The Bureau of Land Management’s inspector general has accused a high-ranking Bureau official of serious ethics violations for using his position to get his family and girlfriend into Burning Man, and other abuses of his authority. Are we surprised? No, because BLM has long been a co-conspirator with wealthy Bay Area organizers of the annual naked drug festival in the Black Rock Desert 90 miles north of Reno.
According to Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Jenny Kane, former Utah BLM Special Agent in Charge Dan Love, who oversaw law enforcement at Burning Man for several years, “is the person behind many of the outrageous requests at Burning Man that were canceled in 2015.” Those requests included a million-dollar, air-conditioned VIP compound equipped with flush toilets, a gourmet kitchen and 24-hour ice cream service. Nothing was too good for BLM officials and their girlfriends.
Love also allegedly supervised BLM “swat teams” who confronted renegade Southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his followers in a tense 2014 standoff designed to force Bundy to pay federal grazing fees he owed. Six Bundy followers went on trial on federal conspiracy charges in Las Vegas last month after several others were acquitted in Oregon last fall. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has called for a federal probe of Love’s dubious activities including the “scrubbing” of incriminating emails.
And by the way, since when does BLM employ FBI-type “special agents”? Our local Congressman, Republican Mark Amodei, is co-sponsoring legislation that would transfer law enforcement duties on federal lands from armed BLM agents to local sheriffs and police departments.
BLM’s inspector general found Special Agent Love “used his position to buy three sold-out tickets to Burning Man, had five on-duty BLM officers escort his father and girlfriend during the event, and changed the hiring process so that an unqualified applicant ... would be hired.” Other than that, it was business as usual at the 2015 edition of Burning Man, a week-long fall frolic in the Black Rock desert that raked in more than $20 million from nearly 70,000 “free spirits” in attendance.
In recent years Burning Man, which began as an exercise in “radical self-reliance,” has gone way upscale with wealthy high-tech participants paying more than $20,000 to live in luxury air conditioned compounds featuring “sherpas” who bring paying customers anything they want — and I mean anything — at any hour of the day or night.
Law enforcement is mostly an after-thought at Burning Man. The Pershing County sheriff always vows increased drug law enforcement, but the sheriff’s office in Lovelock is a long way from Gerlach, the nearest town to the annual drug festival. Which explains why the festivities were moved from Washoe County into sparsely populated Pershing County, where law enforcement is minimal.
Although Burners always complain about “oppressive” law enforcement, BLM usually looks the other way because the agency rakes in more than $4 million Burner dollars every year, and Northern Nevada businesses earn millions more. In other words, when it comes to Burning Man, money takes precedence over law enforcement.
A Northern Nevada newspaper describes Burning Man as “an artistic camp-out,” while I call it a naked drug festival. Take your pick. But then, Burners carefully control media coverage of the event, and those who write “bad stuff” aren’t welcome.
Well, I sure hope BLM officials are comfortable at Burning Man 2017 in September, although they may have to do without 24-hour ice cream service. Tough duty.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a longtime Burning Man critic.