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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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
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
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,"
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.
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."
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