Missoula Police to Homeland Security: Help Us Protect Montana from the Hippie Menace

The Rainbow Family is an extremist threat now?


The Missoulian reports:

Ready to face the patchouli threat

The Missoula Police Department got the nod Wednesday to have the mayor sign off on a Homeland Security grant proposal—one that names the Rainbow Family as an "extremist" hazard in western Montana.

The $254,930 grant will purchase a mobile communications vehicle the Missoula police will share with other law enforcement and emergency responders in seven western Montana counties, according to Assistant Police Chief Scott Hoffman. The city's contribution is $29,200….

The draft letter from Mayor John Engen is addressed to the state Department of Military Affairs in Helena, and the proposal names natural, technological and man-made hazards. Among other specifics, the list cites avalanches, train derailments and extremist groups, naming the Hells Angels and Rainbow Family in particular.

Rainbow rules

The Rainbow Family is a loose network of hippies who meet in a different national forest each year. Fights have been known to break out at their events, but for the most part they're about as violent as an opium den. The Rainbows are a thorn in the side of law enforcement because they don't get permits, because they smoke a lot of weed, and because some of them like to run around naked, but the biggest problem you can attribute to them is that they sometimes leave a bit of a mess. Whatever else you might say about them, they are not an "extremist" threat, and the troubles they might cause have nothing to do with "homeland security." (And the Hells Angels aren't "extremists" either, even if some of them think it's cool to wear swastikas.)

But the police do tend to get excited when the Rainbows come to town. In 2008 an ACLU report argued that the Rainbows have faced a "pattern" of "harassment and general over zealous enforcement" from the Forest Service cops. State and local police have often taken the same approach. When Reason ran a dispatch from the 2000 Rainbow Gathering—held in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in, yes, Montana—our reporter described "aerial flyovers, mounted patrols through the Gathering, increased state and local patrols on area roads," and a bunch of citations and arrests, including one for a drunken assault but mostly for victimless crimes.

If that's how the Montana police think they should handle the hippies, it isn't surprising that they'd grab an opportunity to have the feds help pay for their tools, especially if they can use the same federally funded vehicle to deal with genuine emergencies. And if they think it's helpful to mutter something about "extremists" to get the dollars flowing, well, they know what Homeland Security wants to hear. What isn't clear is why taxpayers in the rest of the country should be subsidizing this.

Bonus link: If you think it's unlikely that Washington will approve the grant, check out Gene Healy's column on some of the items Homeland Security has already agreed to pay for.