War at Burning Man, part III: It’s not really torture if it’s funny!

Payback hurts …

I dropped by BMIR in the morning.  The sight of Monticello’s flag on their transmitter had made them serious about the war now.  If nothing else, fighting would probably be easier than getting the flag down.

That was going to be tricky.

“Those fuckers!” said Christa.

I was not in a mood to be gracious.  “I warned you.”

“We’re SO going to get them back!”

“I WARNED you.  Monticello has a taste for empire, and the means to acquire it.”

“You mean an art bus?” asked Mao.

“Well, yeah.”

“We’re going to stop ‘em.”

“Still going to kidnap the Governor?”

“Oh yeah we are!”  said Christa.

“Uh huh.”  Same old song and dance.  I went on my way, disappointed.

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.

When I stopped back two hours later, the Governor of Monticello was tied to a shade structure support beam … in the same rope he’d bound Ken with two nights ago.

“Caveat!” Ken shouted.  “Get in here!  Look at that!”

“Good lord!”  I cried.  “Glorious!  How did you do it?”

“We got him!”  Ken was jumping in triumph.

“But how?”

“We don’t have time for that,” Mao said.  “We need to send over a list of demands.”

“What are your demands?”

“We need to figure that out.”

I walked closer to Guv’nor, who had said nothing all this time.  His face was grim but pained, his expression stoic but his eyes wild.  “Governor,” I said, hesitantly.  “It grieves me to see you in this fallen state.  How did this come to pass?”

He said nothing.  He stared out in to space.

“Guv’nor … are you well?”

He didn’t even look at me.

“Caveat,” called Christa.  “I’m heading over to Monticello.  You want to come?  You can help me figure out what our demands are on the way.”

I looked at the Governor.  How long had he been there?  What had they done to him?  “Are you all right?” I asked.

He said nothing.

I turned.  “Yeah, let’s go.  You need demands to advance the war!”

We set out into the desert.  I asked Christa, over and over, how they captured him.  She said there wasn’t time to talk about it … we needed demands now.   And they should be presented in a speech.

I wouldn’t get the whole story until after Burning Man, piecing it together from various the sources.  But it started with a simple, irrefutable, fact:

“I was an idiot,” Guv’nor said.

Monticello had a party coming up later in the week, and he wasn’t prepared for it:  he needed to pull the list of DJs and their time slots off the internet and print it out.

The Governor is a 10 year Burner, but he made a classic rookie mistake:  thinking you can walk in to an official Burning Man camp and find some internet.

“I figured, hey, BMIR guys are my friends and they probably have internet, right?  So I go over to Center Camp.  I walk in.  Mao says ‘Sure, it’s in the production studio,’ but when we went there a bunch of guys jumped me and tied me to the post.”

“But,” he added, “it wasn’t THAT stupid, because BMIR does have internet, right?  Right?”

Oh Guv’nor …

After tying him to the pillar, BMIR began its interrogation.

According to witness accounts, Mao led the session.  He pounded his fists, cracked his knuckles, leaned in to Guv’nor’s face.

“WHO PUT YOUR FLAG ON OUR TRANSMITTER!” He shouted.  “WAS IT YOU?”  His mouth was barely an inch away.  He’d gone days without a shower or a shave. “WAS IT YOUR LADY?  WAS THAT IT?  DID YOU SEND YOUR GIRLFRIEND OUT TO DO YOUR JOB?  IS THAT WHAT HAPPENED?  IS THAT WHAT YOU DID?  TELL ME!  TELL ME!”

The Governor said nothing.

Witnesses say this went on for nearly 20 minutes.

Finally, when Mao paused to take a breath, the Governor spoke.

He said:  “Brush.  Your.  Teeth.”

Mao snarled and walked out of the room.  He came back, a moment later, holding a bag.  He took a toothbrush out of it, and some toothpaste.  He began to brush.  He walked back over to the Governor.  “WHO PUT YOUR FLAG ON OUR TRANSMITTER?” he shouted as white foam began to drip from his mouth.  “WAS IT YOUR GIRLFRIEND?  DID YOU SEND HER OUT TO PUT THE FLAG UP?”  His breath was horribly minty fresh.


“That man’s an evil genius,” Guv’nor admitted later.  “I heard somebody say he was too dangerous to live.  They were right.”

On the road to Monticello, Christa and I walked through a dust cloud and brainstormed ideas for demands.  But when we arrived we found the camp nearly deserted.  Even the Dodo was gone.

“Ho Monticello!” I called.  “The WarBringer has arrived!”

Christa gave me a look.  “The WarBringer?”

“I thought I’d give it a shot.  Is it awful?”

“No,” she said.  “It works.”

The Lady Vice emerged to great us.

“Hey!” she said.  “‘WarBringer’?”

“I’m thinking of calling myself that this week.  Do you like it?”

“Love it.”

“We bring demands for the safe return of the Governor,” I said.  “But … um … where is everybody?”

“They just left,” she said.  “Rescue party.”

Christa bolted.  “I’ve got to go help my camp!”

“Right,” I said.  “I’ll, um …” But she was already pedaling way.

“Can I hear the demands?” asked Lady Vice.

“Oh, sure.  Should I … do the speech?”

“Do the speech!”

I took a deep breath.  “Hear me oh Monticello!  The WarBringer bears tidings from the armies of BMIR!  They have taken your Governor in a glorious feat of daring, and now put forth demands that you must follow and obey should you wish to keep him from Hell’s door!

First, BMIR demands 10 powdered wigs as trophies that they may hang upon their studio wall!

Second, a bottle of fine alcohol from the Governor’s own store!

And third, that these be delivered by three fair maidens of Monticello, who in trade for this bounteous tribute shall receive the Governor, alive and … mostly … unharmed.  It shall be so:  these are the words of the WarBringer!”

Lady Vice clapped.  “That’s great!” she said.  “It’s so not going to happen.”

“Well, you might end up rescuing him anyway.”

“I hope so.  Because a bottle of good booze is just … no way.”

“He’s not worth it?”

“Out here?”  She moved her hand from side to side.  “Come on, there’s still a whole week to go.”

We chatted for a few more minutes, comparing notes on alcohol, and then I departed, walking back across the desert towards BMIR.  Along the way, I saw the Dodo returning to camp, and I stood in front of its path.

“Is the Governor rescued?” I called.

From the roof someone shouted back “Yes!  We got him!”

“Then Monticello, the WarBringer salutes you!”  There were cheers from the bus.  I decided the name was working.

Monticello had again swarmed over BMIR, using the element of surprise to overwhelm the station’s defenses and grab their Governor before BMIR could organize.

But their triumph was short lived.  Unbeknownst to anyone, Ken had followed Christa and me to Monticello, and used my speech as a distraction.  While I was shouting and waving my arms, he climbed onto the façade of Monticello’s dome and draped a BMIR flag over the Thomas Jefferson’s face.

When the Dodo returned to their camp, they found the symbol of BMIR waiting for them.

By the time I got back to BMIR, the station had mostly recovered.

“We had him and we lost him,” J. Kanizzle said. “But this isn’t over.”

“Your determination pleases the Warbringer!”

“WarBringer?”  After a moment, he nodded.  “Yeah, okay, sure.  Anyway, we’re already hitting them back hard.”

“Really?  How?”

He laughed and walked me over to the studio door.  “Man, don’t you listen to the radio?”

Inside the DJ’s were talking on the air.

“Listen, Black Rock City, if you’ve heard the rumors, apparently it’s TRUE:  Daft Punk is at Burning Man this year, but they’re playing only one show, just one, at Monticello tomorrow night!  That’s Monticello, at 8:30 and Esplanade.  Tell them ‘I heard about it on BMIR’ and get in!  Rumor has it Bassnecter will be doing the after party!  It’s just a rumor, but it’s a good source.  Either way it’s going to be epic!  If you want to see Daft Punk you HAVE to show up at Monticello!”

Next:  Party crashers and mercenaries!

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

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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