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Burning Man Attorney Threatens Bureau of Indian Affairs Over Traffic Stops

The feds insist it's just a coincidence that an opioid task force targeted the one road to Burning Man as the event ramped up.

In the week or so leading up the official beginning of the annual Burning Man festival, which is in full swing as of yesterday, agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) started a program of enhanced traffic law enforcement in the name of the U.S. Department of the Interior's opioid reduction task force. More specifically, they started vigorously stopping cars in Nixon, Nevada, a town that nearly all of Burning Man's attendees pass through on the 447. That state road is the only paved and drivable route from Reno to the Black Rock playa where the event is held.

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A Reno Gazette-Journal report quotes BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling insisting these efforts had nothing to do with Burning Man. They are, she claims, just one more in a continual series of efforts that in previous iterations "seized $4.79 million in drugs from tribal reservations in Arizona in May and more than $2.5 million in drugs from tribal reservations in New Mexico in April." They just happened to coincide with the event's launch, she says.

The paper further reported that these efforts are aggravating the folks who run Burning Man, a fully permitted event that takes place on federal land:

The Burning Man organization has written a letter to top federal officials threatening a federal lawsuit in the wake of continuing traffic stops slowing vehicles headed to the 80,000-person event....The organization called for an immediate stop to the "improper and apparently unconstitutional behavior" and also demanded that all involved federal agencies preserve all records related to the traffic stops in a letter obtained by the Reno Gazette Journal.

"Many of the (traffic stop) tactics are attempts to intimidate and harass travelers who are doing nothing more than passing through the Reservation on a state-maintained highway. This is unacceptable and this behavior should not be tolerated by agency leaders nor the public," said Adam Belsky, special counsel to the Burning Man organization in the Wednesday letter.

The letter is addressed to Mr. Darryl LaCounte, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other top BIA officials in Washington, D.C....

"It appears that the BIA agents are unconstitutionally targeting attendees of the Burning Man event in violation of their First Amendment rights of free expression and of freedom to assemble," Belsky wrote.

So far, federal authorities will not comment on how many arrests have resulted from the stop, or what percentage of drug dog alerts led cops to contraband, or what percentage of that contraband consists of opioids. "The Pyramid Lake Police Department said that it will not release the records of how many citations, arrests and seizures the tribal and federal officers have made until 30 days after the operation concludes," the Gazette-Journal says.

The Pyramid Lake Tribal Council is cooperating with the BIA on the stops, stating they are in the service of helping "to carry out President Trump's directive to stop the opioid crisis."

In their official public statement on the law enforcement efforts—distinct from the threatening letter obtained by the Gazette-Journal—Burning Man organizers stress the damage that such pointless delays in movement could have on health and safety, on traffic congestion, on the economic benefit the event brings to the local tribes, and on safe operation of the event itself as vendors' and workers' arrivals are delayed.

They also list some of the reasons given to drivers for the stops: "driving over the posted speed limit, not stopping at the line at a stop sign, crossing the centerline or a tire touching the centerline, partially obscured license plates, not using turn signals, dim and non-functioning lights." Many of those stopped have insisted they were breaking no traffic laws. Burning Man is encouraging everyone stopped to fill out a report for them on their experiences.

Some personal stories and grousing about the traffic stops can be read here and here, although the idea that insanely vigorous enforcement of traffic laws turned into full-on roadblocks is exaggerated. The Gazette-Journal has also printed some personal tales of the stops.

Most of the reports I'm now seeing online indicate that the enhanced traffic stops are in abeyance now as the event is officially in motion. Nonetheless, everyone should of course obey all traffic laws and all other laws at all times always.

A few years back, as I reported, Bureau of Land Management forces were running drug dogs on mail sent to the event. Surprise, surprise: Their canine accusations of drug law violations were consistently wrong.

Burning Man has evolved over the years from near-anarchy to near–police state. I wrote the first narrative history of the event, This is Burning Man back in 2004, with a 10th anniversary edition available as an e-book with a new afterword.

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  • Vernon Depner||

    First World problem.

  • Jerryskids||

    Don't hate the playa, hate the game.

  • albo||

    Here's your dopamine reward +1

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    DancingTomCruisefromTropicThunder.gif

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Many of those stopped have insisted they were breaking no traffic laws.

    I'm pretty sure the Supreme Court has said that police are allowed to stop you illegally if the officers feel like you've broken what should probably be a law.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Or if their dog feels that way.

  • Trollificus||

    "...everyone should of course obey all traffic laws and all of the other 16,043,099 laws at all times always that may be applicable to them at certain times, in certain places or under certain circumstances, or not."

    Remember, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Nor is knowledge of the law.

    Good luck.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Burning Man has an attorney? Far out.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Benicio or Boyle?

  • SusanM||

    Benicio. Boyle just doesn't do "Mexican" at all.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    What an Irishmen can't pull off Mexican? They are both lazy drunks what else is there?

  • SusanM||

    A point...

  • Trollificus||

    A cuisine?

  • M.L.||

    Are you kidding? They are VERY heavily lawyered.

  • JonBlack||

    Remember when a bunch of the silly white-boys who go to Burning Man came up with the idea of BundyFest? It was essentially a celebration of the Feds fucking with people. Of course, at the time, the Feds were fucking with people who "deserved" to be fucked with.

    Well, as it turns out, it was simply more proof that Mencken was a genius.

  • sarcasmic||

    Reminds me of when I went to Lemonwheel up in Limestone Maine. We got searched on the way in. No dog or anything. I think they were looking for nitrous tanks and beer kegs. On the way out it was a couple lanes of bumper to bumper traffic, and there were cops on the side of the road just pointing at cars and waving for them to pull over. They pointed at us and we just gave them the finger and kept on driving. They had no lawful excuse to pull anyone over since the traffic wasn't going much faster than twenty miles per hour. Not that they need any legal justification. They do what they want.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    BM seems like it's just a big circle jerk for douchebags.

  • NoVaNick||

    Yep-for hipster trustafarians who need not be employed, or employable...

  • CE||

    "We are 100 percent OK with standard law enforcement, but the very best and brightest are being harassed and erroneously pulled over," said Smith, an engineer who is bringing a Tesla coil and zip line installation to the event.

    Law enforcement for thee, but not for me?

  • Trollificus||

    That guys' expectation that a cop or cops would be able to differentiate the "very best and brightest" from more deserving-of-harassment riffraff would seem to move him automatically out of the "best and brightest" category.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I am also not going to Burning Man this year, and therefore agree with you that it's a stupid event for stupidheads.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    This guy gets it.

  • Huh18?||

    Agreed

  • Juice||

    "seized $4.79 million in drugs from tribal reservations in Arizona in May and more than $2.5 million in drugs from tribal reservations in New Mexico in April."

    I thought reservations were sovereign territory. Guess not.

  • Juice||

    The Pyramid Lake Tribal Council is cooperating with the BIA on the stops, stating they are in the service of helping "to carry out President Trump's directive to stop the opioid crisis."

    Oh.

  • Ron||

    Pyramid lake is a great fishing lake. but do obey the laws for they are in control.

  • sarcasmic||

    I think the argument is that it's a state-maintained highway, so what they're doing amounts to highway robbery. Or something.

  • HillTown Trader||

    Sovereignty is a silly fantasy ginned up in the 1960, to classify the AIM Native American movement.

    Reservations are federal land and subject to federal law. They, like federal parks, are not subject to state law.

    While four of the five pillars of the Dredd Scott decision have been struck down, the section on status of Native Americans still identify Native Americans on Reservations as basically wards of the federal government, with lands held in trust, a very patronizing outlook that still exists. That decision is why the Federal taxpayers continue to be on the hook for endless welfare, housing and health services for Rez residents.

    Native Americans gained the vote and citizenship in the US in 1923, but they are still legally considered perpetual dependents on the federal government.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>It appears that the BIA agents are unconstitutionally targeting attendees of the Burning Man event in violation of their First Amendment rights of free expression and of freedom to assemble

    Sitting Bull could not be reached for comment

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Sitting this one out, is he?

  • Longtobefree||

    So maybe the "Indian wars" are not yet over?

  • M.L.||

    Come on. Let them do their illegal drug orgy neo-pagan Satan worship ritual in peace.

  • Huh18?||

    Actually, they should save everybody the trouble, and just give them all free drugs the whole week. At least they will know where to send the ambulances. I bet it would cost You and I a hella of a lot less in the end.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    illegal drug orgy neo-pagan Satan worship ritual

    sounds a heck of a lot more fun than,

    an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: "radical" inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace.
  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    If you're not transporting elicit materials, you have nothing to fear......Right?

  • Vernon Depner||

    That's up to the dogs to decide.

  • Michael Cox||

    Stop resisting!

  • Agammamon||

    elicit materials

    Like really good music or a French movie?

  • Agammamon||

    Burning Man Attorney Threatens Bureau of Indian Affairs Over Traffic Stops
    The feds insist it's just a coincidence that an opioid task force targeted the one road to Burning Man as the event ramped up.

    That's cool and all - and I hope he wins - but, under what theory? Because last I checked, cops have always been allowed to stake out roads and watch traffic. They also only need a pretext. They don't even need to pretend that stopping you because your taillight was out wasn't really to check for other crimes. Like, everything described here is already settle law. Its shit, but its already settled.

  • ThomasD||

    Yep. Sadly the lawyers are going to lose. They can set up checkpoints for diver licenses, or vehicle safety, etc. then just take it from there. By checking all vehicles they are actually avoiding any sort of claims of discrimination.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Attending burning man isn't probable cause to be searched for drugs?

    Do I have the wrong impression about the festival?

    Alcohol and drugs are banned from the Navaho nation. I dunno about where BM is held but I wouldn't expect the Indians to mind having a bunch of white guys arrested for drugs.

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