Longtime Burning Man attendees know that once you turn off Interstate 80 in Fernley, Nevada, you find yourself on a narrow stretch of road called State Route 447 that has very low speed limits and a whole lot of police looking to pull you over for even the tiniest infraction. Those police stops and searches have gone off the charts for this year’s event, as federal agents have busted out a new army of officers and K9 drug-sniffing dogs — before Burning Man has even started.
Reports of excessive police searches first surfaced on social media this past weekend, as seen in the Facebook video above. The situation escalated so severely that Burning Man just released a statement calling the police stops “ overly aggressive, unconstitutional, unnecessary, pretextual and unacceptable.”
“This is the first time the Burning Man event has been targeted for an operation of this magnitude on public highways,” the Burning Man statement says. “Stops appear to be pretextual and not based on actual violations of law. Event organizers and many regional law enforcement agencies were not consulted or notified in advance, so there was no possibility of any planning to mitigate impacts on the local communities and on event infrastructure.”
These particular stops and searches are not being conducted by your regular Nevada Highway Patrol or Washoe County Sheriff’s deputies, but instead by a federal agency called the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA has never had a significant presence at Burning Man, but some of State Route 447 does go through Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal lands.
“This is the first year I’ve seen [Bureau of Indian Affairs] officers out here at this time,” Paiute Tribe member Mike Harden told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “Usually they only come out for serious crimes, like meth rings.”
“It’s hard to say if they came out just for Burning Man, or they’re just sending them out here since apparently they’re increasing the Bureau’s presence on tribal lands across the U.S. generally.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs in not necessarily a Native American advocacy group, but instead an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior that provides federal oversight of the administration of tribal lands.
The Gazette-Journal also notes that “Tribal members noticed the BIA’s presence starting last week when tribal members starting getting pulled over for going as little as 3 mph over the posted speed limit.”
Burning Man’s statement notes that people are being pulled over and fully searched for other ticky-tack offenses like “not stopping at the line at a stop sign, crossing the centerline or a tire touching the centerline, partially obscured license plates, not using turn signals, [or] dim and non-functioning lights.”
If you are heading out to Burning Man this year, the Burning Man newsletter has issued updated 2018 guidelines for what to do if you’re pulled over by law enforcement that take this increased BIA presence into account.