Usually on Labor Day weekend, Grover T. (Tom) Crosslin and Rolland Rohm are putting in long hours on the Rainbow Farm end of the season “Hemp Festival” in Vandalia, Michigan. Not this year. During the Labor Day weekend, according to news accounts, Crosslin, the owner and operator of Rainbow Farm, and Rohm deliberately set fire to ten structures at the hemp haven. Law enforcement reports claim that Crosslin and Rohm allegedly fired at a news helicopter that was videotaping the fires and at a police surveillance plane. This allowed local law enforcement officials to call in the FBI under the guise of “weapons” charges.

On Labor Day, following a four-day stand-off with the FBI and state and local police authorities, Crosslin was shot and killed by an FBI agent. The next day Rohm was shot and killed as well.

Marijuana activists in Michigan and the Midwest are comparing this to Waco and Ruby Ridge. Increasingly throughout the region, militant activists infused with an angry populism, radical environmentalism and a leave-me-alone libertarianism have defiantly held rural hemp festivals once the exclusive domain of liberal college towns like Ann Arbor.

Since 1996, Crosslin has sponsored hemp education and pro-marijuana rallies under a variety of names at the Rainbow Farm. Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day saw the gathering of bands, alternative political parties like the Greens and Libertarians, educational and environmental groups and one year even the Democratic candidate for Governor of Michigan. The festivals drew surveillance from state and local police but few legal problems.

This year, things changed dramatically following the traffic death of a youth who had attended a festival. Using the pretext of a temporary employee whose taxes had not been withheld, state and local authorities raided the farm and arrested both Crosslin and Rohm. A variety of felony charges followed from allegedly growing marijuana.

Crosslin had supported alternative candidates for Cass County prosecutor and sheriff in the past and felt the raid on his property was partly politically motivated. Crosslin was hit with charges that left him facing 20 years in prison and his bail was set at $150,000. The state was moving forward by midsummer in an attempt to seize Rainbow Farm under civil asset forfeiture proceedings stemming from the marijuana charges. At the same time a local judge had issued an injunction barring Crosslin from holding any hemp or marijuana related gatherings at the campgrounds. Friends and supporters of Crosslin say that what pushed he and Rohm over the edge was not so much the possibility of losing the farm, but the fact that Michigan child welfare authorities had seized Rohm’s 12-year-old son and placed him in a foster home after the raid.

Crosslin and Rohm decided to openly defy local authorities and hold a small symbolic rally at the campground in mid-August. Consequently, Crosslin’s bail was revoked and he was ordered to appear before the court the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Instead of showing up for the hearing, Crosslin and Rohm chose to systematically burn the buildings that were the direct result of the proceeds provided by the hemp festivals. The campgrounds had grown from little more than a muddy farm field with a few outhouses to perhaps the best hemp campground in the country with a general store that sold hemp products, a poolroom and lounge, indoor showers and other amenities. High Times had named Rainbow Farms “the 14th best place in the world to get stoned.”

Crosslin despised hard drugs and saw them as a curse and a scourge to be driven from his property. Many festival-goers found the atmosphere at the farm so friendly that parents and children were a large part of the scene. Crosslin had also purchased a rundown brick mansion in the area and was renovating it into a bed and breakfast. He was also well known for buying Christmas presents for underprivileged children.

The fallout from the FBI’s killing of Crosslin and Rohm quickly spread through the Midwest hemp community. Dozens of Rainbow Farm supporters gathered near the farm during the standoff and continued to hold vigils after the bloody siege ended. One sign common among the Rainbow Farm supporters was “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible demand violent revolution.”

Rainbow Farm supporter J.W. Burkey contacted the Free Press with the following message that he’d sent “to the peace officers of Cass County”: “I am sure that you all know that what you did was wrong. You became police officers to protect our freedom, not to suppress a culture that the majority disagrees with. Since the Vietnam War, the law enforcement community has been used to suppress the ‘hippie’ culture by enforcing laws against pot, a substance less harmful than many legal drugs. We have sent millions of people to prisons, leaving destitute families, so that they don’t ruin their lives with drugs. We have given up so many of the rights that our ancestors fought for.”

Burkey says that what the police did at Rainbow Farms “is a crime.” His message urged people to “please stand up for freedom before it’s too late. Tell the sheriff that the inhalation of the smoke of the Indian hemp plant is the right of every free man and woman. The government does not have the right to destroy the lives of those who choose to exercise that right.”

The Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism sponsored the Rainbow Farm hemp festivals from 1998-2000 and send our deepest condolences to the family, friends and supporters of Rainbow Farms.

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