Michigan: Rainbow Farm Marijuana Activists Laid to Rest, Friends Not Resting 9/21/01

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At first glance, Rainbow Farms is a beautiful, tranquil rural retreat in the Michigan woodlands. The trees and meadows, the cool, clean air and the country quiet all suggest a peaceful, pastoral place. But then you notice the burnt out hulks of buildings and the gaping holes in the ground where other buildings collapsed, the charred papers blowing across the grounds, and the police tape blocking the entrances. This is where Rainbow Farms owner Tom Crosslin and his life partner Rollie Rohm died over the Labor Day weekend, gunned down by FBI and Michigan State Police shooters, who ended a four-day standoff by ending their lives.

DRCNet reported two weeks ago on the circumstances leading to the confrontation (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/202.html#rainbowfarm): Crosslin's enthusiastic pro-marijuana activism, his use of the campground for pro-pot rallies, the vendetta by Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter that resulted in Crosslin's and Rohm's arrests in May. After the arrests, things went from bad to worse for the couple, as local authorities threatened them with years in prison for growing marijuana, moved to seize the property, and removed Rohm's 12-year-old son from the family unit. On the Friday before Labor Day, rather than face a bail revocation hearing for holding an unauthorized marijuana rally in August, Crosslin and Rohm retreated to Rainbow Farms and began burning down the buildings rather than let the state take them. By the following Tuesday, both were dead.

The killings, which are now under investigation by both the Michigan Attorney General's office and the US Justice Department, have excited deep anger as well as profound grief from the couple's friends, supporters, and political allies, and stunned disbelief among area residents.

"This is just not right," said 18-year-old Nessa Hunkler of nearby Cassopolis, who had first encountered Rainbow Farms at last year's Roach Roast, where she worked as a vendor. "They were great guys, and the atmosphere here was happy and energetic. Scott Teter said this was their choice," Hunkler told DRCNet, "but it was his choice to hound them and try to take their land and their son. He's the one who chose to shoot and kill. Everything about this is twisted. What do I think about the local authorities? Fuck 'em all," she said.

Such sentiments are unsurprising coming from someone who had enjoyed Crosslin's hospitality, but even more mainstream local people confess to being deeply disturbed by the killings. Cass County Democratic Party chairman Bruce Webb -- not a big marijuana fan -- told DRCNet that local people are in shock. "I think many people were and are stunned, as well as feeling sorry for the deceased because of what they were about. You don't expect this type of Bruce Willis Hollywood-style gangbusters stuff out here. People here are deeply uncomfortable with this, they wish it had never happened," he said.

But in his remarks to DRCNet, Webb also indicated how widely the suspicion of police misconduct has spread. "I think they were executed," he said. "If the county sheriff had been allowed to handle this instead of the FBI and the State Police, we think they would still be alive."

At the encampment of Rainbow Farms supporters at the intersection of Michigan-60 and White Temple Road, a few miles from the farm, popular support could be heard clearly in the honking of horns from passing motorists, including semi-truck drivers, old farm couples in their pick-ups, and middle-aged women passing by. One army vehicle gave supporters a thumbs-down, but according to Huckler, "at least half the traffic is honking for us." It certainly seemed that way when DRCNet visited two weekends ago.

The encampment had been in place since the beginning of the stand-off and featured a 4' x 8' plywood sign reading "Rainbow Farms Lives Forever," as well as flags, posters from the November Coalition and a dozen or so people holding vigil. At one point in the afternoon, a rainbow appeared in the sky above the camp, much to the elation of the crowd.

A much larger crowd attended the funeral of Tom Crosslin in nearby Elkhart, Indiana, earlier in the day. And what a sight it must have been for the good burghers of Elkhart: Hundreds of mourners spilling out of the funeral home on Jackson Boulevard on a sunny Sunday morning: young tye-died hippies; legions of graying, pony-tailed men, several men with obvious prison tattoos who, from their demeanors and the looks of their dreadlocks, had through pot found a path out of petty criminality; men in suits and ties; crying women in their Sunday best; distraught relatives being comforted by family friends; guys who looked like they had just come in from the fields.

But appearances can be deceiving. Spotting one portly, middle-aged man dressed in farm overalls and work boots, DRCNet asked, "Are you a farmer?" "Yeah," he smiled, "mostly indica."

At the funeral service, people began crying as a song played. "I see fire and brimstone coming," ran the refrain. But people smiled through their tears when Crosslin and Rohm's dog, Thai Stick, made an appearance. The dog had been placed in the pound after the raid. "We liberated Thai Stick," people cheered.

After the funeral, DRCNet toured the Rainbow Farms site with Crosslin family spokesman Doug Leinbach, Crosslin's long-time business manager. Leinbach was angry and frightened as he discussed the deaths. "There's been an organized conspiracy of government agencies, which included the Cass County prosecutor, Cass county police, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Attorney General's office, the FBI, and the DEA," he said. "They had been meeting at least twice a year for the last four years to try to figure out how to shut this down. The result is cold-blooded murder. They couldn't stand a man who stood up and spoke for freedom and organized people to get active. So they killed him."

Leinbach paced restlessly. "They knew this would happen," he said. "Tom had told them years ago if they tried to take his land, they'd get nothing but fire and blood." In fact, Cass County Prosecutor Teter has produced a letter written by Crosslin in 1998 saying just that.

An American flag flew upside-down and at half-mast over Rainbow Farms. Leinbach scowled. "I don't know who did that," he said. "Tom would never have done that. He always flew the flag proudly. He was always very patriotic, he loved freedom, that's why he became so outraged at the drug war ruining people's lives all across the country," Leinbach explained.

"But look around you," he said, surveying the burnt-out buildings. "It looks like Bosnia, like a war zone. You see what the drug war reaps. That is what this flag is about. There were tanks, armored vehicles, they were shooting bullets and tear gas, and this was a full-scale assault. They knew what they were doing, because they planned to do this for the past four years. They drove him to this point."

David Watts of nearby Goshen, Indiana, was Crosslin's long-time security chief during events at the farm. "This is some hard shit, man," he said as he looked at the farm for the first time since the standoff. "Me and Tom and Rollie go way back. This is really tearing me up." Then he walked off to be alone with his thoughts.

Even as the funerals were taking place and the September 15 scattering of Crosslin's and Rohm's ashes over the property was being planned, the legal wheels were beginning to grind.

Dan Wilson and his wife, attorney Janet Frederick-Wilson, head the parents rights group Parents for Children in Warren, Michigan. Frederick-Wilson is representing Crosslin's and Rohm's parents in a potential wrongful death lawsuit and related matters. Wilson, who is a spokesman for the families, told DRCNet there are four tasks ahead. "We are following the state and federal investigations," he said, "and we need to regain custody of the boy and settle the estates. Keeping that boy from his grandparents is a real tragedy. We're a society that pulls together in a crisis, but here, Cass county, the state, and the federal government are acting to tear this family apart."

Wilson also provided information casting doubt on official versions of how the two men died. In media interviews, FBI and Michigan State Police officials said Crosslin was shot by an FBI agent after pointing a weapon at him and Rohm was shot at by two Michigan State Police officers for the same reason. The officials did not clarify the degree of danger faced by the MSP officers, who shot and killed Rohm from 150 yards away while hiding in a tree line at dawn as Rohm came out of a burning house.

"Crosslin was shot 3 to 5 times," said Wilson, "and Rohm 2 to 3 times. It appears there were several shooters in both cases," he said.

The fourth legal task for the Crosslins and Livermores (Rohm's parents) is the wrongful death suit. "We're awaiting the results of those investigations before we act," said Wilson.

Law enforcement officials are keeping mum. Although the local press has reported that Cass County Prosecutor Teter continues his efforts to seize the farm, a tight-lipped employee at his office would not confirm that. The only thing she would tell DRCNet was: "Everything is under investigation."

Lt. Parrish of the Cass County Sheriff's Office was slightly more forthcoming. "We are not investigating that incident," he told DRCNet. "You'll have to ask the state." He told DRCNet the sheriff's office had not been contacted by state or federal investigators. But Parrish also expressed some sorrow over the killings. "It's too bad it had to happen that way," he said. "No one wanted that to happen."

Chris DeWitt of the Michigan Attorney General's office told DRCNet that both the FBI and the Michigan State Police are completing their reviews. "There's no timeline," he said.

"Tom wanted all this to go to his son, he wrote that in his last hand-written will," said Leinbach, gazing on the green rolling hills of Rainbow Farms. "And we intend to see that happen. Teter will be toast in the 2002 elections, I guarantee it."

Democratic Party head Webb isn't so certain. "It's too early to tell, although he'd already made some enemies in the county," he said. "But he's also got some support."

Not from Nessa Hunkler. "I'm registering to vote," she told DRCNet. "Let's get rid of these guys. Teter said this was their choice, but it was Teter's choice to come after them and hound them and try to take their land. He's the one who chose to shoot to kill."

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Issue #203, 9/21/01 Editorial: Fateful Decisions | After the Attacks: Drug Reformers Confront a Brave New World | Drug Prohibition and Political Violence: Making the Connections | Broad Coalition Forms to Defend Rights, Liberties in Wake of Attacks | Gov. Johnson Takes On DEA's Hutchinson in New Mexico Debate, Hutchinson Calls Student Loan Ban Unfair | Michigan: Rainbow Farm Marijuana Activists Laid to Rest, Friends Not Resting | British "Cannabis Cafe" Opens in Challenge to Marijuana Laws, is Raided Within Minutes | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | Job Opportunity: Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, DC | The Reformer's Calendar
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