You know that sketchy looking guy at Burning Man that no one even notices because they're all too busy...burning stuff? Well start paying attention, that sketchy looking guy might be the FBI.
There's been a lot of infestation going on at Burning Man recently, what with the stink and seed bugs and Silicon Valleyers, but things have gone from funny to uncomfortable as quick as Donald Trump. Turns out another, more worrisome creature has worked its way into the 30 year old festival celebrating art, community, and burning effigies.
According to FBI documents, received after a 2012 Freedom of Information Act request by Inkoo Wang of TheWrap, there might have be an infestation of plainclothes officers since 2010. Ironic for a place that has burning “The Man” as its central event.
But Why Bother? It's a good question. Despite its socialist philosophy - "socialist" being the new buzzword for "liberal is bad" since "progressive" was re-appropriated – and a number of drugs that would make Ben Carson comprehensible, there's nothing particularly threatening about it. While we know federal powers tend to enjoy misuse of alcohol and children, it's unlikely they were there for vacation or to add diversity.
Actually, why they were there is hinted at with a hammer of a sentence: “This should be standard practice for any special event but it is even more critical in light of the ongoing war on terrorism and the potential for additional acts of terrorism being committed in the United States.” There could be a potential terrorist there, in the middle of the desert, so we better keep some undercover officers there. You know. Just to make sure.
But Why? “War on Terror” is a phrase thrown around a lot since 9/11, starting with the Bush administration and The Patriot Act, up to the present moment when we need a federal court to rule that police agencies can't indiscriminately obtain all your phone information with a “cell-site simulator.” There's a lot of hocus-pocus behind it: how many people do you know, perhaps yourself even, who hear about the Syrian refugees flowing into Germany and think, "What if one of them's a terrorist?"
That's not a warrant-less (certainly not since the above ruling) claim. What about the Kouachi brothers who shot up Charlie Hebdo? And the shoe bomber, Richard Reid? That most evil Boston Marathon Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnev? Except The Kouachis were French citizens, Reid was British, and Tsarnev had spent almost his entire life in America. We tend to get carried away with our safety measures. We did more than usual in 2001.
But... Before you say it: what does this have to do with the FBI at Burning Man? There is a sacred space for freedom from surveillance. That's why that judge ruled against warrant-less "stingrays," and why we have the fourth amendment. Our worst terrors are interior. This is doubly true, again, in the middle of the desert. Anyway, an organization that can't prevent Dylan Roof from killing a church full of people isn't allowed to party until they get their act straight. When we allow the government, unabated, to observe our every behavior, we welcome the FBI to turn our celebration into another battlefield in the "War On Terror." We cannot let this happen.