Reunite Festival Organizer Issues Statement Following Controversial Event

Published on August 28, 2020

Brooke Chenery, one of the organizers of the controversial Reunite festival that happened in the Mojave Desert last weekend, has issued a statement to Grit Daily. Chenery garnered criticism on social media for her role in the event after a video circulating on social media depicted her speaking to a large crowd of people at the alleged illegal gathering in Southern California. Gatherings are currently limited in the state of California to religious and cultural gatherings, as well as protests.

Reunite, a camping event that took place in California’s Mojave Desert, garnered widespread criticism over the weekend when rumors began circulating on social media that a fatality occurred at the renegade festival. The Kern County Sheriff’s Department later confirmed to Grit Daily in a statement that there was one fatality, but since a toxicity report has not been released the cause of death is unconfirmed. “I can confirm that someone who attended had a preexisting heart condition that led to a fatal heart attack,” Chenery says. “I can also confirm that all measures were taken to save this mans life. Music was shut down immediately, everyone was directed back to their RVs, 911 was called immediately and first responders were there within minutes,” she says.

Though attendees report that there was no onsite paramedic to respond immediately, reports on social media claim that several attendees with medical experience immediately began offering aid to the victim. “He was given medical attention from the moment he collapsed, it was extremely unfortunate and sad that this man did not survive his heart failure,” says Chenery. “A medical doctor and a licensed EMT applied CPR to the deceased, who was in his fifties, immediately upon his falling to the ground, their efforts were taken over by the police and paramedics once they arrived at the scene. They tried for over an hour to keep this mans heart pumping and unfortunately, his heart couldn’t make it. The decision to continue the private camp-out was made after the medical emergency was completely dealt with and the authorities had left the property. Everything remained still and silent until the following day,” she says.

Of the rumors, though, Chenery says she’s disappointed to see how quickly the situation was reported on social media with an often skewed perspective “I have seen some rumors flying around that don’t even make sense,” says Chenery of the widespread rumor that the body was moved to the side of the dance floor and taped off as attendees continued partying. “I have seen this rumor more times than I can count on one hand that the people attending were ‘dancing around a dead body.’ I would like to personally  say that this is obviously not true and it’s pretty disgusting that anyone would have the audacity to make such a false statement when we are talking about a man’s life being lost here,” Chenery says. “I understand people are upset and confused, but unfortunately it’s very clear that anyone can say just about anything on the internet and it becomes the telephone game,” she continues.

The widespread response on social media was something Chenery did not expect from the event, at least to the degree that it went. In one instance, a spreadsheet that includes names of attendees and performers at the desert rave claims to be using the information for COVID-19 contact tracing, but contains information of attendees’ social media pages. Though the spreadsheet does not encourage cyberbullying, attendees that are on the list have argued on social media that the information doxxes them for that purpose. Grit Daily will not share the spreadsheet or the response to it in order to avoid spreading the information further. “I find this behavior absolutely repulsive,” Chenery says. “I  understand that we chose to do this during a very weird time in the world. Nobody knows what’s going on and everyone’s got their own personal opinions about a lot of stuff. People all over the world have spent half of a year in isolation and their emotional well-being has been greatly affected. This past weekend was built on love, connection and music. Music has always been something that has brought people together, and for myself personally a form of escape from internal pain,” she says.

In her own live, Chenery opted to move her Instagram page to private mode to cut back on the backlash she was receiving. Her partner, Rick Silver, also helped organize the event and opted to go private on Instagram as well. “I have received a lot of disappointing hate, but I have also received some amazing messages from people who attended,” she says. “A few attendees thanked me for REUNITE because it helped them remember their worth by being around people filled with love and gratitude.  Another attendee thanked me because REUNITE gave them a new sense of home and family in a country that was foreign to them, where they have felt alone and left out for the past year. Two female attendees reached out to thank me because REUNITE introduced them to people who gave them the courage to leave abusive relationships they felt trapped in. My point is REUNITE was a positive, enlightened success. My heart goes out to the man who lost his life from heart failure. I will continue to shed light on those angry by our decision to have a weekend of emotional freedom in the desert with our friends,” she says.

No official cause of death has been determined from the fatality at the event.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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