War at Burning Man! Part II: The Empire Strikes Twice


The fine ship “Dodo”

Author’s Note:   The following is an account of the events of The War of the Rites, an epic conflict at Burning Man 2011 between the camps of BMIR and Monticello.  Read the whole series here.  Unlike previous playa stories I’ve told here, no part of the story has been fictionalized.  All details are accurate to the best of my recollection.

BMIR was exhausted – not from the battle, but from the party that followed.  The Dodo’s art tour had kept them up into the wee hours of the morning.

But even before I arrived in at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, they were planning revenge.

“Oh, we’re doing this,” said Mao, one of the BMIR’s camp managers.  “It’s on.”

I grinned.  “I heard you put up quite a struggle, Mao.”

“Yeah, it took three of them to take me down, but they finally did.  While I was on the ground, I heard somebody on the Dodo’s loudspeaker saying I was too dangerous to live.”

“Oh, that was me.”

“You were right.”

Ken walked over.  “I want to tie the Governor up in the same rope he tied me in,” he said.  “I want that so bad.  That’s it hanging on the wall, so it’s ready at a moment’s notice.”

“We’ve got plans,” said Christa, the other site manager.  “Big plans.”

I took a deep breath.  “I’m so … so … proud of you.”

“We’re a war camp now,” said Christa.

“So what are you going to do?”

Mao slapped his hands together.  “We’re going to kidnap the Governor and hold him for ransom.”

“Brilliant!  How are you going to do it?”

There was a long pause.

“We’re working that out,” Christa said.

I nodded.  “Okay.  Okay.  Let me know how I can help.”

“We will!”

All seemed well on the western front, but when I went to Monticello an hour later, I found them seizing the initiative.

The Governor walked me into his tent and introduced me to the Lady Vice, his girlfriend, who was silk-screening.

“It’s for the war!” she said.

“Good ferocity!  Um … how?”

“We’re making flags.”

“They have the skull and crossbones, wearing a powdered wig,”  Guv’nor said.

“And we’re going to tie them to rebar stakes and plant them in other camps,” she finished.

“She’s putting them on everything,” he added.

“Do you have something you’d like to be silk-screened?” she asked.

“My God …” I said.  “You’re planning an empire!”

The Governor thought about it.  “Yes, I think we are.”

“I love that you’ve got the taste for blood.”

Lady Vice stared at me.  “Do you have anything you want silk-screened.”  It wasn’t really a question.

I fished through my pack and finally gave her my umbrella.  “For the Empire!”

“The Empire!” she said.

“Great energy!  Fantastic!  And you were glorious … glorious … last night.  But, Guv’nor, Lady Vice, beware:  for even now BMIR plans vengeance!  Even now they chafe under your just rule and plot to overthrow their rightful masters!”

“Oh, I’m sure they do,” the Governor said.  “And we’re prepared.  Do they have any specific plans?”

“Nothing definitive.”

He nodded.  “We’re doing this,” he said.  “Oh we’re doing this.  This has just completely energized Monticello.”

I held up my glass, and we toasted to war.  When Lady Vice finished silk-screening my black umbrella with a pale white skull and crossbones (wearing a powdered wig), I flew back across the desert.

First I went to lunch.  Then I returned to BMIR.

I walked in to the station.  Mao, Christa, station manager Bobzilla, and other members of the team were in earshot.

“Beware!” I shouted.  “Beware BMIR!  For Monticello now covets an empire, and plans to plant its flag across the playa and claim it under the banner of Thomas Jefferson!  Act quickly, BMIR, and with strength:  else their lust for conquest shall bury you beneath the bodies of their victims!  And all you shall see … ” I opened my umbrella “… is THIS emblem of their conquest!”

The skull-and-crossbones-in-a-powdered-wig stared at the camp.

“Hey, that’s kind of cool,” said Christa.

“Don’t worry though, we’re going to do something,” Mao said.  “We’re on it.”

“Excellent!  But have your plans actually … advanced … in any way?”

“We’re going to kidnap the governor,” said Christa.

“Yes, but … have you gotten any further with that?”

“We’re going to figure it out,” said Mao.  “Trust me:  this is not over.”

And it wasn’t.  But running a radio station, as it turns out, is hard work:  the day passed, and BMIR did not mobilize.

Late that night the Dodo pulled up to BMIR.   Station personnel ran to the front of the camp armed and ready to defend themselves against whoever exited the bus.  But instead the Dodo drove back and forth, stopping and starting.

With everyone at the station distracted, the Lady Vice snuck around to the back of the building and used mad colonial ninja skills to climb to the roof … and then 20 feet higher.

When BMIR woke up the next morning, Monticello’s flag was hanging from its transmitter.



Next:  Torture! Human right abuse!  BMIR takes it to the next level.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com


In an effort to keep the historical record accurate, I would like to run the following corrections to Part I of this story.

  • I received a stunned text from Zeus, insisting that, contrary to my account, “No one tells Harley Dubois what the playa needs,” and insisting I’d over sold his role in the creation of BMIR.  “It was founded in 2000, and I was drafted to project manage in 2001.”  I regret the error, and have edited that description.
  • In part 1 I referred to Guv’nor by an incorrect playa name.  Apparently I’ve been calling him that for a year now and he only bothered to correct me when he saw it print.  I have corrected the record, and am frankly somewhat stunned that this could happen.  Guv’nor also insists that he is not, in fact “the governor” of Monticello … it’s just that his name is “Guv’nor,” you see, and so people just started referring to him “the Governor” after a while.   While this may be accurate, I do not believe it is true:  however silly the origins of his role as “the Governor,” by 2011 it was how he was referred to by virtually everyone in this account, including fellow members of Monticello.  So men are born great, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

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