The freedom-loving hippie “burners” attending the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada this week may believe they’re communing in a happy cocoon with no laws.
In reality, undercover federal agents from all over the West are swarming the “temporary community” as they do every year and busting people for doing or selling drugs, local attorney and former cop Arnold Brock tells Business Insider. These agents do whatever they can to fit in at the 50,000-person festival, which Brock called a “unique event” that’s kind of like Woodstock.
“Last year we had an undercover agent dressed up as catwoman,” Brock says. “They will do whatever they do to … ferret out what they are considering criminal activity.”
Brock has an entire page on his website devoted to the “Burning-Man Related Arrests” that can happen to out-of-towners attending the festival. The festival goers might have their guard down and could be easy targets.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for undercover agents to go have a little fun and work a limited geographic area,” Brock says. “And that is exactly what they do.”
In some cases, Brock says, federal agents will even follow vehicles involved in larger drug deals from out of state and bust them once they arrive at Burning Man. Last year, 350 people were arrested there, according to the Reno Gazette.
Some burners have accused the cops of being overzealous in recent years. Festival attendees have complained about undercover female agents explicitly asking male burners for drugs as well as drug dogs brazenly roaming the camps, the Associated Press reported back in 2010.
Federal officials, however, said Burning Man needs to be policed.
“I don’t want my guys to be party poopers, but we have a job to do,” Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Land Management, told the AP. “[Festival goers] are not bad people, but they like to use drugs.”
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