Burning Man message boards have been on fire all week as people report being stopped on flimsy pretexts by federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officers in the tiny town of Nixon, one of the last stops on the narrow, quiet rural roads that 60-80,000 people use to access the Black Rock Desert, home to the Burning Man festival, which opens to the public this coming Sunday.
The officers pull cars over on flimsy and even manufactured pretexts, such as "dim license plate lights," and then ask to conduct a search. If drivers refuse, K9 dogs are brought to the site and made to "alert" on the cars, giving officers a pretext to conduct a search.
Attendees report delays of hours, along with unprofessional and intimidating conduct by the federal officers. Locals, including indigenous people, report being caught up in the BIA's dragnet and subjected to long delays and dehumanizing and illegal searches. The BIA has apparently entered into a Memo of Understanding with local tribal leadership to set up the checkpoints.
The Burning Man Organization has advised attendees to make a video record of their cars' working lights and signals and unobstructed license plates, and to record their drive on route 447, and to use the ACLU's Mobile Justice app to record interactions with law enforcement (Nevada is a one-party consent state and drivers do not need to notify officers that they are recording).
If you are ordered to stop recording police interactions, the Burning Man Organization advises politely refusing while citing Fordyce v. Seattle, which affirms your First Amendment right to film and record public officials engaged in official business.
Observe posted speed limits at all times. Do not be in possession of any illegal substances (marijuana is legal in Nevada, but not on federal lands; do not carry marijuana or its derivatives). Be polite and respectful with law enforcement. Support local businesses and indigenous communities. Keep cool.
See you there.
Over the next seven days, we anticipate more than 60,000 people will drive Highway 447 on their way to the Black Rock Desert. The frequency and intensity of stops is already having, and will continue to have, negative implications and effects. We have shared all of the following concerns with the BIA:
1. Black Rock City Operations. The BIA traffic stops have already caused delays for our operational leadership and public safety staff reporting to work onsite, and they have caused significant delays in infrastructure deliveries. If these delays continue, it could impact our ability to provide key public services at the event.
2. Public health and safety. Traffic stops on Highway 447, which has no shoulder, create a hazard for drivers and for public health and safety officials. This is why we have worked with agencies including the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Highway Patrol, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, and the Nevada Department of Transportation to prevent delays. Now trailers and trucks are being unloaded and searched by BIA agents, and drivers are left to reload vehicles on the side of the road. In the coming days, artists, theme camps, and mutant vehicle projects will all arrive with carefully loaded vehicles and trailers, and these traffic stops may cause significant delays and roadside hazards.
3. Traffic congestion. BIA did not do any advance planning with Burning Man or NDOT. We have reason to believe BIA has not thoroughly considered the impact this will have on traffic in the region. If the current rate of stops continues as the volume of travelers increases significantly over the coming days, traffic could back up to I-80.
4. Negative economic impact on the tribe. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is already hearing calls to boycott local businesses. Burning Man does not support these efforts and wants to continue having a robust positive economic impact on local communities.
5. Lack of coordination with state agencies. It is our understanding the Nevada Department of Transportation was not consulted or notified before this operation began, and coordination with Nevada Highway Patrol and Washoe County Sheriff’s Office was minimal or nonexistent.