Capitalist Pigs

During the 1999 event, the need of the Rangers was required to enforce ejection of a theme camp, Capitalist Pigs, after numerous complaints of megaphone-blasted racial and homophobic slurs as well as sexually inappropriate shouts to participants, including children.

[Original article from the Burning Man website]

On Tuesday night, Capitalist Pig Camp was escorted out of Burning Man after several complaints were lodged against them. Members of the camp were shouting insults, including racist and homophobic slurs, through a mega-phone at people passing by.

Big Bear, Director of the Black Rock Rangers, described the incident. “We had asked them many times to cool out and cut down on the belligerence. I talked to them four times myself, so this took some time to happen.”

According to Big Bear, the camp started out on a bad note. They had camped in a restricted space, but had already set up quite a bit. Big Bear went to meet with them. “I let them know they were in a reserved space, but that if they respected Black Rock and respected the rules of the city, they could stay. We agreed and shook hands on that.”

The rules of Black Rock City are quite simple. Anything goes as long as you take care of your own survival and do not interfere with another’s experience. That means you have freedom to dress or not dress as you please, to create art, sound, and expressions to the limits of your imagination. But you cannot do anything that infringes on the freedom of other participants.

Complaints continued about Capitalist Pig Camp. Four women were in tears, and one neighbor threatened violence. “The worst was the tagging,” said Big Bear. “They tagged the Man and other peoples’ art with spray paint. The decision came to evict them when they made sexual comments to a twelve-year-old girl on Tuesday.”

“They tried to argue that this was their art, and that they were expressing themselves artistically. This is the most free city on the planet. I have no problem with bad art, but these actions were aggressively anti-social.”

“It just wasn’t nice having them around,” says a woman from Thunderdome, the once-neighbors. Says Big Bear, “They basically evicted themselves.”

[Reposted with permission from Big Bear]

So our story of Ranger History 404 continues (as presented through the Big Bear set of perceptual filters,) with a focus on 1999 and the infamous Capitalist Pigs. But first a brief stop at Realityville.

I am hoping that presenting this history of the Rangers makes a positive contribution to both our individual and collective understandings about Rangering in Black Rock City and its environs. But I must note that not all has been positive in the Rangers over all of these years. Some of our processes of change and self examination have been tumultuous and alarming to those involved. We have lost Rangers in the process, and parts of us who remain and serve on have atrophied or died as well. I will not go into details here as it is not relevant to the proceedings at hand, but I will say this. On reflection, all of what we have gone through that has been negative in impact on the Rangers came from situations where the behavior exhibited, by all parties, was not Rangerly in nature. Had we had the presence of mind to respect one another as we do the citizens of Black Rock City, had we communicated and FLAMEd the situations, had we sought consensus instead of dictation of position, had we practiced the patient and kindly aspects of the Art of Rangering, I am sure we would not have damaged so many or damaged so deeply.

My point at hand is that these lessons, the practice of effective Rangering and the lessons learned from Rangering, can serve us well in all aspects of life, including those in Theme Camp Reality outside of Burning Man and the Rangers.

Now on with the Capitalist Pigs (CP). The CP’s came in on a Sunday, staked out an area reserved for a real theme camp and then refused to move, began to tag art with CP emblems and language, and began a systematic practice of literally chasing people down the street with an overly loud bullhorn screaming insults and obscenities. The resulting reaction was a series of incidents verging on physical counter attacks, etc. It took us a few days of deliberations, but the CP’s were finally evicted from the event. After we returned from the playa, allcom was ablaze with feedback and discussion. The document included below is my compilation of the rhetoric shared on allcom wrapped up in my “summary” of what transpired. The issues were whether or not we had interfered with their artistic expression and thus overstepped our bounds as Rangers, or has we just done the right thing and preserved the event. Quotes from Boggmann, DVK, Danger and several other Rangers are in this document.

I would note that the CP’s were an important learning situation for the Rangers. At the time, we were not prepared to deal with such an affront to the essence of Burning Man. The CP’s used our radical inclusion perspective and our abundant tolerance to abuse the system. We would handle this differently now, but, boy oh boy, did we learn a lot then.

Here’s the CP “replay”. I note that a lot of our “hand wringing” over this incident was and is similar to how some of us feel now about the new driving policies and our role therein. There are some useful perspectives from this scenario (read in context from 1999):

Big Bear Talks about the Capitalist Pigs and the Art of Rangering

Before I begin my essay relative to the Capitalist Pig series of events, I would like to review the policies concerning eviction. Personally, I process evictions as a very personal experience, and it is always intensely negative for me. I consider Black Rock City to be the best place on Earth, and I do not take depriving someone of the experience lightly. The BRR are careful to ensure that all evictions are done with de-liberation and fairness. Here are a few of our guidelines.

First, only a few BRR, basically the Senior Staff, have eviction authority. Eviction authority also exists at the gate in Spaceghost and Mr. Freeze, for obvious reasons. Secondly, unless extraordinary circumstances prevail, it is our policy that all evictions require a second affirmative vote, i.e. no single BRR Senior Staff, including Danger Ranger and Big Bear, undertake an eviction procedure without consulting with one another, or another BRR Senior Staff member. This is to ensure objectivity. In the case of the CP, the two BRR Senior Staffers were Big Bear and Boggmann. It should also be noted that this eviction was discussed with au LLC members on three separate occasions before the actual eviction took place. The CP’s were given every possible chance to stay in BRC. They evicted themselves.

Now let’s review the BRR mission statement: The Black Rock Rangers are a non-confrontational mediating entity dedicated to the safety, welfare, and quality of experience of the participants of Burning Man and the citizens of Black Rock City .

Note the phrase “quality of experience.”

Now, on with my little essay, which could be re-titled, “What The Hell Do You Think Riding The Edge Of Chaos Really Means Anyway?”

One needs only to look at the unique phenomenon of the Burning Man project in order to appreciate how special is the manifested role of the BRR. One Ranger said, “The BM experiment and community works because the participants exhibit a high degree of community consciousness. When you have that, you don’t need police.” This is a marvelous observation, and explains why 160 Rangers, backed by a cadre of armed law enforcement, are able to maintain phenomenal levels of “good behavior” across the entire community, over the many days in which BRC exists.

DVK observed that a verbal assault is the beginning of violence. It is also the beginning of de-humanization. It can also be first stage of an attack, and in fact, the citizens of BRC perceived the behavior of the CP as attacks. They came to the Rangers, and filed written statements that they felt unsafe. Let’s look briefly at what the CP group’s behavior actually was.

  1. It was public, and not conducted in the privacy of their camp.
  2. It was behaviorally anti-social, and attacking verbally those who could not escape or defend themselves.
  3. It was verbal assault.
  4. It was done without consent of the participating parties.
  5. It was relentlessly aggressive.
  6. It was inciting others to engage in violence in retaliation to the verbal assaults they had received, as well as the threats they perceived.
  7. It was impossible to ignore.
  8. It crossed the line into behavior that would not be tolerated or acceptable in almost any social context or group.
  9. It attempted to use art as an excuse.
  10. It made the participants engaging in the behavior subject to radical censures by law enforcement authorities, including arrest, conviction, and severe penalties.

Listen carefully to this next point. THIS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ART! It is not a question of separating art from abuse. It is not a question of art in any shape, form, or fashion. It was a question of abuse only, whether or not abuse was taking place, and whether or not action was required. “There is no First Amendment issue.” (Boggmann) The issue was never art, and we never judged the art. (Note: after CP had been evicted, I did tear down a couple of their signs, not because they were bad art, but because they represented the message of the Capitalist Pigs, furthering their presence in our community even after their eviction. In retrospect, I should have had the whole camp leveled and removed the night they departed.)

As Boggmann said, “We could not wait. If we had, and the tempers had flared again before we evicted them, we, BRC, and the Project would have negligently failed in our responsibilities to address the situation.” This is an important point of focus. Our job as Rangers is to protect the safety and well being of the participants, and ultimately, even the future of the event itself. I will comment on this in a moment when I discuss potential arrests.

One Ranger said, “people expect to “take care of themselves in a harsh climate (physically) mentally, and spiritually.” Physically, yes — look at the survival guides and literature that the Burning Man Project publishes for it’s participants. Mentally and spiritually…no. Black Rock City is a safe zone for both personal expression and personal safety. It is not an environment in which one should expect to be mentally or spiritually assaulted, or to have one’s experience damaged or interfered with by someone else’s specific desire to do so. Our job as Black Rock Rangers is to ensure that such does not occur.

One of the Rangers said, “Just ignore them.” This could not be done, as described above. Any BRR who thinks standing by while Group A gangs up and beats up on Group B is good Rangering, needs to think long and hard about what Rangering is all about.

Now, a few comments on the probability of arrest and a couple more examples of Rangering and protecting the citizens of Black Rock City . For your information, in the state of Nevada , it is a chargeable offence to incite or provoke someone to violence against your person. You can be found guilty and be imprisoned for inciting others to assault. This was the criterion that was being used to judge this group by law enforcement. Again, quoting Boggman, “A neighbor is chasing them with a wrench, followed five minutes later by a request from Washoe Command to “get an update on the situation.” The true fact of the matter is that if the BRR had not intervened and evicted these people, they could have been arrested and subjected to considerable penalties. Do you want to read the Reno Gazette Journal article concerning the necessity to arrest a Burning Man group engaged in mass assault?

Let me give you another example of Rangering, this time focusing on the individual who was so upset at the time of the eviction. This gentleman was under the influence of alcohol, and took personal offense to the fact that the CP’s were being evicted, I believe he had nothing to do with the camp, but he chose to take this on as a personal cause. For some reason he singled out one of the law enforcement officers for his attack. As Boggmann observed, I finally physically stepped between him and the law enforcement officer. I told him I was a Black Rock Ranger, I was part of his community, I was part of his problem, and it was my job to find what was making him unhappy and to try to remedy it. I specifically instructed him to shout and yell at me until he felt he had nothing left to say, or he felt the situation had been resolved. I physically removed him from the environment, eventually found a friend of his, and explained the situation to the friend who took him away. If I had not intervened, it is possible that this individual could have been arrested for felony assault on a law enforcement officer. This is not a case I would want to take before a Pershing County Judge. This individual would still be behind bars had such an event occurred. About an hour later I saw the individual coming toward me again at a rapid pace. “Oh, no,” I thought, “here we go again!” He came up to me, stood sideways next to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and with tears in his eyes thanked me from the bottom of his heart for saving him from himself. When his friend explained what he had been doing, and when he had a chance to sober up, he realized how close he came to being arrested. I only make this example to show you what Rangering is in these types of situations.

It’s the same analogy I used in the ROM training about an individual choosing to jump through a fire. Do we let individuals jump through fires? Yes. But what if someone indicates they want to jump through a fire, and as an observing Ranger, you quite simply do not think they can make it? Do you intervene? Again, the answer is yes. In this case, I felt the individual had the right to express his feelings, and I let him do so. I felt he had the right to yell and shout at the Rangers, at me individually, and in a general sense, even the law enforcement assembled. But when I observed he had crossed the line into an area in which he significantly endangered himself, then I intervened. Did I interfere with his right to free speech and his “artful expression”? Hell, I don’t really know. Did I do the right thing at the right time? Definitely, yes.

So, in summary, I see a couple of issues here. One is the role of the BRR in protecting the future of our event and the well being of our citizens. This is part of the “Art of Rangering. Another role here is to minimize the damage potential of any particular event. This case could have wound up with mass arrests and significantly bad publicity. In addition, the individuals, instead of being safely at home writing a “Fuck Big Bear” e-mail to me, could be still behind bars.

It wasn’t about art. As one Ranger said, “ They were using art as excuse to do damage to the city.” Yes, they were, and, unfortunately, it was working. Burning Man and the Black Rock Rangers cannot allow the continuance of behaviors that interfere with people’s experience at Burning Man, including their emotional state of mind or spiritual well being, nor can we allow situations to continue that cause people to feel unsafe or threatened.

Why do we do it? Because people ask us to do it. Why do we do it?

“Because the choices we make are right.”

Boggmann

“Burning Man has always been more about community and the tribal…Those who intentionally bring grief to the tribe are banished. It is a terrible consequence for a terrible act, but the tribe goes on.”

Death Valley Kelly

One Ranger said, “Defining and maintaining community standards is an untenable position.” Wrong. It’s our fucking job.

Danger Ranger tells us that Burning Man, guided by the philosophies of community, “will produce a new manifest out of the chaos. The Rangers are the guardians of this expanding boundary.”

“This is what ‘riding the edge of chaos’ really means. It can be one of the most frustrating and most exhilarating of experiences. And we do it, too often imperfectly, in an imperfect world. But we do it because we are creating the best community we can in our image and with our choices.”

Boggmann

“Ride the edge.” (Danger Ranger), and “Be empowered in the Art of Rangering.” (Big Bear)

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