Churlish hamster Grover Norquist nearly brought the U.S. to the brink of default three years ago, pressuring legislators with his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" into a debt ceiling battle that was both dangerous and inane. This year, Norquist plans to attend Burning Man, which he sees as a stateless capitalist Utopia.
"There's no government that organizes this," Norquist—who will be attending the event with his wife—told National Journal. "That's what happens when nobody tells you what to do. You just figure it out. So Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature."
Since 1991, New Age weirdos, California acid freaks, San Francisco tech libertarians, and other human devil sticks have been amassing out in the Black Rock desert for the final week of August to burn a giant human effigy, known as "the Burning Man." Anarcho-capitalism forms something of a shared communal value at the event, sort of, if you want to confuse that for "gifting" and "decommodification" and "communal effort"—sorta opposing anarcho-syndicalist ideas that are explicitly part of Burning Man's value system.
It's an easy mistake, one that's become increasingly common as tech industry billionaires emerge from the ranks of former Burning Man attendees, and other tech industry billionaires suddenly decide to become Burning Man attendees. In previous years, the festival has been run by a state-charted corporation, Black Rock City L.L.C., and has since hoped to transition to a state-charted nonprofit. It's held in the Black Rock Desert–High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, maintained and protected by the federal Bureau of Land Management. So, it shares these qualities in common with every other capitalist Utopia.
More importantly though, Burning Man began as a spontaneous celebration of the summer solstice. Observers should focus on the fact that Grover Norquist and his wife want to attend a neo-Pagan ritual in the desert, where people manipulate one another with mind-altering drugs, burn a wooden human effigy, and engage in other esoteric and/or Occult practices.
No article about Grover Norquist is complete without some passing reference to his infamous quote about reducing government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." But, instead, let's focus on how he somehow managed to profit off of the same crime that put lobbyist (and Norquist's old College Republican pal) Jack Abramoff in prison. Via the Washington Post:
The federal probe has brought a string of bribery-related charges and plea deals. The possible misuse of tax-exempt groups is also receiving investigators' attention, sources familiar with the matter said.
Among the organizations used by Abramoff was Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff's lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, Norquist's organization kept a small cut, e-mails show.
A second group Norquist was involved with, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, received about $500,000 in Abramoff client funds; the council's president has told Senate investigators that Abramoff often asked her to lobby a senior Interior Department official on his behalf. The committee report said the Justice Department should further investigate the organization's dealings with the department and its former deputy secretary, J. Steven Griles.
How Norquist managed to avoid jail will forever remain one of America's great political mysteries. Of course, this sort of Ghost PAC political money laundering is now an intractable pandemic scourge, but he deserves special credit for refining the tactic over the past few decades.
So: if you plan on wearing a Native American headdress or an Aztec print romper to Burning Man this year, please be advised that Grover Norquist does not represent your values. He has confused Burning Man's spirit of potlatch with ugly, petty bartering, and was complicit in the odious crime of fleecing Native American tribes with Jack Abramoff.
Judging from the original 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man or the food poisoning-induced, 102-minute-long nightmare that was its remake, this neo-pagan festival could actually go pretty badly for Norquist.
He might even wind up hoping that state-funded law enforcement personnel are on hand to protect him.
[image, albeit lightly retouched, via CNN]