A photographic tribute
by Steven Wishnia
Rainbow Farm, home of the Hemp Aid and Roach Roast festivals, was a center of pot partying and activism in Michigan. On Labor Day weekend, its long-running battle with local authorities came to a bloody end when police killed the owner, Tom Crosslin, and his partner, Rolland Rohm.
Rainbow Farm was a beautiful place in September. The rolling fields are green with clover and wild grasses, and the late-afternoon sun glows warm and gold on the wooded hillside. Itís easy to envision the fields filled with people, the forest dotted with tents and campfires.
Except there is nothing left of the buildings but scorched ruins. The store by the front gate, where people once lined up to take showers and buy coffee, flashlight batteries and hempseed candy bars, is a pile of ashes, the only thing standing the charred remains of hot-water heaters, shelves and a shower stall. Tom Crosslin and Rolland Rohmís farmhouse, a few hundred feet up the hill to the south, is burned down to the basement, "FREEDOM" graffiti faintly visible on the concrete wall.
Crosslin, Rainbow Farmís owner, and Rohm, his partner, wanted the 34-acre spread outside Vandalia, Michigan, to be a hippie haven, a place where people could relax and pass the pipe in peace. And so it was for several years, the annual Hemp Aid and Roach Roast festivals drawing thousands of people, mainly from the factory towns and back-country villages of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana.
It got them killed.
FIRE ON THE FARM
On Friday, Aug. 31, Buggy Brown, a 34-year-old hand on the farm next door, was milking cows when he saw smoke coming from Rainbow Farm. He went over to check it out. The buildings were burning, and Crosslin and Rohm told him they had shot at what they thought were police helicopters. They hit a TV news helicopter from South Bend, Indiana, but it was unharmed.
Wreaths by the ruins of the farmhouse.
Crosslin and Rohm were both angry and frustrated. They had been busted in May for growing pot, and the state had filed papers to forfeit the farm and gotten a court order banning them from having festivals on it. Rohmís 13-year-old son, Robert, had been put in foster care, and he hadnít had any contact with him. And four days earlier, theyíd received a subpoena ordering them to show cause why their bailĖ$150,000 for CrosslinĖshouldnít be revoked. They were supposed to be in court that afternoon.
Police sealed off the area, keeping traffic off Pemberton Road, the dirt road along the farmís east side. They commandeered Brownís home, an old school nearby being converted into apartmentsĖfor headquarters. With the shooting of the helicopter, the FBI was called in. In all, over 100 FBI agents, Michigan state troopers and Cass County sheriffs surrounded the farm. Protesters gathered on Michigan Route 60, the main road through Vandalia.
Police barred Dori Leo, Crosslin and Rohmís lawyer at the time, from going in, saying she could become a hostage. Brown, whose girlfriend worked in the Rainbow Farm store, volunteered to be a go-between. He says police told him they were breaking rules by letting a civilian go in, but let him do it "because of the confidence I had in my own safety." He passed Crosslin and Rohm cell phones, which proved "totally unreliable." He says they were "very composed. Their purpose was to protect their land, not cause a lot of trouble."
On Monday, Sept. 3, Crosslinís sister, Shirley Deweese of Elkhart, Indiana, says she called the FBI to say they had a new lawyer on the way from Massachusetts, and "the FBI lady told me, Ďwell, weíll just kick back and wait.í " That afternoon, Brown hooked up a phone line to the farmhouse, wiring it to a junction box on Pemberton Road.
"I told the cops that if they stayed out of there, that we could go as long as it takes to make communication," Brown recalls. The local cops, he adds, "knew it was 99.9 percent peaceful," but "from state to federal, you could notice a lot more of a cold-book approach."
About 2 PM, Brandon Peoples slipped through the police lines and onto the farm. Peoples, 18, was largely unknown to most of the farmís regulars. According to his friend Omar Alham, 18, of Cassopolis, heíd been living with his girlfriend in a house on the back side of the property for about six months.
At about 5 PM, Crosslin and Peoples went to a neighborís house to get food and a coffee potĖstealing it, police say; taking what had been left for them, say Alham and Brown. On the way back, they crossed a small hill along Pemberton Road, the highest point on the property, nicknamed "Mount This" by festival security staff.
Suddenly, they spotted an FBI agent in the woods. Police say Crosslin raised his gun, a .223 caliber Mini-14 rifle. Two FBI agents fired. He was shot twice, says Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood, fatally in the head and grazed on the side.
Peoples was grazed on the shoulder and hit with flying bone chips. He was treated briefly, questioned by police and then released. Alham and his fiancee, Vanessa Hunckler, say Peoples told them he didnít see anything, that heíd been about six feet behind Crosslin and was looking down when he was shot, and that he felt like heíd been "hit in the head with a bowling ball."
After dinner that night, Rohmís stepparents, John and Gerry Livermore, rushed out of their home in East Tennessee, telling the FBI they wanted to mediate and driving all night to get to Vandalia.
At about 3:45 the next morning, Rohm told police he would surrender at 7 AM if they let him see his son. At 6:12, says state police spokesperson Lt. Mike Risko, they "saw a glow" on the houseís second floor that soon turned to fire. About 20 minutes later, Rohm left the burning house, carrying a rifle. One state trooper followed him, telling him "multiple times to drop his weapon." When he refused and "raised and pointed" it at police, a second officer shot him.
Rohm left a pool of blood behind a small spruce tree behind the house. A bullet gouged the base of its trunk.
Sheriff Underwood says Rohmís son was waiting at the former school. "I really expected Rolland to give himself up," adds Risko.
John and Gerry Livermore got to Vandalia at 7:30 AM and waited at the school, calling their FBI contact repeatedly to ask if they could speak to Rohm. By 9:30, says John Livermore, his wife was "very teed off" and wanted to drive up to the farm herself. Her husband and her son Nick, Rohmís half-brother, stopped her. Then an FBI agent told them that Underwood was going to talk to them first, then the media.
"Thatís when I realized Rollie was already dead," Livermore says angrily. They asked for a Lutheran minister.
The killings devastated the Rainbow Farm community. "Itís sickening," said Jessie Collett, 21, of Edwardsburg, staring at the ruins of the farm. "It breaks my heart. I felt honored to have known Tom and Rollie, because they stood for the things that I did and they died for themĖour right to be free, our right to smoke marijuana."
Saginaw lawyer Gregory Schmid, who launched his campaign for the Personal Responsibility Amendment marijuana-legalization initiative at Hemp Aid í99, says he will continue to work for the PRA, but "Iím not going to have any joy in winningĖall Iím going to remember is these guys being shot, that we left guys on the battlefield." On Sept. 8, 500 people packed a funeral home in Elkhart, Indiana for Crosslinís funeral, a three-generation mix of relatives and Rainbow Farm regulars, weeping as they passed the casket. Later, about 50 people gathered at his fatherís house in Vandalia, huddling in the garage against the rain while someone played Pink Floydís "Wish You Were Here" on acoustic guitar, the family staying inside in seclusion. One man points to his pregnant daughterís belly and says the baby will be named Thomas Rolland. What if itís a girl? "Tommi," she says.
Standing by the pond behind the house, Shayla Salzman, 21, recalls how she and her boyfriend showed up at Rainbow Farm after a year on the road, and "when our van broke down, Tom got us a house." Others speak about how Crosslin bought Christmas lights for the town of Vandalia.
Later, family members lay a wreath in the shape of a peace sign by the ruins of the house. "They shot my brother down like a dog," Jim Crosslin mutters.
The protest encampment continued on Michigan 60, a mix of locals, pot activists from Kentucky, Indiana and Arizona, Michigan libertarians, and a handful of far-right types. A rotating string of demonstrators held up "We Want Answers" signs by the roadside, next to the old Rainbow Farm stage banner and some crudely hand-lettered signs, urging people driving by to honk.
"Iím very bitter, yeah." said Shirley Deweese, chain-smoking in the rain. "This is just devastating that the government can do this."
A handful of people sat guard at the farm gate, keeping out unwanted visitors. Vietnam veteran Ben Pelch and former antiwar protester Steve Thompson, both from Benzie County NORML up north, joke about how theyíve ended up on the same side.
On the night before Rohmís funeral, about 15 Rainbow Farm regulars gathered at a home in north Elkhart, listening to the Grateful Dead sing songs of loss and hope. Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell. I know you rider gonna miss me when Iím gone. "We may never get together like this again," someone says.
Rohmís son was not allowed to come to his funeral. John Livermore says he offered to limit attendance to himself and his wife if the boy could come, but authorities said no. Instead, he was taken to the funeral home before the visitation, where he left flowers and a card.
"They were the best friends that Iíve ever had, and my grief is just unbounded," says Doug Leinbach, 47, formerly Rainbow Farmís general manager. "They were good people, their ideals were righteous, and itís the saddest tragedy in the world that it came to the kind of end it did."