Rainbow’s end

Apr 12, 2006 at 12:00 am

Ever since they were gunned down by cops on their spread in southwest Michigan more than four years ago, News Hits has been interested in the story of star-crossed hippies Rollie Rohm and Tom Crosslin.

When the standoff at the Rainbow Farm campground and concert venue in Kalamazoo County began, the news media were out in force to chronicle the fate of these two gun-toting pro-marijuana activists who'd dug in to resist attempts to have their place seized by authorities. And when bullets from snipers killed the pair around Labor Day weekend in 2001, it looked like the whole thing would become a big issue, a story with echoes of Ruby Ridge and Waco. Then 9/11 happened, and the Rainbow Farm dropped off the media radar.

But Dean Kuipers could not let go of the story. The deputy editor of the alternative newspaper Los Angeles City Beat, Kuipers had grown up in that part of Michigan. And from the moment he read about the shootings in the Kalamazoo Gazette, which he continued to have delivered to him in Los Angeles, he had a feeling that something about the story "stunk."

So, like any good reporter, he followed his nose. The results of his investigation will be showing up soon in a bookstore near you. In Burning Rainbow Farm (set to be released by Bloomsbury Publishing this summer), Kuipers offers a detailed account of events leading up to the siege at the campground, and a look into the lives of the two men who died there. We missed Kuipers when he was in Ann Arbor recently to promote the book at the annual Hash Bash, but caught up with him by phone last week.

Rainbow Farms wasn't around when Kuipers, 42, was a kid. But he knew the area and the kind of people who lived there.

"This is like a regular Michigan rural neighborhood," he says. "That's why I wanted to write about it. I grew up out there."

What he found in the two central characters were men that didn't fit any easy stereotype. They were a gay couple whose Rainbow Farm, home of the Roach Roast festival, became a focal point for Michigan's pot-legalization movement. But they were also pro-militia and hunters with a libertarian streak.

Kuipers says he didn't approach the story with any agenda. Do enough good reporting, he figured, and the story would eventually sort itself out. And that's what happened.

What he found were two men who paid the ultimate price in defense of their beliefs. The war on drugs has given law enforcement "an incredibly heavy tool bag," observes Kuipers, and there are some people willing to risk everything — their jobs, property, money, even their lives — in an attempt to oppose that power.

"This ends up being a story about the demonization of pot culture," Kuipers says.

The final chapter of this sad saga has yet to be written. Rohm's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in a civil case that's still moving through the federal court system.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]