Michigan Drug Warriors Drive Marijuana Activists to the Brink, Then Gun Them Down: Standoff Ends With Two Dead at Rainbow Farm 9/7/01

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Grover T. (Tom) Crosslin lived for the cause of marijuana legalization. Early this week he died for it. Crosslin, 46, the owner and operator of Rainbow Farm, an alternative campground and concert site in Newberg Township outside of Vandalia, Michigan (http://www.rainbowfarmcampground.com), was shot and killed on his property by an FBI agent Monday afternoon. His long-time partner, Rolland Rohm, was shot and killed by Michigan State Police on the property early Tuesday morning. The shootings ended a stand-off that began last Friday afternoon, but the fallout from the killings is only beginning.

Throughout the Labor Day weekend, according to law enforcement accounts, Crosslin and Rohm systematically burned down the ten structures on their beloved farm, shot at and hit a news helicopter filming the fires, shot at and missed a police surveillance plane, sprayed the woods bordering the 34-acre property with gunfire to keep police at bay, and separately confronted law officers with raised weapons, only to be shot dead.

[In the rural Midwest, the marijuana culture sometimes intersects with an angry populism inscrutable to progressives on both coasts. Here, where Waco and Ruby Ridge echo still and where militia men mix with less militant redneck potheads and even more mellow country hippies, conspiracy theories are already springing up around the killings. Everything from the size of the alleged bullet holes in the news chopper ("too big") to the alleged shooting at aircraft itself ("too convenient" -- it allowed the FBI in), to the actual details of the killings has already been challenged in the movement's electronic media. But while the official version of events provided by state, local, and federal officials remains unverified, it also remains so far uncontradicted.]

As the four-day stand-off progressed, while negotiations between Crosslin and Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood sputtered and ultimately failed, Rainbow Farm supporters gathered nearby by the dozens to mount a vigil and demand justice and a peaceful resolution of the siege. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible demand violent revolution," read one sign at the roadside.

Beginning in 1996, Crosslin had sponsored pro-marijuana rallies under a variety of names at Rainbow Farm. While he was a visible and outspoken proponent of reforming the marijuana laws, the rallies caused few legal problems until this year. But things began to unravel in May when local law enforcement authorities, using the traffic death of a youth who had attended the festival as a pretext, swept down on the campground, arresting Crosslin and Rohm, among others, and charging them with a variety of marijuana and firearms violations. Though police emphasized the traffic death (which occurred the day after the youth was at the campground) in justifying the bust at the time, they later revealed that it came as the result of a two-year-long investigation of Crosslin's activities at the farm.

By mid-summer, the pressure on Crosslin and Rohm was mounting. Crosslin faced 20 years in prison on the marijuana and weapons charges, was out of jail on a $150,000 bail bond, and the state was moving to seize Rainbow Farm under civil asset forfeiture proceedings. A local judge had issued an injunction barring Crosslin from holding any further marijuana-related gatherings at the campground. And in a move that must have elevated the pair's situation from intolerable to unbearable, Michigan child welfare authorities had taken Rohm's 12-year-old son and placed him in foster care after the May raid.

In mid-August, Crosslin defied the injunction, holding a small rally at the campground. Police observing the property reported they had seen Crosslin and Rohm smoking marijuana. Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter then moved to have Crosslin's bail revoked, which in all probability meant that last Friday, when the bail revocation hearing was scheduled, would have been his last taste of freedom for years to come.

Crosslin didn't show up for the hearing. As county officials were preparing a warrant for his arrest, they received reports of fires at the farm's address on state highway M-60, 13 miles west of Three Rivers. Crosslin and Rohm, apparently deciding that all was lost, had begun torching buildings. Police, claiming they had received an anonymous tip that the fires were an ambush, stayed on the perimeter, but built up their forces to include a SWAT team complete with an armored personnel carrier. By Monday, they were joined by FBI agents, who gained jurisdiction because of the alleged firing at aircraft, a federal crime, and by Monday afternoon, Crosslin was dead, shot by two of three FBI agents in an observation post at his property line. Crosslin, armed and wearing camouflage, according to law enforcement accounts, and accompanied by 18-year-old Brandon Peoples, refused FBI orders to surrender his weapon, instead pointed his rifle at them, and was shot and killed. Peoples, who had snuck past police lines onto the property, suffered minor injuries, was questioned by the FBI and released. Under instructions from the FBI, he has not spoken publicly about the shooting.

Rohm died early the next morning at the hands of Michigan State Police, who, according to their own account, had moved in to accept his surrender. Police said Rohm had agreed to surrender if he could first meet with his son, but shortly before the agreed upon hour another fire broke out and Rohm emerged from the burning building, armed and in camouflage. He refused to surrender his weapon, police said, instead pointing it at them. He was then shot and killed.

While the reactions of friends and supporters of Crosslin, Rohm, and Rainbow farm fluctuate from shock to anger to despair to bewilderment and back, prominent members of the marijuana reform movement who share those sentiments are also having to do a cold political calculus. The marijuana movement nationally is seeing record levels of support, and Michigan is itself in the midst of petition drive to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot next year. Crosslin, in fact, had long supported that effort. Whether the Rainbow Farm killings will hurt or help the movement is the question facing the politicos.

While some organizations queasy about the possible political fallout have declined to comment on the shootings, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org) executive director Keith Stroup talked to DRCNet about the politics of the incident.

"If the goal is to get the public to react with outrage to police use of force, the facts are not perfect here," he said. "But remember, this started out as indictment for marijuana. With these laws, you invite this kind of situation that ends up as a violent encounter. These were two men who were ordinarily quite peaceable and peace-loving, not violent and crazy, but they were driven to behave in a hostile and irrational manner. If the authorities had not done all that they did to these men, they would not have reacted the way they did. I'm not certain I wouldn't do the same thing in similar circumstances," he said.

"But one does not have to entirely defend the actions of these two men to indict the police in this case," Stroup argued. "That they killed Crosslin was a tragedy, but when they came back a few hours later and shot Rohm, that was just inconceivable. Don't tell me the police had no tools in their arsenal but lethal force. If they find a bear rummaging in the trash, they go out and anesthetize it. You'd think humans deserved at least the same treatment. I hope there will be a grand jury to investigate these killings," said Stroup, "I hope there will be indictments."

There is no word yet from local authorities on a grand jury -- the role of Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter as a key target of any investigation makes a local grand jury problematic -- but the US Justice Department has announced that it will investigate the shootings.

"This is dangerous territory politically," said Stroup, referring to the possible impact of the killings on the prospects for Michigan's ongoing marijuana legalization initiative campaign, the Personal Responsibility Amendment (http://www.mi4norml.org). "Our folks in Michigan feel a terrible sense of loss, but they are trying to figure out how to respond without getting into the middle of a battle that is tangential to their main goal. The association of this violence with marijuana could make it more difficult for the PRA to gain support, even though it obviously remains the correct position," Stroup said. "But after the second killing, it is no longer possible to remain silent. We cannot in good conscience sit by and be silent while they execute marijuana offenders."

Saginaw attorney Greg Schmid is the man behind the PRA. "I knew these guys," he told DRCNet. "I've been out there, I've spoken there a few times. Like every other campground where there were rock concerts and the like, people smoked pot. But they used to laugh about it. Tom was a super nice guy," said Schmid. "Those guys did a lot of community service work, handing out toys and Easter eggs and things like that. But by last Friday, those guys had had enough. They had had their kid taken and put in foster care."

Morel "Moses" Yonkers describes himself as a long-time friend of Crosslin and Rohm despite having what he called a "falling-out" with Crosslin last year. "I started working with Tom doing housing renovations in Elkhart," he told DRCNet. "He was always talking about wanting to buy a big, beautiful, peaceful place. Then he got a chance to buy Rainbow Farm and he took it. I spent eight years living on the farm with Tom and Rollie. Tom loved his freedom and wanted to help make everyone else free, too," said Yonkers. For Yonkers, the bust earlier this year and the subsequent persecution of Crosslin by local authorities only amplified Crosslin's mistrust of the government. "He really believed in liberty, and he watched the government hard because of Waco and Ruby Ridge," said Yonkers. But it was the loss of Rohm's child that really tore at the couple, he said. "Rollie was at my camp just a few weeks ago crying about the kid," Yonkers said.

In one of his last communications, delivered through his lawyer during the siege, Doreen Leo, Crosslin emphatically confirmed Yonkers and Schmid's assessment of his motivation. "The right-wing prosecutor (Teter) and his rubber stamp (Cass County) Judge (Michael E.) Dodge have stolen our child and they are who we hold responsible. They no longer serve the people, they only serve themselves. They must resign. Admit publicly what they have done to our family," Leo read.

While Schmid mourns the loss of an ally, he is also wary of the political impact on the marijuana legalization initiative. "There are a lot of people who are very angry about this," he told DRCNet, "and that may help us get the signatures we need. But it may also excite enough interest to beat us in a general election. We are in the damage control mode right now."

While the field marshals wage their wars of position, Crosslin's and Rohm's friends mourn and remember. Moses Yonkers' spirits lifted audibly as he recalled with pride -- that Crosslin shared, he said -- that High Times had named the farm "the 14th best place in the world to get stoned." "Tom believed in our right to smoke," said Yonkers. To that end, Crosslin helped finance his years on the hemp festival circuit. "We created the Hemp Center -- at first, it was basically just to hand out Rainbow Farm fliers -- but Tom paid for my travel and expenses while I went to about every hemp festival in America for five years," Yonkers told DRCNet.

Crosslin's generosity wasn't limited to the movement, according to Yonkers. "Hell, I remember one year when the mayor came to us on Christmas Eve saying there weren't enough toys for the town's kids. Tom jumped up and charged $2,000 worth of presents on his Sears card. He wasn't sure he could pay for it, but that didn't stop him. That's the kind of guy he was."

Yonkers and others took issue with law enforcement depictions of the farm's festivals as dens of depravity. "Those were beautiful events," he said. "I was there for Hemp Aid 2000, there were 5,000 people around the campfires and peace was breaking out everywhere. We had security people, but they didn't have much to do except direct traffic, and maybe chase away the occasional tank of nitrous. Yeah, people smoked pot -- these were pot rallies, you know. We spent five or six years trying to change the marijuana laws, working with Greg Schmid and the PRA."

Richard Lake of Escanaba, Michigan, also attended events at Rainbow Farm. "I knew Tom from the hemp fests and saw him at the Ann Arbor Hash Bashes. He talked there," Lake told DRCNet. Lake, who helps operate the Media Awareness Project's (http://www.mapinc.org) drug news archive, said lurid press accounts of goings-on at Rainbow Farm taken from law enforcement sources were overdone. "I saw their efforts to throw out people who were dealing drugs," said Lake. "They could have found as much drug dealing at any rock concert or on any college campus. Are they closing down the college campuses?"

Other Crosslin supporters expressed their sentiments with signs. Brothers Darren and Lloyd Daniels, who live less than a mile down the road from Rainbow Farm, put the blame squarely on Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter. "How does it feel to have innocent blood on your hands, Teter?" asked a sign they placed in their yard. The brothers told the local newspaper, the Herald-Palladium, that the prosecution of Crosslin and Rohm typified Cass County's intolerance. "I've got friends here getting busted with seeds and stems," Lloyd said.

"The police should have realized that sending in FBI agents to spy on the property was a provocation," said Lake. "Why? There was a series of mistakes on both sides, I guess. When it became clear to Tom that there was no escape, I'm not surprised they burned the place down rather than give it to the government. I wish the two of them had just gone to Canada. It's sad and scary and a lot of people are angry and upset."

As for protests or other actions, Yonkers said no plans were firm yet. "Right now, we're planning funerals," he said.

(Funeral services for Tom Crosslin will be held Saturday at 11:00am at Walley Mills Zimmerman Funeral Home, 700 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart, Indiana. Rohm's body is undergoing a second autopsy at the request of his family; his funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.)

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Issue #202, 9/7/01 Editorial: How Soon We Forget | Michigan Drug Warriors Drive Marijuana Activists to the Brink, Then Gun Them Down: Standoff Ends With Two Dead at Rainbow Farm | Federal Prosecutors Running Scared in 9th Circuit, Ask Court to Reverse Buckland Finding on Mandatory Minimums and Post-Conviction Sentence Enhancements | Annals of Prop. 36:00:00 Orange County Court Extends Provisions to Paraphernalia Offenses, Alameda DAs Fight to Keep Drug Offenders in Jail Pending Conviction | Veterans Group Passes Anti-Drug War Resolution | Cannabis Cafes in London? Brixton Discusses Amsterdam-Style Coffee Houses | Narco News Gains Congressional Ally in "Drug War on Trial" Lawsuit | Colombian President Calls for Global Summit to Evaluate Anti-Drug Policies | Newsbrief: Needle Exchange in Springfield and Atlanta | Witness for Peace Delegation to Take on Drug War | Net Scan: Alan Bock, Jamaica Commission | T-shirts for Victory! Special Offer and Appeal from DRCNet This Month | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | The Reformer's Calendar
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