Want to Avoid Getting Pulled Over at Burning Man? Obey the Law

Cue that sinking feeling.

Law Enforcement Officers in (and on the way to and from) Black Rock City are sworn to uphold the law. Just like in the real world, it’s up to Burning Man participants to know those laws and to follow them. Note that if you are stopped, the officer may choose to have a dog sniff the outside of your vehicle looking for contraband.  

Here are the laws that you should be aware of to avoid being pulled over. LEOs particularly watch for the following in and around Black Rock City:

  1. Speeding: drive the speed limit at all times … the speed limit on Gate Road is 10mph and within BRC (after the Greeters station) is 5mph.
  2. Safe driving: drive carefully and safely, wear your seatbelt, don’t drive erratically, ride on the roof of your vehicle or hang off the side, or drink and drive … and use your turn signals.
  3. Obscured license plates: make sure your rear license plate isn’t blocked by your bike, bike rack, dirt or anything else (you might consider attaching your license plate to your bike so it’s clearly visible, but if you do, make sure it’s illuminated with a clip-on LED).
  4. Registration tags: have up-to-date valid registration tags on your vehicle AND trailer.
  5. Non-functioning lights: make sure your license plate lights, tail lights, running lights, turn signals and headlights are all working.
  6. Open container: don’t have an open alcohol container in your vehicle.
  7. Load & littering: make sure your load is safely and reasonably attached, and don’t toss anything out the window.
  8. Non-permitted driving: once you enter BRC and park your vehicle at your campsite, you cannot drive it in Black Rock City without a BRC Department of Mutant Vehicles-issued permit sticker.

Of course, always carry a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Lastly, being nice if you do get pulled over makes things go much smoother.

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

27 Comments on “Want to Avoid Getting Pulled Over at Burning Man? Obey the Law

  • Pizza Boy says:

    A few years ago, on the way to the Playa for early entry, my friend and I got pulled over in Gerlach for going around an R/V stopped in the middle of the road just outside the gas station. I think he was sitting there deciding whether or not to pull in. We waited a couple minutes, looked to make sure no oncoming traffic was approaching, and then safely went around him. Bad move. Sitting in the gas station parking lot on the other side of the R/V was a sheriff’s deputy. He lit us up and pulled us over for “crossing the double yellow lines.” It wasn’t fun. My friend and I finished our drive to the Playa with several hundred dollars worth of tickets. I recommend not crossing double yellow lines for any reason.

    And if you do get in trouble, after the Burn, checkout http://www.lawyersforburners.com/. They helped me out considerably, were easy to work with, and charge a discounted rate for the Burning Man community. I am still grateful for their assistance.

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  • Sour Patch says:

    Be nice, yes! Give up your rights, NO!
    Know them.

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  • g says:

    It just sucks.

    It is one thing to be there in case of trouble, and I am all for that.

    It is quite another to go actively looking for trouble and enforcing the laws to the to the very far extreme letter of the law. It comes across as The Man does not like it when people are having fun. It comes across as harassment.

    I also cringe imagining what the extremely strict and invasive law enforcement looks to foreign visitors. Way to go LEOs, make the USA look like a total police state!

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  • Ule of Kaw says:

    Now, folks, chill out. We all know that when sixty-eight >thousandhave< to exist. Hold this thought. Just because a person carries a badge does not automatically make her/him from the dark side of the force.

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  • Ule of Kaw says:

    people gather in one place, a certain percentage, Statistically and Inevitably, will be dinky-dongs that require some )special attention(. You know. Like we all remember enduring in high school. That’s why officers
    (words missing from the post I just made)

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  • so what says:

    “…the OUTside of your vehicle…”

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  • Carlos says:

    From someone who carries a badge for a living and is a veteran burner, yes to all of these things.

    Be smart, be courteous and be safe(ish).

    You disagreement (and mine) with the drug war is not going to be solved on the side of the road with an officer. Make every attempt to keep that part of your life inconspicuous. There is a lot of truth to the old adage “we don’t catch the smart ones.”

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  • Mark Atwood says:

    (I posted this last year, and it was well received. I’ve lightly edited and expanded it. Read it carefully.)

    How to deal with cops at Burning Man

    Do not consent to a search.

    Never consent to a search. Say the phrase “I do not consent to a search.” Even if you have nothing for them to find, ALWAYS say “I do not consent to a search.” Never consent to a search of your person, a search of your car, your truck, your trailer, your RV, your camp, or of your tent. You especially never consent to the search of anyone else’s property. The cops are trained to make you flustered and to “take command” of the situation. Or they can be “polite”: “Mind if we take a look around?” Yes, you mind. “I do not consent to a search.”

    They can ask the other people in your group, or in your car, not just the driver or leader. “Mind if we take a look” You should all sing the same song: “I do not consent to a search.”

    Being Questioned.

    Cops can ask you questions. They may say things like “We’re just talking”, or “What do you think of …?”, or “Can you help us out?” You do not have to answer their questions, and probably shouldn’t.

    They can ask you were your camp is, and who you are camping with. You don’t have to answer them.

    Never answer questions about illegal drugs, about people you may have seen who may have been high. Remember, you don’t ever do drugs, you never carry drugs, you never supply drugs, you have no idea where to get drugs, you dont want any drugs, and you don’t know anyone who does. That includes pot, which is still illegal in Nevada, even for medical use.

    Don’t lead them to your camp.

    They may try to get you to lead them to your camp. They can be very commanding and matter of fact about it, they may say “We’re going to your camp.” They will make it sound as if you have no choice. You do have a choice, and you are going to chose not to lead them to your camp. Never lead them to your camp. If they really really insist on you leading them somewhere, then lead them to the ACLU camp or to a Black Rock Ranger outpost.

    Keep your tent closed.

    Always zip your tent closed when you are not in it. If possible, use screens or sheets to block window screens, so there is no line of sight into your tent. You may want to use a luggage lock, and use it to lock the zipper of your tent when you are not in it. If your tent is zipped shut, they need a warrant to open it, or they need your consent. They probably won’t have a warrant, and you are not going to give them your consent, remember? “I do not consent to a search.”

    Your name and ID.

    If they ever stop you, you do have to tell them your correct name as it is printed on your ID. If you have your ID on you, you do have to show it to them if they ask. If you don’t have it on you, you do not have to go get it for them, and you never should. If you are a non resident alien visiting on a visa waiver program, you do not have to carry your passport on you.

    Being Detained, or “Am I free to go?”.

    The magic phrase is: “Am I free to go?” Keep saying it. As soon as they say “yes”, walk away immediately, swiftly, and without another word. Do not run, just walk.

    If they write you a ticket, you must take it. Put it in your pocket, and then you say “Am I free to go?”

    If they say you are not free to go, you say “Am I being arrested?”. If they say no you are not being arrested, you say “Am I free to go?”. Keep it up as many times as necessary.

    Being Arrested.

    If they ever say “you are under arrest”, or ever do anything to make you think you have been arrested, such as being restrained, you immediately say the following magic phrase (memorize it!): “I do not consent to any search. I hereby invoke my right to remain silent. I want to speak to my attorney.” And then you SHUT THE FUCK UP. Do not say anything at all about your arrest or why you may have been arrested, until you are talking to your attorney. Not to the cops, not to onlookers, not to anyone else who was arrested, not to anyone who is being held with you. Not even with your campmates, with your friends, or even with your family. You invoked your right to remain silent. Now use it.

    Alcohol and ID.

    The camps who are giving away booze may ask to see your ID to verify you are over 21. You don’t have to show them, but they don’t have to give you free booze either, and they probably won’t, fearing a bust.

    If you are giving away booze, including beer and wine, and the person you are about to give it to looks like they could possibly be under 21, you should verify their ID. The state liquor cops will be there, trying to bust you with stings.

    Even if your camp is not running a public bar, random people will walk into your camp asking for booze. These may also be stings, so beware. This has happened in my camp, and the NABC plant was painfully obvious. Even if they are not cops, it’s rude and against the burner ethos to be begging for a gift, so you probably shouldn’t.

    Who Watches the Watchmen?

    While a cop is dealing with you, you need to be memorizing the color and design of his uniform, and if you can, his name and his badge number. They are *supposed* to be wearing visible name tags. As soon as you get away from the cops, go soonest to Center Camp, to a Black Rock Ranger, or to the ACLU camp, and then immediately fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form and turn it in.

    If you clearly see a cop detaining anyone, arresting anyone, or searching anyone or anything, again do the same thing: Memorize what you can about the cops and the interaction, and then go fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

    You may also elect get out your camera and start recording. The judiciary at all levels has clearly stated that you have the right to record the police as long as you don’t obstruct them. Cops hate it, but too bad. If the cops tell you to turn off your camera, don’t. They cannot lawfully order you to stop recording, they may not order you to delete photos or video, and they may not themselves delete a photo or video. If you ever see a cop order you or a fellow burner to stop taking pictures or to delete a photo, make sure that goes on the Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

    While you are recording them, never get in their way, and stay back 35 feet / 10 meters. That’s tazer range.

    “Undercover” cops.

    The cops claim there are very few “undercover cops” at Burning Man. This is a very carefully nuanced untruth. There are cops at the event who are not “undercover”, but instead are “plain clothes”, which means they are not wearing uniforms and badges, but are instead in costume to look like burners. People have been busted by a cops who were wearing only sparkles and a miniskirt.

    If someone is carrying a gun, they are a cop. If someone has a dog, and is not obviously a Gerlach local, a Native American, or a member of DPW, they are a cop. Especially if the dog is wearing a vest. (I’ve personally seen that.) If someone is driving along Esplanade after the the Gate has opened, they are a cop. (Report them via a Law Enforcement Feedback Form if you see them doing that.) If someone is sitting in an idling unlit truck out in the dark of deep playa, they are a cop. If someone is offering to sell or trade you drugs, they are a cop. And there are a lot of people at the event who are not doing any of those things who are cops.

    What if I need “Police Services”?

    What if you are lost? Or a camp mate is lost? Or your child is lost? Or you have found a lost child? Or you have found a lost fellow burner who is injured or is unable to take care of themselves? What if you are assaulted? What if something has been stolen? What if there is a medical emergency?

    Go to a BLACK ROCK RANGER, not a cop. The Rangers will help deal with the situation, and if the cops are actually needed, the Rangers will summon them and will deal with them.

    Know what the Black Rock Ranger uniform is, and how it’s different from the cops’ uniforms. Rangers wear khaki shirts and khaki hats with the Burning Man logo on their chests, on their backs, and on their vehicles.

    Good luck out there!

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  • Dan Fox says:

    The License plate thing really bothers me, and this is why (third paragraph). It seems to contradict the placing the license on the bike rack:

    License Plate Display
    Nevada law requires most vehicles to display front and rear license plates at all times, except motorcycles and trailers, which require only a rear plate. You must display both plates if the vehicle is designed for a front plate or if the manufacturer offers an add-on bracket or frame.

    Front plates are optional only if 1) the vehicle was not designed for a front plate and 2) the manufacturer did not provide an add-on bracket or other means of displaying the front plate. (NRS 482.275)

    The DMV issues two plates (except motorcycles and trailers). If the second plate is not displayed, it is the owner’s responsibility to store the second plate and surrender or return both plates to the department at the appropriate time.

    License plates must at all times be securely fastened to the vehicle so as to prevent the plate from swinging and at a height not less than 12 inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom of such plate, in a place and position to be clearly visible. It must be maintained free from foreign materials and in a condition to be clearly legible.

    License plate specifications call for plates to be readable from a distance of 100 feet during daylight. At night, plates must be readable from 110 feet and visible from 1,500 feet when lit by standard headlights. Rear plates must display a decal with the month and year of expiration. (NRS 482.270)

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  • Scott says:

    ok, I have to ask this, am arriving from colorado, is this going to cause a “flag” to LE to look ” for probable cause” even though I don’t do whats legal in CO ? just curious..thanks

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  • Chaka Man says:

    @ Ule of Kaw Says: Now, folks, chill out. We all know that when sixty-eight >thousandhave< to exist. Hold this thought. Just because a person carries a badge does not automatically make her/him from the dark side of the force.

    The problem is not leaving its getting in. Last year they pulled you over if your license plate was covered by a bike and then used drug sniffing dogs. It was a way for them to make money. And I am sure the harassment will continue this year.

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  • Grams aka wyndmom says:

    The year I got stopped for supposedly selling drugs, I was out on the playa in my art car with two unknown passengers, it was 3:30 am and we were driving around after the Burn on Saturday picking up trash, all of a sudden my car was surrounded by 5 or 6 BLM vehicles, unfortunately I had brought my whole can of cookies with me intead of a small tin to give away. I had no money on me, so their claim that I was selling drugs died quickly, and how can anyone tell in the dark what the hell is in a cookie?

    The back seat was filled with trash, so it was obvious what we were up to. They made my passengers get out of the car and sit in the headlights while they “guarded” me inside the car while they ran my plates and registration. The officer guarding me told me that two more of these and I would be in jail for life, Sheesh was an alien he was. I told him that seems fair to put Grams in jail for picking up trash in the middle of the night.

    I am sure they had equipment to overhear me say, “Would you like a pot cookie?” and then waited to find me, with my completely identifiable and lit up car, in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the morning where no observers would see what they were doing.

    I told them they couldn’t search my car, they said we will just take you in then, my husband was fast asleep and wouldn’t have had a clue to what had happened to me if I disappeared in the middle of the night, so I succumbed to their threats, they took my whole stash of pot cookies and then fined me $250.

    I don’t know what they did you my passengers, the one in the back was carrying and left it in the car when he got out, the cops came to me and said was this mine, I said no, that we were picking up stuff out on the playa and who knows what all was in the trash.

    They hid my keys under a pillow to boot, and with little light I could not find them. I was way out in the middle of the empty playa.

    I could see a cop was way out at the fence line, and a car with its headlights on was slowly coming my way, I started walking toward that car and it slowly kept veering away from me, finally they could see I was trying to get them to come to me instead of go away from me, they were a native couple and weren’t supposed to be driving and didn’t want to go out to the fence line to ask the cop to find out with his radio where the hell the other cop had put my keys. But, being the great people they are willing to help others, they did it and I finally found out where the keys were so I could get back home in one piece.

    I wish the cops would lighten up, but as long as money is the issue we are fucked. My new saying about just anything, is “We are so fucked”.

    Good luck and be safe. Grams aka wyndmom

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  • jmundstuk says:

    So BRC really IS like the outside world, isn’t it.

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  • Ron Baar says:

    So has Ferguson Missouri come to BRC? The militarization of our police forces continue.
    & the Washoe County Sheriffs Dept, who are the lead agency for Law Enforcement at Burning Man appears to want to be in the forefront.
    We can only hope they choose to develop trust as a tool to fight crime rather than opt for some lame excuse to find that dreaded bud of “killer Weed” of which makes us public enemy # 1.
    Are we truly a real threat to America?
    On the other hand, for those that are getting a “bit ” grayer, it’s nice to know that after years of being ignored, we are once again a threat to THE MAN.
    This could get serious.

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  • Fancy Bird says:

    We do not attend the big burn anymore because of the police presence. Anyone else or know of anyone? I wish there was a way for BMORG to gather the figures on that. Why of why oh why don’t they move it to a state that wants it?

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  • Lisa says:

    Mark Atwood’s comment about what to do if your kid goes missing, or you get beat up, or have a medical emergency is to go see a Ranger?!?!!! This has got to be some of the worst advice I’ve ever read. What a joke.

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  • vloot says:

    when you have the deal with cops, the party’s over. i like places without cops.

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  • capt says:

    Thank you for the info on front plate law in nevada. Its presumable, every major manufacturer makes a front license plate holder / add on part. If I an find the front plate, I will be putting it on for BM, even though my state does not require a front plate.

    FYI This was AT / PAST GATE – not even on the road.
    Truck campers beware of your license plate under your camper. YES the a**liens will pull you over for license plate violation very fast, especially if you are registered in a state that does not require a front plate (so you dont have a front plate). and then you will get threatened with towing your vehicle if dog alerts. (which dont they always w BM cops?).

    I would like MORE comment from others who were threatened with being towed, impounded for a week, AFTER dog alerts, and then what??? it could, and probably would take these a**aliens, a week to conduct their search. that is NOT unusual timeline. that is NORMAL timeline. so you would have NO vehicle (RV / camp) gear, food, clothes, etc, for the entire BM. (AND anyones gear, that you are transporting as well, which is just wrong on these A**liens part) even if you have nothing to hide, is that worth it? I think most would say no. – just search the vehicle or open the door for them or whatever and watch them unload 1000lbs of gear into the dust. a video camera would be great then. I welcome ACLU input here.

    I would also want to know if the dog alerts to the CAB part of a truck, can they legally search the entire back of the truck / in the case of a truck camper? the cops of course say yes, the whole vehicle.

    The sneaky f***rs also will cause their dog to alert opposite the side you can see.
    I would want to see where the alert is (where the scratch marks are), and try to limit the search to that portion, because at the time, it was white out conditions, and could not see where dog alerted. (in CAB, due to dog blanket), where scratch marks were, and they found NOTHING there, then demanded search RV part or tow / impound. BLM F***ers.

    I would be REAL careful about transporting anyone. I personally, require a picture of them, with their gear, (before loading in your vehicle, to identify which bags are theirs), in case they are carrying anything illegal in their bags, I dont want them saying its mine, if stopped!

    God forbid if you have a dog toy in your car. suggest cleaning any dog hair / toys, especially dog blankets OUT of your vehicle before you go to BM, as it apparently triggers the dog to alert (or they just order the dog to alert anyway).

    CATS have been known to cause confusion in the dogs to lose focus and not do their job very well, (in a way that prevents them from alerting). Thats awful.

    If you have a CAT previously in the vehicle, and around the vehicle and such, it may (unfortunately) distract the dog. too bad for cops and the dog. its a shame they are easily distracted by cat smells, even a week or a year later in the vehicle and around the vehicle, like if a cat rubs your tire.

    remember, DRIVE UNDER THE SPEED LIMIT IN WADSWORTH, and the speed limit drops REAL fast, and on a downhill section, where you RV people will need to RIDE the brakes. You WILL get pulled over for driving 1 mile an hour over, and you WILL have 2 dogs around your car and 4 cop cars in 60 seconds. We all have seen and driven past these poor souls.

    good luck, enjoy your burn, safety 3rd!

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  • capt says:

    If an RV, just screw it in new location and patch hole later if a rental. you run a very good chance to get pulled over and cop / dog will probably falsely alert, even if you have nothing to hide.

    they are just looking for a reason to pull you over. do not give them one. your biggest risk of getting pulled over for this is AT the gate or right AFTER the gate. I heard law enforcement is doing something AT the gate this year??? like have cops there, scanning all plates, looking for reasons to pull anyone over.

    so, if necessary, switch your plate location before NV or in gerlach or before turning on bm rd, and do whatever you have to do, to make it visable.

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  • X says:

    Where’s the ACLU camp this year?

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  • Fact or fiction? I say fiction says:

    I would take what capt says with a grain of salt.

    an obstructed license plate is one thing, but if your home state only requires One license plate, you do not have to have two in any other state you are traveling through. Most states requiring One plate only issue One plate so there is no way you are going to have an extra for the front. I have lived in a number of states requiring only one plate and I have never seen a second plate issued in those states.
    I lived in Texas which required 2 plates. Louisiana only requires one. They never stopped someone from Louisiana for only having one plate. My wife had a Rivera and thought it looked better without a front plate. She got buy for a while but was stopped twice for not having it and decided to put it on. But if your state does not require it, it is not required in any state. that is false information. Do a little research before presuming.

    We bought an RV last year it Did not have any way to mount a front plate. I was at the factory for warranty work and asked them why. They said so many states did not require a front tag that they didn’t put it on. I had them put a holder on mine (for a cost) because Colorado requires two.

    Also, Really capt? You advocate drilling a hole in a rental then patching it up later? With what, Duct tape?
    If it doesn’t belong to you it doesn’t matter what you do huh? Just do whatever you want because you don’t care about anyone else. Please don’t ask to borrow anything of mine.

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  • Commander Kung says:

    If you’re detained, being nice is extremely valuable, as I know from experience. Last year I was charged with a felony at the gate, but after receiving a slip, was allowed to hop back in my RV and continue into BRC. No jail; kind DA.

    Don’t get me wrong, it was an extremely terrible and apparently unjust experience, but maintaining basic human decency made a big difference on the bottom line.

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  • Discoballing says:

    So for a car with a bike rack that will inevitably cover up the license plate, is attaching the license plate to the rack or outermost bicycle actually working? Would be great to hear from those that have entered through early arrival and whatnot. Or from past year experiences. And if did work, how did you rig it up exactly??

    My thinking is that if you attach the license plate to a more visible spot due to the bike rack, then the cop can pull you over for not having the license plate attached to the car or something along those lines, etc.; basically, the cop will find a way to stop you if he wants to stop you.

    Which kinda sucks hahaha, since we all just want to get into BRC and enjoy being Home for a week.

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  • Sirocco says:

    I don’t know, but I am thinking I am going to be fighting the urge to shout “(Hands Up) Don’t Shoot” whenever in LEO presence. Particularly since my experience is that you can’t throw a cat at BM and not have it land near some LEO. I may well loose the fight.

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  • raceu2 says:

    After reading this it is clear the police are way out of control as usual. It also is not hard to see they are most likely breaking the search laws themselves. Nevada is known for that. One look at Ferguson MO. it’s obvious that the police are way out of control it looks more like a military operation in Iraq. I have very little respect for the police what
    happened to serve and protect? It appears to have changed to HARASS and ARREST.

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  • Throckmorton says:

    The sad thing is, the people at burning man would rather settle for this…. The man getting into everything that they own, a militarized police force, drug dogs false alerting, more big government telling them what to do, etc.

    Our framers of our Constitutional Republic must be turning over in their graves.

    If this were 1776 instead of 2014, there would be no burning man because “WE THE PEOPLE” would be taking up arms for less government and less of the “man” getting involved in things we do. We would be throwing off our oppressors rather than making an “ART” statement out in the middle of nowhere. Not even the locals care what goes on there. You people are just a meal ticket for them.

    Are you telling me that 68,000 people isn’t a formidable force? But you would rather go for what feels good at the moment, and bit*h about how you are treated by OUR GOVERNMENT, which we elected.

    Sorry, you want me to feel sorry for you, I don’t! I think energy could be better spent making the USA the country that it once was, and most of all FREE again!

    I quote from a famous Patriot.

    “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
    ― Samuel Adams

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  • Brian says:

    Great rundown of the essentials to remember when dealing with law enforcement. Remember: there’s never a reason to not be nice and polite, but know your rights and drive legal at all times.

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