Warehouse E

Free Spirits

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Rainbow Family In Conflict With Police – What Else Is New?

By James Donahue

A news report from Rock Springs, Wyoming, tells of a clash in the wilderness between members of the Rainbow Family and the U.S. Forest Service during the annual seven-day Rainbow gathering in Flaming Gorge National Park.

As the story was reported, Forest Service officers were surrounded and attacked with sticks and stones by about 400 members of the Rainbow Family after two of their members were apprehended for undisclosed reasons.

The news story described the Rainbow attackers as “an unorganized annual gathering of hippies, anarchists and free-spirits who commune with nature and each other.”

There were two versions of the confrontation. The police said ten officers were surrounded by a mob throwing sticks and rocks and that “crowd-control tactics” were used to move through the group. A government vehicle was damaged and one officer was treated at a local hospital for injuries and then released. Five more arrests were made.

The Rainbow members told a different version of the story when asked by a reporter for the Star-Tribune.

They were so violent, like dogs,” one camper said. “People yelled at them, ‘You’re shooting children.” The Rainbow members said they were tasered, hit with rubber bullets and pepper spray balls, and had guns pointed at them.

One man who said his name was Ryan said the police “aggressively worked the camp and worked the people over” for hours in a deliberate attempt to create conflict. “They chose the kiddie village – the one place, the kids, to take their stand and create a riot.”

This writer knows a little about the Rainbow Family. When working as a bureau reporter at Springerville, Arizona, the Rainbow chose a federal forested area just outside that community for their yearly gathering.

Before the gathering, the local police issued warnings through the newspapers and succeeded in creating undue consternation among the people. Store owners were told to be on the lookout for shoplifters, drivers were warned not to pick up hitch hikers, and there was a general sense that a gang of thieves, drug addicts and killers were about to descend on the community.

I attended a meeting of local police, deputy sheriffs and state police for a briefing on what to expect and how the police would be working to keep order during the week-long gathering and “protect” the town. The officers made it sound as if we were in for a terrible siege.

I went to the Rainbow web site, read all I could about the group, and then e-mailed the leadership to let them know I was interested in covering the gathering and being fair about what I wrote. I received an answer from someone who invited me to the camp when he arrived, and promised that I would be given an inside look at just what the Rainbow Family of Light was all about.

They gave me the red carpet treatment, especially after I began writing stories that gave their point of view along with that of the local police. It wasn’t long and I was so welcomed among the family that I started meeting some pretty interesting and famous people. It was discovered that many of those “hippie and anarchists” in the woods were professional people that were letting their hair down for a few days. They did not want to clash with the police, but asked only to be left alone to make music, dance in the forest and commune with nature with like-minded people.

Yes there was marijuana, nudity, free sexual expression, and all of that. Several thousand members were all cavorting like this together in the wilderness, not bothering anyone but the forest rangers and police who constantly circled the area, looking for trouble.

Was what they were doing a crime? While the police saw it that way, we saw it as a clash of ideologies. What amazed us was that after the affair was over, after thousands of people had camped, cavorted, and cooked on open pit fires on that ground for seven days, there was a thorough clean-up. When the last members left the grounds, the only trace that they had been there was the flattened grass and dirt coverings where the fire pits had been. Within weeks even that was gone.

Yes, the Rainbow Family gathers for one week every summer, always on national forested land in some obscure location. They come from all over the country, some in typical “hippie” painted antique Volkswagen and old school buses, pitch their tents, play their music, sing and dance, and do a few things that the “respectable” folks in Christian America might find inappropriate. They express joy and freedom of expression in any way they wish, and then go home again.

The gatherings have been going on like this for years. It is an expression of an American subculture that defies all of the mundane static lifestyles we have created for ourselves in the concrete jungles of our cities. When you get right down to it, don't we all wish for that kind of freedom?

For me, there is a strange comfort in knowing they are still among us.