been here all week, that I had seen such and such at the Berlin Outpost party on Tuesday, circumstantial stuff. Of the few rangers at Berlin friendly enough to talk with me all week I’d been there, none of them were there right then. I got mad. They threatened to call law enforcement. I encouraged them. That turned out to be a mistake too.

 

When law enforcement got there, my ranger friend had yet to return. The rangers at Berlin proceeded to file paperwork with them to have me evicted. They told me and my girlfriend that I was going to be kicked out, but she was going to be allowed to stay. She said wanted to stay with me, sweet woman. She was filming everything at this point on her camera.

I started yelling that this was unfair, and that I hadn’t done anything to deserve this. I was assaulted briefly by a police officer who slammed into me from behind and restrained me.

They stopped short of handcuffing me.

 

I was allowed to pack up my tent and belongings under the flashlights of a dozen rangers. Right before the time when the packing began, my friend finally shows up with my girlfriend’s bike in tow.

 

He was immediately confronted by law enforcement and questioned.

“Who’s bike is that?”, the sheriff asked.

“It’s (Kevin’s girlfriend’s)”, replied my friend.

“Are these your things”, inquired the sheriff, holding up the dust-rubbed Khaki garb I had worn earlier.

“Yes”, says my friend after investigating his shirt.

“It seems Kevin here was going through your tent while you were out”, the law enforcement officer informed my friend. “Would you like to press charges?”

“Kevin is my friend, he has permission to go into my tent whenever he likes.”

The law enforcement officer then asked my girlfriend if she still wanted to press charges for bike theft.

“No,” she said. “The bike has been returned”. Albeit too late.

The situation seemed to deescalate. All conflicts were resolved.

The rangers told us that we could stay in festival but we had to leave Berlin. Gladly.

Not 20 minutes later, my Ranger friend came out with the law enforcement officer and told us that they were just kidding about us getting to stay.

“The paperwork had already been started”, he said. You know how it is with paperwork, am I right?

 

As it turns out, while the situation outside was being diffused, inside of a trailer at Berlin, the Khaki on duty made the tough decision to evict me and my girlfriend from Burning Man. They feared that if we were allowed to stay at the festival, we may retaliate or seek vengeance. That definitely wasn’t a possibility after the paperwork to remove us had been filed with the state sheriff.

The paperwork that we were given was 2 yellow carbon copies of trespassing notices, from the Nevada State’s Sheriff’s office, signed by the khaki on duty at the time. We were escorted out to the law enforcement camp, at the festival entrance, right next to where I had spent 16 hours greeting 1000s of people with hugs all week long. Now it was time for me to say goodbye. 2 hours later, my girlfriend and I, along with all of our stuff (her bike included), were toted in a white van with no windows through the dark desert toward Reno. I fell asleep. When I woke up, that dream that we all share – of making it out to the playa and having our intentions, hard work, sacrifices, resources, and time [combine] into the culminating experience of everything we each bring and believe to be Burning Man – was gone. I’ve been woke ever since.

 

I returned to the Lakes of Fire this past June, my 7th regional. I attended ranger training. I’m not sure why exactly I felt compelled, but it had to do with forgiveness and closure. A respected veteran to Lakes and Black Rock was leading the session.

 

There’s no way he could’ve known what had happened with us last year. The rangers that were there didn’t talk about it, and if you’re reading this, you’re one of a few that I’ve told the story to. Still, this veteran ranger looked me in the eye, standing in a crowd full of attendees, and gave a pretty good speech.

 

“We’re rangers. We’re not cops. We don’t have any authority over anyone else. We’re here to help”, he told us. “Part of Burning Man is radical participation. Rangering is my art. It’s my contribution to this community.”

We all give back in our own ways. While I wasn’t ready to put on a “Khaki Lives Matter” patch, I did end up taking a shift at the perimeter of our 2016 Lakes of Fire effigy burn. Rangers and FAST had to tackle a disoriented participant, who was running toward the burning wooden monster to prevent him from jumping into the fire. Other than that, it was pretty uneventful.

36 comments on “How I Got Kicked Out of Burning Man Last Year

  1. Wow- I am glad you wrote the story and overall evidence did not merit being escorted from the premises off Playa. I had a horrible experience with the Rangers myself last year as I was physically confronted by a racist Burner that claimed to be a Ranger and that nothing could happen to him. A Burner guy who witnessed this transgession walked me over to the Rangers outpost and I made a report…two Rangers assured me they would go to the Camp immediately…. but never followed up, or perhaps even covered up…. After MUCH MUCH MIUCH inquiry, only in July- at a much requested visit to Headquarters, was I informed that the Rangers could not locate the Camp nor individual involved….. I call BULL to their story and very much suspect a cover up- otherwise it would NOT have taken so long for them to report back to me… so I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO TRUST on Rangers!!! Fuck even some Temple Guardians abuse their authority….. very much recommend Burners to NOT volunteer in department where their ego will simply become manipulative/overbearring/coersive just volunteer for departments where you will become a better person!! We do not need you to be insulting to the rest of us and devalue our community. )'(

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  2. I think the rangers are great (so much better than the cops. But I’m sure they are not all great. The thing that bothers me is that your story doesn’t make sense. Hard for me to believe your account.

    I hope this post gave you sense of peace about it though.

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  3. At least you didn’t have to endure the traffic jam at Exodus.

    In all seriousness, at BM, and to mostly the same extent at the regionals, the Rangers, and those with the walkie talkies, golf carts, and Mad Max’ian vehicles, seem to be folks who spend 355 days a year in the default world, having sand kicked in their faces, and look upon the opportunity to be “in-charge” at these events as their big chance to be the sand kicker.

    I had a particularly unpleasant experience with a surly DPW guy in a dune buggy that soured me on the whole experience for good.

    I feel like the participants in these events, perhaps with the exception of the elite with access to First Camp, etc, are just annoyances to be endured by the staff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • ^ I went once with an Early Access pass, and this was very much the vibe. Many of these people consider Burning Man “over” once the gates open – something re-inforced by BMOrg who cut off their commissary food during the public event.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “…that soured me on the whole experience for good.”

      “I feel like the participants in these events… are just annoyances to be endured by the staff.”

      I would be willing to bet that your experience was after the sellout (2011+), when the comped tickets bestowed a sense of privilege among the commoners.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Inconsistencies in a story say a lot (i.e. Lochte): “early entry as a plus one” is for significant other, not a friend meeting his girlfriend; Berlin is a ranger camp for rangers and significant others only (not a friend wanting to camp with his girlfriend); “My girlfriend rushed into my tent, telling me that there was a ranger accusing her of going into tents that weren’t hers.” Why was the girlfriend going into other tents, when she ‘rushed into my tent’?.. in other words, she knew the right tent; “I grabbed the first shirt with long sleeves I could reach, which happened to be my friend’s Black Rock City Ranger shirt”… BRC Ranger shirts have large ranger logos (front and back), so the “mix up” seems a huge stretch; “I started yelling” which seems like what a drunk person would do (along w/ grabbing a ranger shirt to wear). So, before taking Kevin’s side, please remember Lochte’s story and the above inconsistencies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m the girlfriend in this story and let me clear a few things up in this story for you, tmakashi.

      1. If the “early entry plus one” wasn’t for a friend meeting his girlfriend, then the Ranger who let us camp at Ranger Outpost Berlin should not have told us it was okay to camp there in the first place. Also, those in charge of Ranger Outpost Berlin should not have had it okay’ed for us to camp there either.

      2. I knew exactly which tent was mine. I had my own tent set up by Kevin prior to my arrival, which was a red and gray Coleman 4 person tent. Ranger Doormouse (Kevin’s ranger friend who let us camp at Berlin) had the exact same tent as I did which was set up right next to mine, making it very difficult to differentiate my tent and his. My boyfriend, Kevin, had a small white and gray two person tent. It was the Ranger who accused us of going into tents that did not belong to us who was confused as to which tent belonged to who. He thought we were going into our Ranger friend’s tent when in reality we were going into my tent.

      3. Like Kevin said, the Ranger shirt he received when he was a Ranger for a regional Burning Man event was the exact same color and fabric as the one for the BRC rangers. Since we were camped right next to ranger Doormouse (with all three of our tents touching eachother’s tents), it became very easy for our belongings to intermingle forus to confuse one person’s property for the other’s (especially taking all other factors into account such as wind, darkness, dehydration, etc).

      4. Kevin did yell as did the Rangers. If you were there and this was happening to you, you would have started yelling too.

      If you have any other questions, please ask. Also, I have videos.

      Liked by 2 people

    • tmakashi Myself and my girl were the 2 sig oth’s of which you speak granted to our ranger friend. I put on the shirt innocently, I was not trying to, nor will I ever, want to perpetrate a Black Rock CIty Ranger. Protectors of cops that kill people often invoke the idea that the victim was acting in a way that warranted whatever overreaction befell them. By responding to somebody telling their story, trying to discredit it makes it seem like the you have something to protect. It’s probably easier to discredit someone’s claim, legit as it may be, than to protect your own interests. I didn’t write this for you. You’re clearly eager to write things off that disagree with your world view. It’d be like convincing a Trump supporter why black lives matter or why women have rights. I have no doubt that if you are a ranger, that you are be part of the problem. I’m happy to not meet you in the real world or virtual, otherwise. You do a discredit to Rangers.

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      • I don’t think anyone is trying to discredit you, you are doing that. Your story doesn’t make sense and if it doesn’t make sense it probably isn’t true.

        But then again, “every villain is the hero of their own story”.

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      • Cityzen, I can’t quite figure out if your post is a red herring, straw man, logical fallacy or a some other literary device to defuse tmakashi’s points. Fact is, we all know that there are two sides to a story. Telling the other side of things (or questioning them) does not necessarily translate into an attempt to negate the original story.

        All that being said, I suspect that there was a level of assholery pushed by both sides involved. Certainly it sounds like the Ranger’s (alleged) behavior was completely anathema to the long established training that every Black Rock Ranger is required to attend. Unfortunately, If you’re a Ranger and you have to yell, scream, threaten or coerce anyone in order to resolve an issue then you’re doing it wrong and should have step away and allowed another less invested Ranger to engage. If you’re a participant who has to yell, scream, accuse or denigrate anyone at the event then you too are most likely doing it fucking wrong.

        As someone who was a Ranger for many years I’ve noticed a gradual degradation of the Ranger ethos as the event has grown. More than a few (both within and outside of) the BRC Rangers have questioned whether the group has outlived its original purpose as it appears to be gradually morphing into something other than what it once was with a small minority of newly minted actors assuming the role of pseudo-LEO, chest thumping tight-asses. Or, as Chicken John once referred to as ‘Larry’s Flying Monkey Brigade’ – or something to that affect. I’ve also noticed a pretty steep uptick in new attendees who make only a marginal effort to prepare themselves for the event. This includes familiarization with rules (gah!) and yes a small number of requirements that insure that the social contract is maintained amidst the madness. I can only conject that this whole unfortunate overreaction was the result of both parties failing to resolve what was most assuredly not an eviction level engagement.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. It sounds like the Rangers jumped to a conclusion that you were stealing from one of their own. They fell into that old trap of protecting their own and were unable to be objective. Much like fair minded police until one of their own is in trouble, then you are the enemy.
    It’s a shame your friend didn’t fight on your behalf since he sort of caused the situation. And to not make sure you were properly introduced to your Berlin camp mates is unconsciounable. He could have stopped the eviction, he decided not to.
    Hope things go better for you this year.

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    • Sounds to me like people power tripping on their Authoritaw caused this situation, not Kevin’s friend. This is the problem when there are no real rules, just vague objectives, and no process of recourse to a judicial system.

      Welcome to the future of civilization, as developed by Silicon Valley after 30 years of social experiments.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “It’s a shame your friend didn’t fight on your behalf since he sort of caused the situation. And to not make sure you were properly introduced to your Berlin camp mates is unconsciounable. He could have stopped the eviction, he decided not to.”

      I have to agree here. If the basic story is to be taken at face value then it suggests to me that there is indeed complicity on the part of this Berlin Ranger who did everything wrong including 1) incorrectly stating that non-Ranger persons could stay at the working Ranger encampment 2) incorrectly stating that an early-in status somehow accorded you a spot at the camp when it’s well known that pre-event camps are specifically for those actively engaged with pre-event set up and other activities needed to prepare the city for the event. This includes a small but focused group of Rangers who are working shifts prior to the gate opening 3) not briefing you on how (or who) to connect with should should it become necessary to get in touch in case of an emergency or other issue 4) not step up and take part of the fall for a situation that was part of his doing. Said Ranger should know that any escalating issue(s) involving Rangers should involve the input of the Ranger Shift Lead – ESPECIALLY when an eviction from the event is possible or likely. In short, it seems like this guy failed you and might be rightfully accused of gaming the system by getting you into the event early. I know this to be highly discouraged by both event staff and the Ranger hierarchy.

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      • Not to worry. No corrective action necessary. There are more than enough people waiting in line to take the place of any and all parties involved. No good reason to worry or change anything. As the Borg shills say, “If you don’t like it, go start your own event!”

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sorry that that happened to you. I’m certainly glad that these kinds of experiences are the exception and not the norm with the Rangers. I’ve heard so many good ranger stories and have been ever grateful on many occasion when they were rangers there and not federal or Nevada state officers. I’m glad that you’re able to see past that and continue range ring at the regional event. Perhaps you should even consider joining the Rangers in Blackrock city. Your perspective could bring a balance and possibly help someone else who is feeling like they are being treated unfairly .

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    • Sounds like the good ‘ole days, when I went. You were a Ranger: so what?

      Now, as a “*Ranger*,” you are one of the assimilated comp ticketed, and are part of the collective. Others that are not part are to be exploited if not assimilated. You know who you are, and you know who they are.

      Waiting for little badges the comped/DS/Leonardo ticketed people to wear, like those PBA stickers they give you for your car.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. >I was impersonating a ranger. He claimed I was there to steal from the tents of rangers.

    After a few years you learn to stay away from rangers. Too many Little Larrys, and others jacked-up on their egos or they imagine they’re cops. I’ve seen BRC rangers participate in camp raids with LEOs (Oh no! We’d NEVER do that!!!!11). Steer clear of rangers and DPW and any topless broad with a walkie talkie.

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