Addis on "American Dream" on acid

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Burning Man graphic by Rod Garrett

Like most reactions I've heard to next year's Burning Man theme, "American Dream," mine has been one of dismay and disgust. BM founder Larry Harvey may be trying to reclaim America from the red state yahoos, which is a fine goal, but to overtly make this countercultural event about American patriotism seems to me to be an unforgivable mistake and severe misreading of the sensibilities of his core audience. Personally, I tend toward Tolstoy's view that patriotism is a vice that implies racism and causes warfare, and the sooner we can recognize it for the evil it is, the sooner we evolve.

But yesterday I discovered an unlikely supporter for Larry's new theme: Paul Addis, the man accused of prematurely torching the Man on Aug. 27. We spoke by phone yesterday in a long and rambling conversation, in which he generally reinforced his disgust with the state of Burning Man and American society in general. But when I asked about the theme, he said that he thinks nationalism and patriotism are good things worth celebrating: "People have a right to be proud of where they're from."

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Addis mug shot by Pershing County Sheriff's Department

Addis told me he considers himself a Scottish nationalist, among other things. Despite his comments in messages to the Guardian, Laughing Squid, and other media outlets (which he didn't deny writing), in which Addis talks about being part of the plot to burn the man early, he told me, "I didn't burn shit." Asked about the witnesses who say they saw him do it and who subsequently detained him, he told me, "Maybe there were a bunch of dopplegangers out there....It could have been any one of them." But he said he definitely applauds the gesture, which anti-Establishment burners have talked about for years. "Like so many other people, I thought it was a great prank. Monday is the new Saturday."

Throughout the conversation, Addis seemed to be channeling Hunter S. Thompson, who he plays in a one-man show he created, and whose "B. Duke" moniker he adopted. Maybe his erratic diatribes were exacerbated by the fact that he had just dropped acid a few hours earlier, as he told me. But he wasn't happy when I noted his HST schtick, telling me, "Some of us don't have to channel anything, we just happen to have a certain mindset. It's possible that we were both just born this way."

Addis seems to believe that big gestures like torching the man can prompt people to rally for change. "In any situation, it only takes one person to make a difference. I firmly believe that." Beyond just taking back Burning Man, Addis wants to reclaim the country from the screwheads and war mongers, in part using an organization that he's creating called Black Rock Bridge Works, whose goal is to end the Iraq war and help "rehumanize" the returning soldiers. "We're taking it back, that hulking retard known as America."

But first, Addis will have to avoid a lengthy prison sentence for first degree arson, for which he's being arraigned on Sept. 25.