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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
I'm Dr. Yes. I run this site, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!