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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Department of Book Reports

“I can’t believe they haven’t killed you boys already.”
-Merle Haggard, first time meeting Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm on Rainbow Farm, July 2000

This week’s selection, Burning Rainbow Farm (Bloomsbury, $24.95), by Dean Kuipers, is a riveting account of the siege of Rainbow Farm, that is also an indictment of the War on Drugs, it’s excesses, and a lamentation on the lives lost in it.

Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm began to implement their vision of a utopian campground in 1993. The 34 acre farm near Southwest Michigan was an outpost of a libertarian dream of marijuana’s promise of world redemption, “It’s an ‘alternative’ farm and whatever anyone wants to make of that, that’s what it is,” –Tom Crosslin said, and it was set amidst Church Camps along hidden lakes. They were not drug dealers; they just wanted to provide a place for folks to camp out on and hear music. These men did not hide their gay relationship, and the townspeople and police largely disregarded that aspect of their lives. Visiting childcare authorities pronounced the farm, with it’s remodeled Victorian farmhouse and animals, a wonderful place to raise a child. Tom was something of a local real estate mogul, at one time owning 52 rental and remodel-investment houses. The houses he remodeled were rented to working class families, often to his own construction crews, the hard-working locals who were unable to pass the piss tests required to work in the booming mobile home manufacturing industry. These properties would be sold over the years to finance the evolving dream of the farm. Rainbow Farm hosted some of the largest hemp fests in the country, and their voter registration drives had ensured a pro-marijuana initiative would be on the ballot. The weekend campouts would attract such celebrities as
Tommy Chong, Merle Haggard and Big Brother and the Holding Company and other hemp advocates.
Although local police knew the pair from high school days, and many of them attended the weekend fests out of uniform, Tom and Rolie’s successes drew the ire of the county prosecutor, Scott Teter.
Using strongarm tactics, county authorities kidnapped Rollie’s 12 year old son, Robert, after school, in May 2001, and finding sprouts of marijuana plants on the property, pressed charges of marijuana production and Teter began foreclosure proceedings on the utopian farm. Tom and Rollie could have fought the charges, but the loss of Robert unhinged them both. The overzealous county prosecutor then set into motion steps that would destroy the farm and both Tom and Rollie. County prosecutor Teter went after the men with all the force the War on Drugs could offer him. Anticipating they would be a no-show for their court date, he began paperwork that would bring in the F.B.I. and the D.E.A. Early on in the war on Drugs, confiscation rules had allowed for all properties to be seized in marijuana raids, aimed primarily at large cartels. But asset forfeiture had taken on new meanings for local authorities. States across the Union passed laws allowing them to keep the funds derived from such raids to fund their own departments. Teter went after Tom and Rollie’s elaborate campground estate. Tom vowed Teter could take the land, but that was all he was going to get.

Tom and Rollie had already called off the Labor Day Weekend Roach Roast. They told everyone to go away… and watch to the news.

The siege began Saturday morning, Labor Day Weekend 2001 and ended in Tom and Rolie’s deaths. Tuesday, September 11th was the morning of Rollie’s funeral. Robert in a private visitation hour, placed a wreath that said “To my best Dad ever- Robert”. The reporters that had swarmed Vandalia abruptly were called off and all attention was diverted to the attack on the Twin Towers. And subsequent investigations, led by Teter, cleared local authorities of any wrong doing, Kuiper’s own investigations have been frustrated with much information being witheld, due to ongoing wrongful death trials, even at this date, 5 years later.

“They murdered them boys plain and simple” said Pops in his deep Tennessee curl. “There’s no other way to look at it.”
-Pops Crosslin, Tom’s dad

If you have attended a well-run Hempfest in your local town, and noticed no acts of aggression or violence, enjoyed your afternoon in the counter culture, you owe thanks to Tom and Rollie, victims of the War on Drugs.

Dean was interviewed at Seattle’s Hempfest 2006 and the video is at the bottom of the media column. That was when he signed my copy of the book:
“To Tammy- This is for the music and the dream of freedom. Best, Dean Kuipers”

Burning Rainbow Farm is highly recommended by SeattleTammy, and is available at Jackson Street Books and fine Independent Booksellers everywhere.

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