The White Ocean camp at the Burning Man festival

Response to raid on White Ocean zone split with some describing it as an attempt to reclaim event from the ‘parasite class’

The organisers of an exclusive camp at Nevada’s Burning Man festival have denounced “hooligans” whom they accuse of raiding their camp, stealing items, gluing trailer doors shut and cutting the power.

Pershing County sheriff’s office was called to the festival to investigate after the night-time raid targeting the White Ocean camp as it hosted its “white party”, where ravers dress in white and dance all night to techno music.

Its organisers wrote on Facebook: “Guys, I think what happened last night should be known on social media … A band of hooligans raided our camp, stole from us, pulled and sliced all of our electrical lines leaving us with no refrigeration and wasting our food and glued our trailer doors shut, vandalised most of our camping infrastructure, dumped 200 gallons of potable water flooding our camp.”

The response from festival regulars has been split, with sympathy towards the camp tempered by many who say that the “prank” on White Ocean, a closed zone funded by tech entrepreneurs, was “taking burning man back from the parasite class”.

In recent years, Burning Man has transformed from an anarcho-hippie fire ritual in San Francisco into a pricey end-of-summer romp in the Nevada desert for 65,000 people. But with growth has come controversy around the impact of big money.

Participants at the three-decade old festival, which is based on an ethos of co-creation and mutual self-reliance, traditionally all pitch in to build the event. It is built around a radical “gifting” culture, where even strangers who wander into a camp are supposed to be served; in turn, they are expected to do the same for others.

But as Burning Man has become more popular, it has become seen as an annual fixture for global elites who pay others to build them exclusive camps called “plug and plays”, which allow them to swoop in, turn on and drop out for a few days before returning to corporate life.

Participants fill the Playa as about 70,000 people from all over the world gather for the Burning Man festival.
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Participants fill the Playa as about 70,000 people from all over the world gather for the Burning Man festival. Photograph: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

White Ocean, co-founded by entrepreneurs Timur Sardarov, the son of a Russian oil magnate, and Oliver Ripley, and involving the trance DJ Paul Oakenfold, is viewed as one such camp, although it provides one of Burning Man’s biggest stages and claims to “feed hundreds of non-White Ocean burners a day”.

In an apparent response to criticism, White Ocean’s Facebook post says: “This year has been quite the challenge for our camp. We have felt like we’ve been sabotaged from every angle, but last night’s chain of events, while we were all out enjoying our beautiful home, was an absolute and definitive confirmation that some feel we are not deserving of Burning Man.

“We actually had someone from the organisation tell us that in paraphrase ‘it makes sense that you have been sabotaged as you are a closed camp and not welcoming’.”

What sympathy there was for White Ocean appeared to be outweighed by righteous indignation at the camp, with one top-rated reply on Facebook celebrating the incident for “taking burning man back from the parasite class, back from the EDM tourists. Taking burning man back for the people”.

A second top-rated reply, while it criticised the raid, attacked White Ocean for its “privilege”.

“YOU were ESPECIALLY chosen for this elaborate performance and – news blast – these things don’t happen to random people – only those who are WORTHY of such acts are picked. You just didn’t realise it was coming because you haven’t been paying attention,” wrote Philippe Lewis.

“And I’m not too worried about you. You likely hired a helicopter to get everything that went missing or that was broken from Reno and resumed activities a few hours later.”

A third commenter vented his despair over the path that Burning Man has taken. Robert Murray wrote: “I remember before the wealthy silicone valley snobs took over the Black Rock Desert with all their commercialism the Burning Man was a FREE event. Now tickets disappear within 45 minutes of offering at around $850.00 each.

“The whole Burning Man event should be burned to the ground it is so elitist and exclusionary. But that’s just my opinion.”

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