In September 2001, the government shot and killed Tom Crosslin and Rolland Rohm on their Michigan farm, ending a battle to forfeit the property in horrific fashion. Crosslin and Rohm called their land Rainbow Farm, and they regularly held festivals promoting the legalization of marijuana–in addition to growing and consuming the plant. In a review of Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went Up in Smoke, former High Times senior editor Steve Wishnia describes the atmosphere at Rainbow Farm and how it all went terribly wrong:
The motto of Rainbow Farm in Vandalia, Mich., could have been “A Working-Class Hippie Is Something to Be.” On Memorial and Labor Day weekends from 1996 to 2000, a few thousand amplifier-factory workers, hippie girls and truckers’ wives-turned-political-activists camped out there to smoke weed, listen to rock ‘n’ roll, hear pro-legalization speeches and commune with the land and each other.
A 34-acre campground owned by a gay couple named Tom Crosslin and Rolland Rohm, Rainbow Farm was located in a hardcore Republican part of southwest Michigan. The county’s prosecutor, Scott Teter, believed he was “guided by the Lord” and crusaded against abortion and drugs. After several attempts to squelch the festivals, Teter succeeded in May 2001, when a police raid, ostensibly for tax evasion, nailed Crosslin and Rohm for growing marijuana in their basement. Then the government kidnapped Rohm’s son out of middle school—Rohm found out when the boy didn’t get off the bus that afternoon—and put him in foster care. Teter filed papers to seize the land as property used in a drug crime.
At the end of August, the couple gave away their possessions, torched the farm buildings and holed up on the land with rifles. The FBI shot Crosslin on Labor Day. Michigan state police gunned Rohm down the next morning.
I don’t condone everything Crosslin and Rohm did by any means, but the government waged an indefensible war against them and their way of life. I think they were mistaken to fight back violently, but it’s disturbing that in the land of the free, government at every level is willing to seize everything people own and even use deadly force against them for producing a politically incorrect plant and advocating for its legalization.
Many people close to the case believe that the government targeted Crosslin and Rohm for their political activities and used civil asset forfeiture against Rainbow Farm specifically to keep anyone from continuing to use the land to agitate against marijuana laws. Free speech is meaningless without a means of disseminating your ideas, so civil asset forfeiture can be used by the government as a weapon against people who say things they find threatening to the status quo.
Although Camp Zoe was never used for such directly political purposes, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was also targeted because it was a prominent symbol of a hippie lifestyle in a conservative area. If the type of people Camp Zoe attracted wasn’t a factor, we would probably be seeing many forfeitures of camp ground and music venues across the state because drug sales and consumption occur at every single one of them. Civil asset forfeiture is particularly insidious because it can be used against almost any large property owner, giving police and prosecutors the ability to attack any person or group of people they dislike.
For more on Rainbow Farm, I recommend this week’s episode of the Cultural Baggage Radio Show, where host Dean Becker discusses the incident and its repercussions with Wishnia and a number of people who were directly involved.