A small group of activists representing the groups Extinction Rebellion, Rave Revolution, and Scientist Rebellion decided to stage a protest that caused an hourlong backup of traffic on the two-lane highway leading to the Black Rock Desert, and drew the wrath of frustrated Burners and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Rangers alike.
The incident happened Sunday starting around 1 p.m. on Nevada State Route 447. And for Burners familiar with the Sunday drive into Burning on the first day the festival gates open, anything that adds to what is already a long traffic slog is beyond infuriating.
But the climate activists involved in the protest, who were from a coalition of groups known as the Seven Circles, say that their entire point was to draw attention to the climate crisis and the role that even Burning Man attendees play in that. Their signs included slogans like "Burners of the World Unite," "Abolish Capitalism," and "Mother Earth needs our help." They also had a sign protesting the fact that Burning Man allows private jets to land on the playa.
Freaking climate and anti-capitalism activists creating insane traffic in both directions for people heading to Burning Man on Nevada State Route 447, because this is how you save the planet friends. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/vubsSp2XI9— conservativestoners (@mentalflossimg) August 28, 2023
As one of the protesters, Mun Chong, tells the Guardian, "If you treated the climate crisis like an emergency, Burning Man wouldn’t be a priority. When you disrupt business as usual, you’re forcing people to confront a situation and take a stance. We’re hoping these kinds of protests become part of the zeitgeist."
Chong, who was wearing a top that said "No Burn on a Dead Planet," added, "What is being late to Burning Man in comparison to having your entire planet on fire?"
Chong later issued a statement on behalf of Extinction Rebellion saying, "The time has come. Burning Man should aim to have the same type of political impact that Woodstock had on counterculture. If we are honest about system change, it needs to start at 'home.'"
The protesters drove in multiple vehicles and reportedly blockaded traffic in both directions using a 28-foot trailer parked across the highway. They then chained themselves together and begin displaying their signs, as the Guardian reports.
#breaking Climate protestors from @RaveRevolution @XR_NYC @ScientistRebel1 set up a blockade on the road to #BurningMan this afternoon, demanding that the festival bans private jets and single-use plastics amongst other environmental concerns 🌳🔥 pic.twitter.com/vzE9XCaVyd— michelle lh࿊࿊q (@MichelleLhooq) August 27, 2023
Burners caught in the standstill traffic backup got out of their vehicles to see if there was an accident ahead, and they reportedly did not take kindly to the manner or timing of the protest. Many reportedly shouted epithets at the protesters, by then in handcuffs from the rangers, as they were finally able to drive by.
"I think protest is very important, but destroying and inconveniencing people doesn’t do anything,” said one driver, Will Semmbs, speaking to the Guardian. "I have solar panels on my RV. The protesters drove here in gas-powered cars. They’re literally making the climate worse."
But the protesters see it differently, even if it sounds like some of them do attend, or have attended Burning Man.
Will Livernois, a scientist with Scientist Rebellion, said in a statement to the Guardian, "We have to shift away from Burning Man’s green capitalism and focus on degrowth."
And Emily Collins, a member of Rave Revolution, tells the paper that the Burner mindset is largely one of complacency. "There are a lot of people thinking, oh, I’m a vegan, I drive an electric car, I’m working in sustainability,” Collins tells the Guardian. “It’s a very technocratic, privileged mindset.”
Nevada rangers drove directly into a blockade set up by climate protestors on the road to Burning Man. An officer pulled a gun out, tackling a protestor and threatening to shoot— michelle lh࿊࿊q (@MichelleLhooq) August 28, 2023
Environmental activists were demanding that #BurningMan ban private jets + single-use plastics pic.twitter.com/dawDjxhV4y
It took about 36 minutes for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Rangers, who enforce laws in this part of the desert, to respond to 911 calls from those in traffic, and one of the rangers rammed the protesters' trailer with his truck, shoving it to one side. He turned around and then came back to get the protesters in handcuffs, aiming what appeared to be a gun at them. In the video below, Collins can be heard screaming "you're hurting me!" and "We’re non-violent, we have no weapons at all, we’re environmental protesters!"
There was subsequent online debate about whether the officer aimed a gun or a Taser at the protesters, but a close-up of the weapon made some conclude it was a gun.
There has been debate over whether the officer pulled a gun or taser on the Burning Man climate protestors yesterday while shouting “I’m going to take you all out!” @ScooterCasterNY just zoomed in on her video and we sent it to experts…— michelle lh࿊࿊q (@MichelleLhooq) August 28, 2023
yup, that’s a gun pic.twitter.com/dADRh9ItE5
The protesters were reportedly booked for municipal code violations and given court dates in October.
James J. Phoenix, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, put out a statement Monday saying that the ranger's conduct in the incident is "under review."
Say what you will about the effectiveness of this protest versus the impact on the thousands of people caught on that traffic. The New York Post went after the fact that Extinction Rebellion is funded by some of the same Hollywood types and elites who attend Burning Man like oil heiress Aileen Getty, filmmaker Adam McKay, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s documentary filmmaker sister Rory Kennedy.
As one Burner named Molly told the Guardian of the protesters, as she prepared to drive past the removed blockade, "They’re delusional, it’s idiocy. They think they’re going to fix climate change by blocking Burning Man? I don’t care what their argument is, they can go fuck themselves."