Every Fourth of July, several thousand hippies flock to a different National Forest for the annual Rainbow Family Gathering, and every year several hundred are arrested or cited by local and federal authorities for a variety of (mostly) minor infractions. The 2011 Gathering in southwest Washington wasn't much different, save for the mysterious disappearance and death of 54-year-old Marie Hanson.
At this year's event, held in the Skookum Meadow area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Forest Service officers issued about 150 citations, which were processed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. A number of individuals were also arrested and/or cited by the Skamania County Sheriffs, but the exact figures are unavailable with a Seattle Weekly public disclosure request still pending. Regardless, the number of incidents is likely down from previous years, when the Forest Service routinely cracked down hard on the Rainbows
The most notable conflict between the group and the Forest Service occurred in 2008, when the Gathering was held in Wyoming Bridger-Teton National Forest. Forest Service agents attempted to arrest two people for minor drug possession, and the situation escalated to the point that the feds ended up firing rubber bullets and "pepper spray balls" at a crowd of people, who -- allegedly -- retaliated by hurling sticks and rocks.
Documents handed over to Rainbow advocates under a subsequent FOIA request revealed that the Forest Service agents (who were ultimately ruled justified in their use of force) were members of a secret "Crisis Response Team," formed in the early 1990s in response to recurring problems at Gatherings with "criminal or socially unacceptable behavior, drug trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, and in confrontations with law enforcement."
The documents (hosted by Buffalo State University) also showed that the FBI also keeps tabs on the Rainbows. The G-Men note in one report that, "attendees typically represent a variety of political and social persuasions to include Environmental and Animal Rights groups and transient anarchists," but, "in recent years, the demographics of the participants has changed to a much younger group who come primarily to party."
After the melee in Wyoming, the ACLU issued a report which concluded that the Forest Service was guilty of "harassment and general overzealous enforcement" of the Rainbows. "The USFS has set up roadblocks, safety checkpoints, rolling gauntlets, and have searched and ticketed people on the narrowest of pretexts," the ACLU wrote.
Several Rainbows interviewed for our story noted that this was the first time in recent memory that the feds and local authorities mostly left them to their own devices. The group prefers to police themselves, using a system called "Shanti Sena." From our story this week:
Although the Gathering is ostensibly governed by anarchy, there are volunteers who coordinate emergency services. The Rainbows practice a concept called "Shanti Sena," a Sanskrit term coined by Gandhi that translates to "Peace Army." It means, essentially, that if trouble arises, it is everyone's duty to come to the rescue. Some people--Adams, Savoye, and Circus Maximus among them--take this calling quite seriously. They carry walkie-talkies, extinguish unsafe campfires, and doggedly pursue legit missing-person reports.Adams emphasizes that he does not hesitate to summon police when the need arises, and says he has even worked closely with them in the past to capture a serial child molester named Jose Antonio Ramos who attended several Rainbow Gatherings in the '80s. This year, Adams says he turned in two men accused of sexual assault.
"We operate on a case-by-case basis," says [Barry "Plunker"] Adams, unofficially the Rainbow's chief detective. "We're tenacious. We don't leave anyone behind. Once we start a search, we don't end the search until we know for certain what has happened with whatever individual."
But in the case of Hanson's disappearance, there is a lingering suspicion among the Rainbow crowd that their standoffish history with law enforcement caused both the local and federal authorities to drag their feet in the search for the missing grandmother. It took three months for searchers to find what was left of Hanson's body scattered across a hillside near her campsite.
Read more here.