Tom Crosslin didn't envision a violent confrontation with the government when he started holding cannabis-themed music festivals in rural Cass County, Michigan, in 1995. But he faced a local prosecutor, Scott Teter, who was determined to shut down the gatherings on Crosslin's property, known as Rainbow Farm.
Teter got the legal justification he needed after a May 2001 raid, ostensibly aimed at payroll records, found a marijuana grow room in the basement of the home Crosslin shared with his lover, Rollie Rohm. Teter immediately moved to seize the property and arranged to put Rohm's 11-year-old son in foster care. In response to these aggressive tactics, says Dean Kuipers, author of Burning Rainbow Farm (Bloomsbury), Crosslin "just snapped." After he and Rohm missed an August 2001 court date, the police came looking for them. In September a five-day standoff left Rainbow Farm in flames and both men dead.
Senior Editor Jacob Sullum interviewed Kuipers, a Michigan native who is deputy editor of Los Angeles City Beat, by phone in October.
Q: What did you find compelling about this story?
A: People were lining the streets holding signs saying, "Don't Kill Our Friends," "We Support Rainbow Farm," "Tom and Rollie Are Innocent." One of the signs said, "Remember Waco, Ruby Ridge, Rainbow Farm," before the guys were even killed. For people who are criminals, that doesn't happen. It seemed like this event turned the whole county upside down.
Q: What sort of crowd was attracted to Rainbow Farm?
A: Tom and Rollie were basically libertarian. They were right-wing to a certain extent. They voted for both Bushes, and they very much adhered to a belief system in which they wanted the government out of their bedroom, they wanted it out of their bodies, and they wanted it out of their pocketbook—they wanted fewer taxes, less regulation, all that. The people who came to Rainbow Farm responded to all parts of that. They included Democrats, Republicans, a lot of third-party people, religious people, evangelicals, atheists, the Michigan Militia. That's a pretty diverse stew.
Q: What lesson do you want readers to draw from this case?
A: When you think about the drug war, you think about helicopters over Colombia. But really it's these sheriffs knocking on people's doors, busting them for weed. And the people who were upset about that, we never hear from them. Rainbow Farm was in the middle of this conservative area. All these relatively conservative people came out to protest, to say, "That's just wrong." I just don't think that message is getting through to Washington.