I didn't find the accounts in the media to be comprehensive enough to understand what happened, so I reached out to several camp members from BDC to get their views on what happened. That includes the camp lead/founder, a co-lead, and someone who was present for the entire assault and who himself was assaulted by the attackers. Because of the threats that were delivered to the camp, the only person whose real name I'll use is the camp lead - Jim "Doc Pyro" Jacoby. His name is already out there regarding this incident and he has no problem with that.
I would have loved to talk to the attackers to understand first-hand why they did what they did and how they perceived what happened, but I couldn't identify them, and while I reached out to someone who was in loosely involved in organizing the attack, he didn't respond and doesn't appear to be one of the actual attackers.
What is Barbie Death Camp?
For those who haven't visited them or didn't pay enough attention when you did, BDC is a camp full of over a thousand fucked-up Barbie dolls. There are crucified Barbies, Barbies baked in ovens, Barbies' heads on stakes, Barbies used in a foosball game, and so on. There's also a provocative sign, above, that is, certainly, going to push some peoples' buttons. That phrase at the bottom is a paraphrase of "Work Makes You Free", which famously was on the gate over the entrance to Auschwitz.
They started out in the year 2000 when the camp lead, Jim "Doc Pyro" Jacoby, himself Jewish, brought a 11 Barbies to the playa and set them up in and next to an old-school Easy Bake Oven. The next year, a buddy of his from the Jewish fraternity he'd been in during college proposed serving wine as well. They brought 50 Barbies, but people kept showing up and gifting them fucked-up Barbies, and they left with 100 of them.
It just kind of grew from there, and as Jim said, "We realized that almost every American woman has a Barbie story." Today, they have 1400 Barbies (and don't need more!) and their village has over 200 campers in it.
What Happened Leading Up To The Attack?
I wasn't there, but I've got a very comprehensive report from one of their campers - Beagle (he prefers his playa name be used) - as well as the description that Jim Jacoby/Doc Pyro (camp lead) gave me on the phone.
Sometime on Tuesday of Burn week, a group of disgruntled, possibly Jewish people, that included Australians, came by camp and confronted Doc Pyro. He told me they were screaming insults at him, including calling him a "Jew-hating white supremacist." (Again, Doc Pyro is Jewish, and tells me he lost relatives in the Treblinka death camp during the Holocaust.) They accused him of being a Trump supporter, to which he responded that he'd been doing this since Bill Clinton was President, but they were apparently not swayed by any sort of reasoning, and left angry.
On Friday of Burn week, the group came back. Doc Pyro only caught the tail end of it, but apparently this group came back and started yelling at a camp member sitting out front of the camp. He talked to her after, and she was very shaken, claiming that the group was dangerous and made her nervous. Doc Pyro himself said he poo-poo'd her warning, but admitted he was clearly wrong.
How The Attack Went Down
The next day, Saturday - Man burn day - the group of aggressive Australians and others came by BDC right around 1 pm, yurts on the roof, driving towards the Man, rather than away, which likely signals their intent to search out BDC, since during Exodus there's no reason to drive towards the Man. The exit is the other way.
BDC campmate Beagle provided a detailed summary of what he saw, including drawings showing where people were in relation to each other and the camp as it all went down, and Jim/Doc Pyro provided some details as well.
Beagle, incidentally, asked me to mention that he's Jewish and that his grandfather was a Nazi POW that escaped from a prisoner transport train.
Here's a long quote from Beagle describing what he saw up until the physical assault on him:
"I arrived at the scene of the aggression while on my way to the BDC piano for a morning musical finger exercise. As I approached the BDC art piece from the camp next door, I noticed that there was an extremely agitated group hurling insults and threats at calm, collected, and BDC campers fruitlessly attempting situational deescalation.
I stopped about 15 feet away and moved closer after about 5 to better position myself to aid in the deescalation. It was shortly after this point that the primary aggressor, an Australian-accented man in his mid-20s, began picking up the art piece perimeter components - wooden ~3 foot sawhorses - and throwing them into the center of the art piece. After throwing a few, he used the new access to the interior of the art piece to kick as many pieces, and as far in as he could. From the far corner of the art piece, he kicked his way towards where I was standing, throwing additional wooden sawhorses through the entire path of destruction. I was unfortunately standing in the path of his rampage which placed me downstream of the art pieces that he was aggressively kicking. His aggression resulted in one of the metal uprights for the Barbie - a thick rod of aluminum about 10 inches long - being launched directly into my face. I happened to be wearing my sun glasses at the time, and so the rod simply bounced off the glasses and onto the ground behind me.
It was then that I decided to step back a few feet - this man was more than just a vandal. He clearly didn't have respect for the bodily harm of others and was well on his way to instigating violence. "
Beagle helpfully provided these diagrams below of how things went down. You should be able to figure out who the *redacteds* refer to based on the above summary. Click to bring up larger versions.
Wildman's first concern, according to Doc Pyro, was his job. He's got a sensitive job (I'll decline to specify what) for which he would, by law, lose his job if convicted of a felony. He's also out $8500 thus far in legal fees, plus the bail money that Doc put up, ironically because he decided to stick around to wait for law enforcement, assuming that the aggressors would be arrested for vandalizing his camp's art and physically attacking his campmate's, plus physically assaulting a BRC Ranger.
I have sympathy for the guy (whom I don't know, to be clear), because I think smashing these folks' taillights was the least they had coming. Don't get me wrong, I don't condone violence on the playa, but if people were attacking my camp's art and campmates I might choose to act quite inappropriately back at them in the heat of the moment, potentially regretting it later.
Doc Pyro tells me that because it's for criminal defense, platforms like GoFundMe won't work for them, but if you wanted to contribute to offsetting Wildman's costs, you can paypal Doc Pyro at email@example.com.
Please use the friends + family option/trusted sender so fees aren't charged. Fwiw, after speaking to Doc I trust him to use the money for its intended purpose, and I donated in the name of radical self-expression. As of the day before this publishing, they'd raised about $5500 for him so far, which is great!
I want to get this out of the way: Barbie Death Camp's art makes me uncomfortable. It's not art I would personally choose to be part of. For me, some kind of invisible line in my head is crossed by the Auschwitz banner. I don't like it.
But you know what? That's ok. It's ok that it makes me uncomfortable. It's ok that it makes other people uncomfortable. Sometimes art does that. Burning Man doesn't owe you a safe space and, in fact, you should expect to be uncomfortable sometimes, physically and emotionally, while there.
If their camp was actually anti-Semitic, they'd deserve to be run off the playa. Radical inclusion may be a principle, but bigots can stay away.
It's not, however. Aside from the fact that the camp founder is a Jew who lost relatives at Treblinka (and that multiple other camp members are Jewish), this camp is engaging in the long tradition of parodying the unimaginably horrible. Think of the musical "Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers, which Doc Pyro cited, or even Roberto Benigni's "Life is Beautiful".
Long-time Burner Terry Grossman said something which I thought was quite apt:
"As someone who had relatives who died in Auschwitz, I have to say that it always struck me as the only way to cope with absurdist inhumanity: with absurdist humor."
I get it - that's not everyone's cup of tea. Some people prefer to deal with tragedy by elevating it and treating it with reverence. Others do it with humor. The former are often offended by the latter, and the latter often feel like the former create an oppressive atmosphere. (You can find that dichotomy of viewpoints at Temple burns in fact. Think of the controversy of the Freebird incident at the '12 Temple burn.)
I salute Doc Pyro and his campmates for running a camp that is completely in keeping with Burning Man's founding Cacophony Society spirit. This is not a PLUR festival, people.
I fear, however, that camps that push boundaries like Barbie Death Camp are not long for the playa. As Burning Man has become more mainstream, the culture that birthed it is dying away, to be replaced by a more social media-ready one, and there is nowhere where dissent is less tolerated than social media today, whatever cultural or political 'side' you're on. Whether it's Trump supporters and their complete intolerance for criticism of him, or liberals screaming at each other over perceived insufficient ideological purity, social media brings out the worst in us in terms of tolerating viewpoints that aren't ours.
That social media sphere is where the larger discussion around Burning Man happens today, and unfortunately that same intolerance of dissent seems likely to end up creating a lot of pressure on the few camps left like BDC that really upset people.
Indeed, the reason Beagle (the guy who provided the detailed description of the attacks above) didn't want his real name used is that he's uncomfortable with the accusations of anti-Semitism the camp's getting.
Further, Doc Pyro tells me he's not sure he'll be back to the playa, and if he does, it'll be for one more time only, citing the attacks as one of (but not the only) reason.
To The Shitty People Who Attacked Barbie Death Camp
First, you suck.
Second, there were something like 1500+ placed theme camps this year. If you don't like theirs, go to another one. Hell, if you really don't like theirs, grab yourself some megaphones and stand outside their camp letting them know what you think, loudly and at length. Self-expression works both ways!
But vandalizing their art and physically assaulting people? No. You have no right to do that, morally or legally. You were in the wrong. You're just lucky Burners tend to be peaceful out there and that nobody had video of your actions. I don't know who you are, but I'd imagine you're newcomers to Burning Man. While I mostly hope you'll be charged somehow, that seems unlikely at this point, so I'll stick to hoping you won't return to the playa.
Each principle is represented by a different body part, and is meant to be read left to right, with the b&w left-hand portion representing the default world and the colorful right side showing an ideal world as transformed by that principle. I think they're pretty gorgeous.
They're packed with references to Burning Man art from the past, and you can have fun finding Larry's hat in each one. Enjoy!
As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big proponent for keeping the weird, quirky, and subversive in Burning Man. Last year, a group of us in my camp started Weirdout Wednesday as a day for people to let their freak flags fly and escape the bonds of Instagram coolness. Granted, it's hard to be truly weird at Burning Man, but think of it as a call to embrace your quirky side rather than DJ chase or pose for Instagram shots on big art or whatnot!
So, here's how some of us from our camp - Friendgasm - celebrated Weirdout Wednesday this year. My hope is that others feel inspired by these kinds of antics and are moved to shenanigans themselves!
Diapers and Vuvuzelas
There wasn't much photobombing to be had at either Duck Pond or Distrikt (that's a good thing imo!) so we mostly just danced, played our instruments cacophonously, and generally tried to make spectacles out of ourselves while strangers put on diapers and joined us. Best moment was when four of our group managed to get up in the cage hanging above the dance floor with the Weirdout Wednesday flag!
Some limited video of WoW. When you're busy partying and poopin' at the same time, there's not a lot of time for pics or vids!
Playing Oregon Trail On The Side Of The 747
One of my campmates, Ginger, brought a projector out to the playa, so we put it and a generator on a bike trailer and a few of us pedaled out to the 747's home to play us some of the very classic video game Oregon Trail on the big white side of the plane.
Anyway, we get there, the generator is on, projector is hooked up, the laptop is open and about to be logged into when the 747 starts moving. No problem we think, it's slow as balls, we'll just follow it. But, then we realized it was heading to Mayan Warrior, waaaay across the playa. We didn't feel like walking all our bikes that far with the gennie and projector and such, so the projector was strapped to the seat of a bike with the laptop strapped to the projector so we could play while moving. The generator fired up, and boom, we livened up a giant metal tube while it was being towed across the playa with some classic educational video game fun, if dying of terrible diseases is your idea of fun, at least.
A distraction? At fucking Burning Man? Heaven forfend! I'm quite sure if your crew can handle walking a 747 across the playa past umpteen art cars and art pieces while ending up at the mother of all distractions - Mayan Warrior - it can handle a little 1970s video game goodness.
We briefly debated just ignoring her and firing the game up again as it's not like there's any particular reason to listen to some random rude person yelling at us on the playa, but she was obviously having a bad day and we were feeling kind of hungry by now so it was time to move onto the final installment of Weirdout Wednesday for us!
(Plus, Ginger had just gotten dysentery. Thank god we had leftover adult diapers from earlier in the day...)
Our Dark Lord Loves A Good Grilled Cheese
We interpreted these difficulties, correctly as it turns out, to mean that we had been insufficiently assiduous in our worship of the Son of the Morning. Clearly, we had to rectify this.
Luckily, one of our camp-mates, Click Click, had a plan and we were only too eager to help make it happen. We pedaled out to deep playa and set up an LED pentagram to signal our fealty to the Dragon and as a beacon to other servants of the Dark. There, we planned to grill up some grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup.
What you unclaimed souls may not understand is the importance of grilled cheese and tomato soup in Satanism. It's referenced multiple times in the various ancient unholy documents we use to guide ourselves on this left-hand path upon which we walk.
I fired up some appropriate music - Runnin' with the Devil, Breakin' the Law, Highway to Hell, Number of the Beast, etc - and then Click Click and others started cooking up unpermitted sandwiches and soup on a propane grill and burner brought out for that purpose. Getting a health permit for it had been deemed blasphemous, for our souls may only belong to one Lord, and it is not the Nevada Dept of Health. We weep for those who fall prey to the temptations of the false gods of the bureaucratic and hide-bound right-hand path. Resist, and walk ye not there!
At first, it was just our group, but the Great Beast heard our cries and read the intentions in our hearts, and in small groups almost our entire camp of 30 managed to find us in deep playa, that they may participate in this most unholy of rituals. (Seriously, it was amazing. I think 25 of our camp members managed to find what had started as a small group of 7 or 8 with no preset meeting point).
Soon, others with the Morning Light in their souls found us, and while we preached to them of the Glory of the Original Rebel and urged them to consume the sustenance while giving thanks and praise to Him, they gathered in awe and lo, they did eat of the body of the Cheese and the Bread and drink of the blood of the Tomato, and were made deliciously impure thusly.
In the end, Lucifer Himself appeared to us, clad in a silver mask, and nodded His approval. We took this as an excellent sign, and indeed, our exit from Burning Man was, in contrast to our entry, flawless.
While Wednesday was now over, we decided we'd go celebrate as a group by going to see a set by Fleetmac Wood at Camp Illuminaughty, who, if they aren't Satanists, really ought to consider it.
The Devil really digs Fleetwood Mac mashups, you know.
"Ye shall know the Music of the Beast by its wood that is fleet." - Melek Taus, a Yezidi Devil-Prophet from the 11th century, translated from the Kurdish.
And when that was over, we went back to our lair at Friendgasm and threw an afterparty in our dome where we spoke in tongues, danced widdershins, and sacrificed many a birgin until dawn. It's possible some hot and spicy Doritos were also involved, but I will confirm no specifics.
Weirdout Wednesday was the best day of the Burn for me!
Keep It Weird, Burning Man!
I'm Dr. Yes, a 10 year burner. I run this site, was on the '15 Temple team, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!