Was Rainbow Farm Another Waco


At the entrance to Rainbow Farm, a strand of yellow police tape flaps in the cold Michigan wind and a dead brown bouquet sits beside a sign that reads, "In Loving Memory of Tom & Rollie."

At the base of a flagpole a few yards up the driveway, there's another sign left by supporters of Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm: "Wake Up -- Who's Next? You?"

"After Tom and Rollie were killed, we found a Rainbow Farm flag on the ground here and it looked like there was a bullet through it," says Trena Moss, a local plumber and friend of Crosslin and Rohm. "We put up an American flag, upside down."

Fat flakes of snow are falling from a bleak gray sky on what's left of the Rainbow Farm campground. Snow covers the fields where thousands of campers gathered for the annual pro-marijuana festivals -- Hemp Aid and Roach Roast. It covers the stage where aging '60s stars rocked out -- the Byrds and Big Brother and the Holding Company. It falls on the foundations of a half-dozen buildings burned to the ground during a five-day siege last summer – an armed standoff that started after police arrested Crosslin and Rohm for growing pot, then took Rohm's 12-year-old son away from him and prepared to seize the farm as a public nuisance.

Snow also covers the spot where Crosslin, 46, was shot through the forehead by an FBI sharpshooter and the place beneath a scraggly pine tree where Rohm, 28, was killed 12 hours later by a Michigan State Police sniper who put a bullet right through Rohm's rifle butt and into his chest, splattering blood over the camouflage paint on his face.

Trena Moss stands in the falling snow and tells a story about the time country singer Merle Haggard played a gig at one of the farm's pro-pot festivals. "Tom told me that when Merle came here, he said to Tom and Rollie, 'I can't believe they haven't killed you boys yet.' Rollie laughed real hard at that."

A Place in the Country

"In a way," says local attorney Dan French, "it's our own little Waco."

The fatal endgame played out last Labor Day weekend, but the tension had been building during years of scrapping between the local law enforcement apparatus and the two marijuana activists.

It began back in the early '90s, when Grover "Tom" Crosslin bought the 34-acre farm and an adjoining 20-acre wood near Vandalia, a hog-farming town of a few hundred people in southwest Michigan, about 30 miles north of Elkhart, Ind.

Crosslin grew up in Elkhart, a city famous for its RV factories. When he got out of high school, he became a truck driver, got married in his teens and divorced a couple of years later. He started a successful business installing flagpoles and then began buying run-down properties in Elkhart, fixing them up, and selling or renting them. He did good work, winning an award from Elkhart's Historical and Cultural Preservation Commission in 1995.

Crosslin loved to smoke dope, his friends say, and when he got stoned, he'd launch into loud libertarian rants about how the government had no right to tell people what they can or can't smoke. He used to toke up with his construction crews after work. One of his workers was Rolland Rohm, a quiet, easygoing guy with long blond hair and a big, happy laugh. Rohm had fathered a son at 15 and was briefly married. Soon, Tom and Rollie became a couple.

Crosslin bought the farm in Vandalia as a place where he and Rohm could escape their urban life in Elkhart. They loved to pick blueberries, fish in the pond and just stroll the hills with their dog, Thai Stick.

In the mid-'90s, Crosslin bankrolled Rohm's legal battle to gain custody of his son, Robert, who was then about 6 years old. When Rohm won that fight, the two men began raising the boy in Vandalia.

"Robert loved being with his dad -- the father-son relationship was just incredible," says Tammy Brand, 32, a neighbor whose son Dairik was Robert's best friend. The kids played baseball on a team coached by Brand's husband and they frequently stayed at each other's houses. "Robert was here two or three nights a week and Dairik was over there the same amount. I felt just as comfortable with him being there as here. It was not an unsafe environment."

Brand would have been upset if Crosslin and Rohm had smoked marijuana around her son but they never did, she says. "They kept it to themselves."

Crosslin continued developing real estate in Elkhart and one day he visited Sondra Mose-Ursery, Vandalia's part-time mayor, to ask about real estate prospects there. He overheard her taking a phone call from a poor woman begging for clothes for her kids. He seemed surprised to learn of poverty in Vandalia, she recalls, and he immediately took her out to Kmart to buy Christmas presents for the town's poor kids.

"He bought trains and dolls and trucks," she says. "He was like a kid going shopping, a person going back to childhood."

He also gave her a $5 bill for each kid on her Christmas list. He spent over a thousand dollars that day, she recalls, and he didn't want any credit for it.

But Vandalia's secret Santa also exhibited a violent streak. On April 19, 1995 -- the day of the Oklahoma City bombing -- he was arrested for assault in a local bar. These days, Crosslin's supporters claim he was defending himself against gay-bashers. But at the time, witnesses told police a different story: Crosslin was ranting about the bombing and denouncing the evil federal government when a woman told him to shut up. He cursed her and when she stood up to protest, he shoved her. Then he darted behind the bar, grabbed the bartender's club and hit her with it before the owner wrestled him to the floor.

He pleaded guilty to an assault charge and served several months in the Cass County jail.

When he got out, his anti-government views had hardened. He channeled his anger into the movement to legalize marijuana. He turned Rainbow Farm into a campground and began holding pro-pot festivals every Labor Day and Memorial Day weekend.

"Rainbow Farm supports the medical, spiritual and responsible recreational uses of marijuana for a sane and compassionate America," he wrote on the farm's Web site. As for the war on drugs, he added: "We consider this a war on us and we are fighting back."

Instant Flashback

If you got stoned enough at one of Tom and Rollie's festivals – and thousands of people did -- you might think you'd traveled through time and ended up at Woodstock.

Up onstage, the Byrds or Big Brother or some local band would be jamming. Out in the field, where 3,000 people from all over the Midwest were camped out, a group called Granola Funk cooked up big batches of free veggies and performed puppet shows for the kids. Vendors sold everything from corn dogs to handblown glass hash pipes. At the farm's store, called "The Joint," you could buy a cappuccino or a bong. And sometimes Crosslin stood at the gate, handing out free rolling papers.

Meanwhile, on one of the campground's hills, they would set up the "Naked Hippie Slide" -- basically just a piece of plastic covered with soapy water -- and people would strip off their clothes and slide down it, while spectators laughed uproariously.

"The first time I went out there," says Melody Karr, 37, who volunteered in the children's tent at festivals, "I said, 'Wow! Hippies really do exist! I heard they'd died out.' "

But the festivals weren't just a stoned giggle or a chance for Crosslin to make some money. They had a serious political purpose -- proselytizing for Michigan lawyer Greg Schmid's "Personal Responsibility Amendment," designed to decriminalize marijuana. Schmid set up booths, where he gathered signatures on petitions to get the amendment on the Michigan ballot. Between the rock bands, Schmid, Crosslin and other activists exhorted the crowd to register to vote, sign the petition and get involved in the movement.

"Rainbow Farm was the conduit for people interested in marijuana law reform," Schmid says. "The best petitioners I met, I met through Rainbow Farm."

Lots of folks loved the Rainbow Farm festivals but Scott Teter was not one of them.

Teter, 39, is Cass County's conservative Republican prosecutor. Elected in 1996, he won a reputation for being tough on deadbeat dads. When he learned that a lot of local teenagers were having babies, he put up billboards that said, "If your sex partner is under 16, they won't be when you get out of prison" -- a move that earned him an appearance on the "Today" show.

Teter first learned of problems at the Rainbow Farm festivals in 1997, when local cops got complaints about noise and litter. He wrote a letter to Crosslin, saying, as he recalls, "You need to police your gatherings."

In 1999, Teter heard reports of blatant dope-smoking at the festivals and he wrote a second letter to Crosslin, officially warning him that if he permitted drug use on his land, the property could be seized by the county as a public nuisance.

That threat angered Crosslin, who fired back a long, pugnacious reply: "I have discussed this with my family and we are all prepared to die on this land before we allow it to be stolen from us. How should we be prepared to die? Are you planning to burn us out like they did at Waco, or will you have snipers shoot us through our windows like the Weavers at Ruby Ridge? Maybe the Govenor [sic] can call in the National Guard for another Kent State."


Teter huddled with state and county cops to figure out how to handle the festivals. They quickly agreed that sending cops to make dope busts in a crowd of 3,000 potheads was not the best option.

"It's not worth starting a war," Teter says.

So they devised a plan that combined harassment with surveillance. Police patrolled the roads leading to the festivals, stopping cars on any pretext and searching them for dope. Undercover cops infiltrated the festivals, buying drugs, and the state police rigged up an RV with a hidden periscope camera and videotaped all sorts of antics, including the Rainbow Farm security guards smoking joints.

Meanwhile, Teter filed suit to stop the festivals under an ordinance that required permits for gatherings of more than 500 people. Crosslin fought the suit on a technicality that exempted nonprofit groups from the ordinance. He claimed the festivals were sponsored by an obscure Ohio-based nonprofit with a grant to study hemp -- and he won.

A year later, Teter filed suit again, alleging that the nonprofit was no longer registered with the state. But by the time the case came to court, it was registered. Crosslin had hand-carried the paperwork through the bureaucracy. And he won again.

"It was head-butting," Tammy Brand says, referring to the feud between the campground and the authorities. "This head-butting went on for years. What it reminded me of was the Dukes of Hazzard versus Boss Hogg."

On April 20, 2001, Rainbow Farm held another festival and the next day, Konrad Hornack, a 17-year-old who'd attended the festival, died when the car he was driving hit a school bus in a nearby town. Police said he had marijuana in his bloodstream.

After that, Teter decided to use another weapon against the farm, the same weapon the feds once used against Al Capone -- taxes.

A woman who'd worked at the Joint told police that Crosslin was paying some employees off the books. Teter passed that information to the Michigan Treasury Department, which obtained a warrant to search the farm for tax records.

Early on the morning of May 9, some 30 state police officers dressed in combat fatigues and black ski masks raided Rainbow Farm, rousing sleeping staffers and campers and pointing guns in their groggy faces.

That show of force was necessary, Teter says, because of Crosslin's pugnacious 1999 letter: "There was at least the possibility that he'd do what he said and attempt to harm officers."

Crosslin didn't do that but he did scream at the cops, curse them, call them Nazis and worse. Rohm, typically, was much quieter. The police claim they found him in the farmhouse basement, trying to stash 300 pot plants into garbage cans. Upstairs, the cops found more pot and a couple of loaded rifles.

Teter charged Crosslin and Rohm with manufacturing marijuana, running a drug house and possession of firearms while committing a felony. He also charged Crosslin with possession of guns by a convicted felon.

Both men faced more than 20 years in prison. And Teter wasn't done with them yet.

Crossing the Rubicon

After Crosslin and Rohm were released on bail, the prosecutor got a court order forbidding festivals on Rainbow Farm. He also filed papers to seize the farm as a public nuisance. And he worked with the county to remove Robert from his father's custody for "neglect secondary to criminal behavior."

One day, Robert didn't come home from school. Children's Protective Services had grabbed the 12-year-old off the playground. After a hearing the next day, he was placed with a foster family in a nearby town -- a foster family headed by a retired policeman.

Rohm was devastated. "Rollie had tears in his eyes," says Brand. "The man had lost his son. He felt helpless and hopeless."

Now, the two men not only faced decades in prison, but they were also likely to lose their land and they'd already lost Robert.

"Tom was defiant but Rollie was scared," says Dori Leo, the lawyer who handled their criminal cases.

Leo, a former Chicago prosecutor, felt that Teter was too hard on the men, particularly Rohm. "He had the owner of the farm in his grasp, so why be so tenacious about Rollie?" she asks.

"I took an oath when I took this office to enforce the law as it's written, not as I want it to be," Teter says. "There isn't a let-them-do-it option."

Crosslin was enraged that the government could seize his land and take Rohm's son. He was determined to fight back. Ignoring the court order, he held a festival on the farm in mid-August. It wasn't much of a gathering -- only a few dozen people showed up and two of them were undercover cops.

The cops told Teter that Crosslin offered them a hit on his pot pipe. Teter returned to court and asked the judge to revoke the two men's bond. The judge scheduled a bail-revocation hearing for Aug. 31.

For Crosslin, that was it. He had no intention of going to jail, he told friends, and if the government seized his land, he'd make sure there was nothing left on it.

"I'm going to die on my farm, not in prison," he told Doug Leinbach, a former manager of Rainbow Farm.

During the last week of August, Crosslin and Rohm drew up identical handwritten wills, leaving all their possessions -- including the farm and several other properties -- to Rohm's son. Then they started giving away stuff, letting the hippies who hung around the campground help themselves to whatever they wanted from the Joint.

As their court date approached, Crosslin left a note in an old brick house he was renovating in downtown Vandalia:

"The action we must take now is not what we wanted. We would have preferred [sic] a peaceful end to the drug war. . . . No longer are we talking peace. The Government must be stopped. Scott Teter knew what was coming. . . . Our police no longer serve and protect us. We need protection from peopel [sic] we hired to protect us. . . . Let the battle begin."

The First Shot

Buggy Brown had just finished milking the cows when he saw a column of smoke coming from Rainbow Farm.

It was the morning of Friday, Aug. 31, the day Crosslin and Rohm were due in court. Brown, 35, is a thin, thoughtful man with a goatee and a ponytail, an old toking buddy of Tom and Rollie who worked at a farm just down the road.

Spotting smoke, he hustled over to Rainbow Farm and saw that the VIP room -- the little building where bands waited to go onstage -- was burning. He saw Rohm and asked him what was going on. Rollie didn't say much, except "It's time."

That sounded ominous. Brown whipped out a pipe and he and Rohm shared a few tokes.

Then Brown left, went to a nearby farm and called the police, telling them that the fire was contained and it might be best if they didn't go out to Rainbow Farm. The cops took that to mean they might be ambushed and they set up roadblocks to seal off the area.

At the courthouse, Dori Leo waited for her clients. Teter told her that fires were blazing at Rainbow Farm and they both drove out there. Leo volunteered to go talk to her clients but the police wouldn't let her – too dangerous, they said.

Instead, Brown brought Leo's cell phone up to the farmhouse, which had no phone. She talked to both men briefly before they sent the phone back. "Tom was just ranting and raving about the government," she says, "whereas Rollie was asking questions about the situation he was in. He was scared."

Hovering above the farm was a helicopter from WNDU-TV in South Bend, Ind. Eric Walton was shooting fire footage for the evening news when the station radioed and told him and his pilot to leave because the cops said somebody was shooting at them. Back in South Bend, they found a bullet hole in the tail of the chopper, about two feet from the gas tank.

After completing his afternoon milking, Brown returned to the farmhouse. By now Crosslin and Rohm were dressed in camouflage uniforms and carrying rifles. More buildings, including the Joint, were burning.

"We sat on the back porch and watched the store burn," he says.

He smoked a bowl with Rohm -- Crosslin wasn't smoking -- and then he left, with a message from Crosslin for the TV people:

Sorry about the helicopter. It was blue and white and looked like a cop chopper.

The FBI Arrives

The next morning, a Saturday, Brown bought breakfast at McDonald's and took it up to Rainbow Farm. The three men ate and smoked some weed and shot the breeze.

That's the way it went for the next two days. Brown visited several times a day, carrying messages back and forth. At one point, Crosslin said he wanted to talk to the media. The cops nixed the idea, saying if Crosslin wanted to talk to anybody he should talk to them. But he didn't want to talk to cops. In fact, when they set up loudspeakers and started talking to him, somebody shot at the speakers from the house.

Inside the house, Crosslin and Rohm were calm, watching TV, taking showers, smoking weed, Brown says. "Rollie was the same old Rollie, extremely mellow," he says. "Tom was composed but firm. He had a purpose -- to protect his property. You're not talking about people who had lost it."

Outside, the state police had brought in an armored personnel carrier borrowed from the Michigan National Guard. On Sunday, the FBI arrived, more than 50 strong, summoned to the scene because the helicopter shooting was a federal crime.

"We were strictly in a defensive position," says John Bell, head of the FBI's Detroit office, who was in command. "There were no offensive moves made. We were just trying to contain the situation."

The FBI and the state police agreed to take turns, each guarding the area for 24 hours. On Sunday afternoon, the state police left and the FBI took over. Bell sent three FBI SWAT teams, each composed of three sharpshooters, to take positions inside Rainbow Farm. Camouflaged, they lay in the woods all night, armed with rifles, keeping an eye on the farmhouse.

On Monday morning, Brown arrived and found that Crosslin and Rohm had a visitor. Brandon Peoples, a local 18-year-old, had wandered onto the farm and was sitting calmly in the living room.

On that visit, Crosslin agreed to accept a phone and Brown brought one in. Crosslin told the FBI that he and Rohm wanted to speak to Rohm's son. The FBI refused.

"This is a boy of some tender years," Bell explains. "We weren't about to put him on there without having some knowledge of what they would be confronting this kid with."

That angered Crosslin. He cursed the cops, hung up and sent Brown back out with the phone.

Not long after that, Crosslin left the house, carrying his rifle, followed by Peoples. They walked through the woods -- right past one of the FBI's hidden SWAT teams -- and entered a neighbor's farmhouse, where they picked up some food and a coffee maker. They walked back into the house, then realized they'd forgotten the coffeepot. They returned to the neighbor's house, got the coffeepot and headed back.

They stopped in the woods to rest at a campsite for a moment. Then, according to Bell, Crosslin spotted one of the FBI agents lying on the ground about 20 feet away, and he raised his rifle to his shoulder.

When he did that, two agents fired, one of them shooting Crosslin through the forehead, killing him instantly.

"He died before he hit the ground," says Bell.

Peoples fell, too, fragments of Crosslin's skull and brain splattered across his face. Perhaps he could confirm or deny the FBI account of the shooting, but he refuses to talk to reporters.


Crosslin was carrying a walkie-talkie when he was shot. The FBI picked it up, called Rohm, told him his buddy would not be coming back.

They kept up contact with Rohm for a while but then he stopped responding. "Rollie, pick up the radio," they called. But they got no answer.

"There were times," Bell says, "when it seemed like he'd fallen asleep."

After dusk, the FBI's 24-hour shift ended and the state police took over, sending their own SWAT teams to take up positions on the farm. It began to rain, hard.

Rohm agreed to accept a telephone and the state police drove up to the house in the armored personnel carrier and threw a phone toward the porch. Rohm retrieved it and began talking.

Around 10 that night, Rohm's son Robert called Tammy Brand, the mother of his best friend. "Tom is dead," he told her, crying. "Don't let them kill my dad."

She promised to try to help and she drove to the nearest police barricade. A couple dozen protesters -- most of them friends of Crosslin and Rohm -- stood in the rain holding soggy signs. When Brand approached the cops, they pointed rifles at her. For 45 minutes, she begged them to talk to her. Finally, she was called into a police car. Crying, she told the cops about the call from Robert and she offered to go to the farmhouse -- or at least talk to Rollie on the phone. They declined her offer.

"They said it would just cause more emotional turmoil," she says.

At about 1 or 2 in the morning, Rohm talked to Dori Leo on the phone, asking questions about how much jail time he faced. That was a good sign, she thought: "When somebody asks you questions about the future, you figure he thinks he's got a future."

But when he asked to speak to his son, she started to worry, figuring he wanted to say goodbye.

Somewhere around 3 a.m., Rohm stopped talking and the cops decided to shake him up a little, says Lt. Mike Risko of the state police. They fired a 37mm "dummy round" -- a piece of hard rubber -- at the house, smashing a window. Rohm picked up the phone and asked why they were shooting. They started negotiating again and at 3:45 Rohm agreed to surrender at 7 if the cops would bring Robert. They agreed.

"I went home thinking, 'We've got this pretty well wrapped up,' " Risko says.

But shortly after 6 a.m., the cops spotted a fire blazing in the farmhouse. At 6:31 Rohm walked out, dressed in camouflage fatigues, his face masked with camouflage paint, and crouched between two pine trees.

The cops drove toward Rohm and the burning house in the armored personnel carrier. As they got close they were blinded by the smoke. Two cops stuck their heads out of the top of the vehicle in order to see better, Risko says, and Rohm raised his rifle to his shoulder and pointed it at them. At that moment, two state police snipers fired from 150 yards away.

One missed. The other shot through the stock of Rohm's rifle and into his chest, killing him.

Continuing Controversy

Crosslin and Rohm are dead now, but the controversy over Rainbow Farm lives on.

The official investigation into the killing of the men was conducted by Scott Teter. He concluded that the deaths were "justifiable homicide."

John Bell agrees. "This is probably nothing more than suicide-by-cop," he says. "I'm convinced that these guys were at the end of their rope and they wanted to die and if they took a couple of police officers with them, that was okay."

Leo isn't convinced. "What do we do with an animal that's out of control? We shoot it with a tranquilizer," she says. "The police were lying in wait. They saw my clients coming and going in the house and walking the property. They had opportunities to either maim or tranquilize them. Why wasn't that done? They were lying in wait, waiting for the right moment to kill them."

Grover Crosslin, Tom's father, is more blunt: "He was murdered, I'd say."

He feels the same about Rohm's death: "They burned the house down to get him out and when he came out, they shot him."

Crosslin has hired a lawyer and plans to file a wrongful-death suit.

That won't be the only legal proceeding in this case. Teter still plans to go forward with his efforts to seize Rainbow Farm as a public nuisance, despite the fact that the men who once operated it are dead.

In his will, Tom Crosslin left the farm to Robert Rohm. Now, Teter says, he's worried that the boy -- or somebody else -- might turn the place into a memorial to Crosslin and Rohm and continue holding pro-pot festivals.

"What better way to talk about their cause than to stand on their graves and reminisce about them?" he says. "It would give them a great platform and they'd be out here doing the same things they did for the last six years."