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Tribal ranger draws weapon on climate activists blocking road to Burning Man; conduct under review

NIXON, Nev. (AP) — A tribal ranger's conduct is under review after he pointed a weapon Sunday at environmental activists and plowed his patrol vehicle through their blockade on the road leading to the annual Burning Man counter-culture festival in the Nevada desert.

The incident unfolded on a rural stretch of highway on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe reservation in northwestern Nevada. The protest calling attention to climate change stopped traffic as attendees were headed to the Black Rock Desert north of the reservation for opening day of Burning Man.

A news release from the tribe's chairman, James J. Phoenix, described the incident as a ranger using his patrol vehicle to clear “debris” out of the roadway after climate activists refused to leave.

Videos on social media, however, showed the ranger had slammed his vehicle into the blockade — a metal travel trailer frame that some of the protesters had chained themselves to — then drove back toward the activists while announcing on a bullhorn, “I'm going to take you all out!”

Phoenix declined to answer questions Tuesday from The Associated Press, including which agency is conducting the review into the ranger's conduct and whether the weapon pointed at the activists was a handgun or a Taser.

“Bottom line up front, we are on it,” Phoenix said.

The ranger, whose name has not been released, then exited his vehicle, drew the weapon and yelled for the protesters to get down on the ground, according to videos taken from multiple angles. The ranger approached a woman as she lowered herself to the ground and grabbed her arm, pulling her down and kneeling on her back.

Other protesters can be heard in the videos repeatedly announcing they were unarmed and “nonviolent.”

“We have no weapons,” yells Emily Collins, one of the activists who had chained herself to the blockade.

Seven Circles, the coalition that organized the demonstration, called the ranger's actions excessive in a statement released Tuesday.

“The excessive response is a snapshot of the institutional violence and police brutality that is being shown to anyone who is actively working to bring about systemic change within the United States, including the climate movement,” the statement said.

According to the tribe’s chairman, rangers cited five of the demonstrators, who had traveled to Nevada from New York, Washington, California and the European country of Malta. The chairman did not say what they were cited for.

Collins and her partner, Tom Diacono, traveled from Italy to participate in the protest, opting to skip Burning Man this year after attending the festival for many years.

“The planet is burning,” Diacono said. “It's a bit absurd to continue with the festival while the planet is begging for a change.”

Diacono said they parked the travel trailer across the two-lane highway, placing signs around their blockade that included a call for a ban on private jets. Diacono had expected to make some festival attendees angry by causing traffic jams, but the demonstration's outcome took him by complete surprise, he said.

“If you asked me to imagine 100 scenarios," Diacono said, "police ramming us with their truck was not one of them."