2006 Rainbow Gathering Report
by Don E Wirtshafter, Attorney at Law
I wrote my family and some friends on June 23rd about the trouble
the Forest Service was causing at my annual retreat, the gathering
of the Rainbow Family Tribe. The family had agreed to gather in
the Routt National Forest in Colorado this year. The Forest Service
sent in a team of Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) to disrupt our
gathering. Reports were coming out about the roadblocks maintained
by these officers, the hundreds of criminal complaints they were
handing out and the unfair conditions of the temporary court house
that was set up to deal with these federal cases.
I asked people to write the executives of the Forest Service to
demand that this harassment of campers stop. My plea got distributed
around on the Internet. I am pleased to report that it looks like
hundreds, if not thousands of phone calls and emails went to these
executives. Thank you everyone who responded to my plea for help
and contact these officials. I think our pressure had an effect.
At the same time, I received some criticism that I was exaggerating
the situation causing some people to be scared off from attending
the gathering this year. Two weeks later, I can testify that things
on the ground were far worse than I wrote about or imagined. The
police forces were running amuck. The LEOs were using the new non-profit
group use regulation as an excuse to stop all cars, ticket whomever
they didn't like and search through whichever vehicle they pleased.
Those with tickets were made to sit in the sun for hours waiting
their turn before the tribunal we came to call the Kangaroo Court.
Yes, some people were able to come in at night an miss the roadblocks.
If they stayed in the woods they could ignore the out-of-control
police scene on the road in. Somehow I have a tendency to inject
myself in the middle of trouble like this. My bar credentials placed
me in a position to help and so I did.
Following is my account of my Rainbow Gathering experience. It
did not turn out to be the quiet week of camping in the woods I
had expected. But I am certainly glad I was there.
I have asked the thousands of others who witnessed abusive police
tactics to write down their experiences. Following is my example
of how to do it. I apologize in advance for the length of this document,
but it was a long week and the following only captures a fraction
of the actual action.
Day One, Saturday July 1st
I arrived at the Kangaroo Court after three difficult days of plane
and bus rides and an all night drive. I was burnt out and exhausted:
far more than my usual. I busted ass to get to court in time for
the trial of my four friends. Timbear, Little Bear, Rumi and Mr.
Natural all faced charges this morning. These volunteers had assembled
the huge kitchen known as the Musical Veggie Café. Because
they were carrying in so much stuff, they had been ticketed by the
Forest Service on their way to The Gathering. They were charged
with illegally gathering, "use or occupancy of a National Forest
without a permit when one is required."
I found my friends and at least 100 other defendants waiting in
the driveway of the volunteer fire station turned temporary federal
courthouse. The sun beating down, armed guards were everywhere and
the atmosphere was full of anger and fear. People had no idea what
was happening, what their rights were, what they should do. All
they knew was it was going to be a long, hot day if they could not
figure out a way out of this situation.
The news my friends relayed was that the Assistant U.S. Attorney
(AUSA) had offered each defendant with a gathering ticket a $40
collateral forfeiture, what is essentially a legal bribe. The defendant
walks away without a record, there is no verdict. Just pay the money
on be on your way. Even my four friends, who I drove all night to
represent, felt the deal was just too good to pass up. All they
wanted to do was get back to camp and cook dinner for the gathering
masses. Of course I was disappointed, I had gone through hell to
get to their hearing on time and all my friends wanted to do was
pay the man and leave. I gave them some grief for being sheep being
led to slaughter, but of course I understood why they wanted more
than anything else to get out of there.
My four friends were gone, but they'd let everyone else waiting
for court know that their Rainbow brother attorney was coming. So
I was swamped by people asking me questions. I am not really a practicing
attorney. I quit courtroom practice fifteen years ago feeling it
unfair and the system corrupt. I have never done a federal trial.
I keep my license to practice up to date, but don't ever use it.
But here were a hundred people I knew (or knew I should know) in
trouble and without any help whatsoever.
Three years ago, when the Forest Service first started holding
their Kangaroo Courts, it provided a Federal Public Defender to
counsel defendants. But even this protection was gone this year.
I determined that my rusty, unprepared legal counsel was better
than no counsel at all for these defendants. So I dug in and tried
my best to help those present.
The residual defense attorney in me wanted somebody to fight their
charges. The massive federal effort to wipe out the Rainbow Gathering
had to be challenged. So I tried to run a triage, questioning each
defendant to make sure they really wanted to make the quick payoff
and end their cases. I was hoping at least one defendant would plead
not guilty and help me get a trial on the issues. Finally, I found
one, a newlywed named Nikki. She and her husband had gotten tickets
on their way into the gathering. Drug dogs had "indicated"
the presence of drugs in their car and, without their permission,
the police tore it apart. Finding absolutely nothing, they issued
this couple gathering tickets and sent them on their way. The husband
had already taken the $40 offer. Nikki objected to her unfair treatment
and agreed to plead not guilty.
The Forest Service understood that if they bring a federal magistrate
to the gathering their officers do not have to travel 4 hours to
the Federal Court House in Denver to give testimony. These hearing
are certainly not being held for our convenience, but rather for
the convenience of the Forest Service. Court was held in the local
Volunteer Fire Department that the Forest Service commandeered to
be their incident command post for the massive federal effort underway.
A team of 30 Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers and a host
of supervisors and support crew were brought in from around the
country. They were aided by scores of local resource rangers, local
police officers, undercover agents, highway patrol officers and
such. Their cars filled the fire station parking lot. We had to
park out on the highway.
It was a brutal scene; everyone was sitting in the hot sun in a
narrow space between the highway and the fence surrounding the fire
house. Armed guards were everywhere. There had already been a federal
suit about conditions at this courthouse filed by attorneys in Denver
who were grossed out by the expedited procedures of the makeshift
courthouse. The suit succeeded in getting the feds to promise more
chairs in the courtroom. But we could never get people past the
guards to sit in those chairs. The waiting defendants still had
no shelter from the sun or rain, no water or food available, no
level ground to hold a circle, no phone, no Internet access, no
way to call in reinforcements. They were told that if they left
to get essentials that a warrant would be issued for their arrest.
A gruff guard called defendants into the court ten at a time where
they would hear their rights read by the magistrate before the prosecutor
offered the $40 deal. Then everyone would stand in line to make
their payments or get the 60-days to pay deal or wait to make a
plea. Faced with the prospect of having to hire an attorney, face
trial in Denver and end up with a conviction on their record, few
felt they had a choice but to pay the "deal." Many were
scared off by the stories of some of our Rainbow heroes who have
spent up to six months in jail defending our right to gather.
I felt my job was to pick a few of the right cases off of this
assembly line and provide the defendants enough legal help that
they could properly challenge their charges. On my first opportunity,
I accompanied a friend into the courtroom as his attorney.
Getting into the makeshift court was not a walk through the door.
First, all metal had to be removed from the defendants' pockets
and all hats be taken off. When one brother said he did not want
to remove his hat, he was surrounded by ten officers and almost
arrested. Everyone then passed through the metal detectors, staffed
by U.S. Marshals. Officers with guns were everywhere. Once inside
the courtroom, at least ten Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers
(LEOs) lined the room at all times. Well, at least were keeping
all these officers tied up in court rather than out on the trails
hassling campers and writing even more tickets.
Although my Ohio bar card got me past the gruff security guard,
when I introduced myself to the two AUSAs present and explained
I was going to ask the court to temporarily admit me to the bar,
they firmly said that would be impossible. Not to be deterred, I
waited for my friend's name to be called and when I introduced myself
to the court, the magistrate said I would not be able to represent
defendants without a Colorado bar license. I stuck around anyway
and spoke to the prosecutor on behalf of the defendants, doing my
best to work out deals like, "drop this ticket and she will
pay the collateral forfeiture fee on the other."
The Magistrate, David West took the bench and checked to see who
was present. He immediately issued bench warrants for those who
did not show, which on most days amounted to half of those scheduled
for hearing. After rights were read to the group, the AUSA was prompted
to speak. In just about every case he waived jail time for all offenses.
The effect was that the defendants lost their right to a jury trial
and lost the right to appointed counsel if they could not afford
an attorney. Then court then temporarily adjourned for Let's Make
a Deal time. Hearings on contested cases were heard after all of
these arraignments were completed.
At the first hearing I attended, the AUSA offered the $40 deal
to all gathering tickets, except for my friend Badger. Badger asked,
"Why me?" The AUSA answered that it was because the Forest
Service considered him to be a "Rainbow Leader". It's
not that Badger would have taken the deal. Badger got one of the
earliest of gathering tickets. For this ticket he had already waited
for 13 hours in the sun for his arrangment. Court dragged on until
10:00 pm. The court was so embarrassed about making people wait
so long under such tough conditions that it dismissed all the charges
still waiting to be heard that day. That took care of Badger's first
gathering ticket. At this point he had two more to defend. Badger
saw I was doing my best without any resources and volunteered to
help me as my legal assistant. He stuck with me throughout the six
days of hearings.
I think my most important accomplishments on this first day were
with the few possession of marijuana charges. Previously the AUSA
had demanded that these defendants plead guilty or no-contest to
the possession charges. I argued that these were all minor cases
that at best would be a $100 fine in state court in Colorado. The
prosecution's method left the defendants with a 2nd degree misdemeanor
federal drug conviction. This could have interfered with school
loans, federal benefits or travel to Canada. The AUSA understood
and agreed to take collateral forfeitures for the drug convictions
to all first offenders. Later this was expanded to all drug convictions.
Quite a deal for some.
At the end of day one, the magistrate offered to accept me into
the federal bar of Colorado for a $160 application fee. My bags
had already left for the gathering, but luckily, just at the right
time, Rumi passed by and loaned it to me. The judge ordered that
I wear a suit if I was going to be a lawyer. Great, now I had to
find my suit which was in Ralph's car somewhere in the gathering.
Because I had to return my rental car to the Steamboat Airport
that was located 24 miles from nowhere, I took off back into town.
I ended up renting a bicycle and riding the entire distance in the
altitude and hot sun. When I got tired I tried hitchhiking, but
nobody in their fancy SUVs and 3-ton pick-up trucks would give a
ride to me and my bicycle. I ended up biking the entire 24 back
to Steamboat. On there, getting a ride up to the gathering was easier.
A brother named Will picked me up and threw my bike in the back
of his van. He was a chiropractor not heading into the gathering.
He took me as far as the Clark store, pulled my bike out of the
back of his van. Then he pulled out his chiropractor's table and
gave me a complete treatment right there in the parking lot. . Relief
both for my stressed back and my shattered faith in the nature of
the human race. .
Another ride got me into The Gathering. We were stopped at the
first roadblock and given a warning that the gathering ahead was
illegal. The second roadblock was too busy searching two other vehicles
to bother with us. The bike was great in that I did not have to
wait for the shuttle, I just peddled into camp. It was dusk. I found
my home kitchen, the Musical Veggie Café and my girlfriend,
Zoe. After 72 hours of non-stop travel and a brutal day in court,
it felt so good to be home.
I have been hanging out at Musical Veggie Kitchen since its inception
at the Texas Gathering in 1988. Musical Veggie was a response to
the gathering in North Carolina the year before. There, poor quality
water systems and improper kitchen sanitation had spread shigellosis,
a gastroenteritis that causes acute diarrhea. Musical Veggie was
created by a group of engineers and others who never wanted that
problem repeated. Their initial kitchen in Texas was the first to
erect a wooden rail perimeter around the entire food preparation
area. Anyone who came into the kitchen had to wash their hands in
the hand wash station at each entrance. An innovative dish washing
station got a lot of attention. Through the years, Musical Veggie
has continued innovations such as rocket stoves to save on wood
and water filtration systems. Our café is known the place
to go for exceptional entertainment and food that you can trust
will not make you sick. Morning Silence, _____ and my great friends
Chris and Julia were accompanied this year by the infamous Henry
the Fiddler, whom I first met at May Day in 1970. I have to say
that I missed most all of this year's great music, I was generally
asleep soon after dark to be able to get up at dawn and make it
to court in time. But our tent was set up right next to the performance
space so sweet harmonies bathed me while I rested.
Zoe had already been in camp for 10 days. She left from Ohio when
I took off for my medical seminar in Hungary. Zoe quickly settled
in to her usual position as the ogre of the Musical Veggie Café's
fire pit and performance area. In her unique way, Zoe had decorated
the area with colors and lights, giving the area a special magic.
That evening, Tim Lynn, the Incident Commander, and a group of
LEOs marauded through the camp in the dark that night, which was
quite unusual for them. Their goal was to arrest Rob, our best radio
operator who spearheads the evacuation team that so competently
helps the medical crew get their worst cases to the hospital. He
is also the webmaster of the most popular Rainbow related website,
www.welcomehome.org. Tim Lynn was reported to be gleefully in his
pursuit of Rob; it seemed that just could not wait to get Rob behind
bars. So much so that Lynn was willing to risk the safety of his
men going through the gathering at night. I knew that Rob was scheduled
for trial on July 7th, so I assumed this warrant was a mistake.
I reached Rob on the radio and offered to accompany him to court
the next day to work this out. He just wanted to stay in camp so
I agreed to take care of the problem for him in court tomorrow..
Day Two, Sunday, July 2nd.
Court on Sunday. You have to be kidding. I don't think there is
a precedent for this anywhere. I wonder if the magistrate gets double
overtime like the dozens of LEOs and guards standing around are
being paid. The second day of court, July 2nd, was quite different.
My admission application was accepted, so now I had leverage with
the AUSA and the power to speak out for clients. I had help. Badger,
who had already accumulated three tickets, was my legal assistant
with Summerbreeze, who has much experience fighting these tickets.
She had come along as an official observer for the PCU-Civil Liberties
Project. But Summerbreeze did not bring her ID with her. Even though
many of the LEOs knew her and were quite friendly with her, the
rough guy at the gate would not let her observe the courtroom action.
So she stayed outside trying her best to organize the flow of arriving
The judge was not happy I was not in a suit. I explained I had
been unable to catch up with my clothing, that this was the same
clothing I was wearing when I left Hungary four days before. He
ordered me to get my suit as quickly as possible.
On the second day I got much better at organizing my clients. I
simply called for a circle and everyone quickly came forward to
hold hands. Once we had a circle everyone was quite cooperative
and communication was much easier. I introduced myself and my mission
and asked everyone around the circle to describe their charges.
It was a great way to do my triage. I did not have to repeat myself
so often. It built a team spirit. The circle really freaked out
the guards charged with watching us. There was still no way to get
out of their earshot, something I found quite unfair.
Having the license to practice in the court changed the dynamic.
Now I could address the magistrate for a solution when I thought
the AUSA was being unreasonable. I could quickly filter out the
cases that should go for a collateral fee--those who had warrants
out for them, who needed to be back at work, or were transient,
the latter group being too hard to find when it's time to fight
their cases later (as we learned last year in West Virginia). I
could promise people a defense if they wanted to fight their cases
in the Kangaroo Court.
My first task was to speak up for Rob. I described to the Magistrate
the glee with which Tim Lynn had tried to arrest Rob the previous
evening. I had the magistrate confirm that Rob was scheduled for
a hearing on July 7th. Apparently this was a court error, the Magistrate
saw the date set for the 7th but read the date as the 1st. He quickly
rescinded his warrant for Rob. I requested the Forest Service broadcast
this to their officers in the field so they could cease their dragnet
and Rob could come out of hiding. Score one small victory for the
new defense attorney. Still, the Magistrate made one thing clear
to me. If I spoke at all for a client, even on a procedural issue
like to point out the court's wrongly issued warrant, the court
would consider that individual to be my client. The individual would
no longer be entitled to the public defender and I was liable for
helping that individual through the entire case. So now I was Rob's
lawyer, like it or not.
Late in the morning, when the sun was at it hottest, a Colorado
Highway Patrolman came running up to the assembled defendants face
red and loud. I went over to see what he was so upset about. "Is
that your car," he asks me pointing to the vehicle I had borrowed
to get to court. "Yes." "Give me your driver's license
and ID. The rest of you need to move your vehicles right now."
I was too much in shock to record exactly what he said. I know I
have never been treated so roughly and rudely by a law enforcement
officer. I tried explaining that I was a lawyer working in the courtroom
that my keys were in the courtroom and my ID in the car. "I
don't care, if you don't give me your ID right now I am placing
you under arrest." I walked away toward the courtroom and he
dared not follow me past the gang of Rainbows and the Forest Service
guard at the gate. When I saw the Magistrate and AUSA hanging outside
the courtroom I spontaneously asked if we could go on the record.
They agreed so we went into the courtroom and the recorder started
recording what I had to say.
I told the court that what I was seeing was the worst abuse of
defendants I had ever seen, far worse than I ever imagined the justice
system could provide in America. I said the heavy law enforcement
was a total abuse of the religious and constitutional rights of
the individual pilgrims wishing to gather in the woods. The millions
of dollars spent to stop this religious ceremony was unconstitutional
and illegal. I said that if the government put that many police
vehicles in the driveway of a Catholic Church, no one would attend
mass. This was the first time I ever saw anything I said cause a
reaction in this magistrate. He obviously was quite a religious
I used this impromptu hearing as my opportunity to lambaste the
court for having the defendants still sitting in the sun, for the
lack of shelter, phones and other accoutrements of a courthouse.
And now the Highway Patrol was taking away our parking places. I
asked that the US Marshall accompany me outside to fend off the
rude Highway Patrolman and talk to him about why we needed to park
on the side of he highway. The fire station parking lot was full
of at least 30 LEO and other agency vehicles. Armed guards blocked
us from parking in the lot. The magistrate ordered the LEO in charge
to go with me to speak with the rude State Highway Patrolman. It
worked. Despite the fact that I disappeared on him for 10 minutes
while I addressed the court, the highway patrol officer had to be
much kinder in front of the high ranking LEO. We were allowed to
park on the highway so long as we parked facing the right direction.
One pattern of LEO action was emerging. The cops were writing a
lot of tickets for people who photographed an arrest or takedown.
Whether or not you are accredited news media, you have a right to
photograph these scenes so long as you keep a proper distance and
not actually interfere with the officers. But the LEOs know that
this is how they get in trouble. They can get away with being abusive
or cruel to people so long as it is not photographed or recorded.
Their solution is to attack anyone they see recording them. In some
instances they actually grabbed cameras and destroyed the film or
video tapes. Another disturbing pattern is their arresting anyone
who yells "six-up" to announce the presence of guns in
the church. Two people were even arrested for calling "Shantsena",
our parlance for the rainbow peacekeepers. One was arrested and
taken into custody for OMing too loud trying to calm the vibe near
an ugly police scene. Seriously, it really happened. All of these
individuals are being charged with Interfering with the duties of
a police officer, a much more serious charge than any of the others
we are talking about here.
During a break in the action Badger, Summer Breeze and I went to
the Clark store to get lunch. They were quite nice at the store.
I asked the manager if the Rainbow participants were giving her
any trouble. Absolutely not was her answer. Hearing the dire warning
from the Forest Service, she had employed a couple of local contractors
to keep an eye on her merchandise. For three weeks her store had
been busy with people heading into the gathering. Not one instance
of shoplifting had been seen. Her only complaint was that the Forest
Service roadblock on the road into the gathering kept people from
leaving for groceries, greatly cutting into her potential business.
In the afternoon of the 2nd, I got to try Nikki's case. She was
the one not-guilty plea I had harvested from my work yesterday.
To Nikki's credit, she could have paid a collateral forfeiture of
$40 and the case would have gone away. By taking her case to trial,
Nikki faced a much larger fine and court costs, a federal misdemeanor
conviction and the potential to be ordered out of the National Forest
for a year (or a year and a month if the magistrate did not like
you). Nikki was so upset by her and her husband's treatment by the
LEOs that she agreed to fight for her innocence.
Nikki was charged with "Use and Occupancy of the National
Forest without a permit when one is required", what we called
a "gathering ticket." The LEOs had handed out over 200
of these complaints in recent days. The crime was for being there.
The government's position is that this is a crime of strict liability,
you need no criminal intent to be guilty; the government just has
to prove your presence at an "illegal gathering". The
government had tried for years to pass these regulations. Each time
they tried to force them upon the rainbow gathering, the courts
had thrown them out as being improperly passed or unconstitutional.
Before the current regulations were passed individuals had challenged
their applicability to the rainbow gatherings.
The regulations require a responsible party to sign a permit application
and take responsibility for the group. This works well for the Boy
Scouts or the Elks Lodge, associations with a governing structure
in place. The gatherings do not have this structure. Instead, decisions
at the gatherings are made by the individuals doing the action.
We do have council meetings structured on the way Native Americans
governed themselves. Council meets July 1 through July 7th on the
land. Anyone can be heard. Decisions are by consensus, but that
is as far as it goes. The Council has no power to do anything to
anyone who chooses to ignore the consented to decision. It is only
the need to actually sign a permit that is in dispute. For 30 years,
the gatherings got along with the managers of the forests. We would
agree to a management plan and a clean-up plan. We prided ourselves
on how well we did complying with these agreements and our positive
working relationship with the resource rangers. The gathering was
patrolled by friendly rangers who would volunteer every year to
work the gathering.
In recent years, a relatively new branch of the Forest Service
took over management of our event. In the late 1980s, the Reagan
administration created a Law Enforcement branch of the Forest Service.
The Bush administrations had replaced the professional foresters
who managed the Forest Service with political appointees. They strengthened
the power of the LEOs at the expense of the professional managers
who steward the forest. The resource rangers are continually impressed
with how well the gatherings treat their forests and do their best
to accommodate us. Most are thrilled the gathering is coming to
their forest. Every year, in the days before the gatherings start,
the LEOs move in with their management team and take over. Under
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations that
are now part of the Homeland Security Department, the Forest Service
only needs to declare a national "incident" to invoke
the extraordinary power of FEMA. This is all it takes, "Oh,
we are having an incident, for the equivilant of martial law to
take effect. The county sheriff and the regional forester, who previously
held power over the forest, lose primacy to an Incident Commander
who moves in with a team of officers and office staff to "manage"
the incident. Whatever agreements we made with the resource rangers
are out the window.
In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. Courts harassed members
of the Jehovah's Witnesses because they refused to take the oaths
needed to be jurors. Lots of Witnesses spent time in jail because
of their deeply held belief that it is moral to swear, therefore
it was immoral to "swear" on the bible. It took 20 years
of battles for the courts to come to a reasonable accommodation
for people with this belief. These days, if you do not want to "swear"
on the bible, you can "affirm" on the bible. That small
tweak of the law fixed the problem.
The Forest Service regulations require that they make a reasonable
accommodation if for any reason a permit cannot be issued. We have
been asking for years to be able to submit a permit application
for the gatherings unsigned. Alternately we wish to go back to the
old method where an operating plan was developed jointly between
the resource rangers and the early gatherers. This operating plan
would then be brought to council on the 1st of July for consensus.
Instead, the politically directed Forest Service has not waived
and demands the signature that no one can give. The person signing
the permit swears that he is authorized by the group to do so. The
problem is that no one can be so authorized in such a group. So
this dispute over us not signing a permit has been blown up by the
Forest Service into a massive enforcement scene costing the taxpayers
millions of dollars per year.
Individuals have come forward in the past three years to sign a
permit. To prove the ridiculiousness of the signature requirement,
a permit application last year was signed by a Washington secretary
who had never been to a gathering and had no intention to attend.
The Forest Service snapped at the opportunity and issued us a permit.
But as in recent years, once a permit to gather was issued, the
law enforcement barrage only got more intense. So this year everyone
was pretty resolved not to sign a permit application.
When the law enforcement moved against this gathering, they blocked
the only road in. this left hundreds of gatherers sitting in the
hot sun on the road waiting to get in. It left hundreds of gatherers
stuck on the site without access to food and water supplies. One
brother feeling he could relieve this pressure came forward and
applied for a permit. The forest service reject this permit but
offered no reasonable accommodation or alternate site. When an alternate
site was finally offered it turned out to have no water resources
at all, an impossible situation.
Tim Lynn, the Incident Commander, was the government's first witness.
He talked of his three-year history as Incident Commander for the
Rainbow Gatherings. He said his function was to minimize the environmental
and community impacts of the Gatherings. He then went on to describe
the Rainbow Gathering as a group activity. His proof was two reproductions
off of the www.welcomehome.org website. Exhibit One was the Rainbow
Mini Manual, a booklet that was written in the 1980s. Exhibit Two
was the directions to this year's Gathering. I objected to these
exhibits. Tim Lynn was not able to identify the author of the documents
nor verify their authenticity as it pertains to the Rainbow Family
Tribe. Still the Magistrate let them in as evidence.
Tim Lynn agreed that one of the reasons that the permit application
was denied was that it was made soon after 75 people were on the
site. He says that it is impossible to issue a permit for a gathering
already underway. I tried hard to get him to tell me how 75 people
who do not know each other could apply for a permit without meeting
first. Who was responsible for getting the permit, the first person
there, the 75th person to arrive or the 76th? Are we each responsible
for counting the number of people around us? What are the first
75 people supposed to say to the next person that comes? Do they
have any legal recourse if the 76th person refuses to leave?
I got to question Tim Lynn at some length as to how he could consider
the pilgrims to the Gathering to be a group. His answer was that
there were distinct trails between our campsites. He agreed the
Rainbow Family Tribe had no offices, officers, treasuries, treasurers,
bylaws, membership cards, membership fees, articles or incorporation,
etc. Eventually, he agreed that if 75 hunters occupied the same
area of national forest and made trails between their camps that
this would be an illegal group. The Magistrate cut me off on all
questions about the scope and size of Lynn's enforcement effort.
I was hoping to compare the costs to the harm he perceived he was
preventing. I let him off the stand figuring I would treat him gently
the first day. I knew I would get other bites of this apple. Apparently
though, I really pissed him off.
Another officer took the stand to identify Nikki as the one who
received the ticket. He described how the Forest Service went through
the Gathering handing out flyers that stated that since was no permit
for the gathering, it was illegal and anyone caught in the premises
would be given a ticket. The FS then put up two roadblocks on the
only entrance to the gathering. The first roadblock gave out a warning
that the gathering was illegal and that there was an extreme fire
danger and campfires were banned. A second roadblock, just out of
sight of the first stop, handed out tickets and searched cars when
My questions for this officer were aimed at getting him to admit
that there were only a few Rainbow Gathering participants in sight
on the road where my client was ticketed. This was easy as the roadblock
was a mile before the gathering. The AUSA rested and I moved for
dismissal on a variety of grounds, all of which were overruled.
My client took the stand. I wanted the magistrate to see she was
an educated, employed, real person seeking to have fun on her honeymoon.
Nikki explained she was just camping out with her new husband. She
went on to describe her spiritual reasons for attending The Gathering.
The AUSA had no cross-examination. Magistrate West found her guilty
and fined her $100 and $25 costs. The victory was that he did not
order Nikki to stay out of the National Forests for a year, something
he had done routinely before. This case got Tim Lynn to set forth
his position in detail. This case is already under appeal and will
be joined in with the other gathering tickets.
At one point during the trial the Magistrate called us to chambers.
He explained that yes, the fire station turned courtroom had abandoned
much of the formality of a federal courtroom, but even so I was
ordered to wear a tie with my suit tomorrow or not come to court.
He also ordered me to ask Badger to button up his shirt. He was
concerned that the court recorder might be offended by chest hair.
What a prude.
As we were leaving the fire station, one of the friendlier resource
officers whispered to Summerbreeze that all the officers were going
to follow us back to camp because they wanted to see us get ticketed
and searched. Luckily we had agreed to head to town to use the phone
to find additional legal help. It was Saturday, July 2nd, and I
futilely tried to conjure up some reinforcements. No such luck.
I could not reach anyone.
Trying to find a copy store to print notes off my computer proved
equally frustrating. I ended up deciding to buy a cheap printer
so I could have a complete office out of my car. But this proved
frustrating as well.
Just before dark I headed back to camp with Nikki, my client, and
Badger and Summer Breeze, my legal assistants. On the way in we
passed almost a dozen speed traps set up by the Colorado Highway
Patrol and saw over 30 officers of various agencies driving out
of the gathering. People leaving the gathering told us the roadblock
was still active. We could have waited until dark when the LEOs
were too scared to conduct the roadblock, but we wanted to document
their civil liberties abuses. So we took out our cameras and audio
recorder and proceeded to go through the roadblock. "Whee,
we are going to get tickets" we joked. I did not think it serious.
I could not believe they would be audacious enough to give an officer
of the court a ticket. Wrong. Summerbreeze and I each got tickets.
They ignored Nikki and Badger sitting in my car. I leveled with
the officer showing him my new bar admission receipt. I told him
I would gladly take the ticket but was he sure he wanted to give
to me. He indicated he was under orders to do so, so I accepted
the ticket and got back in my car. Badger was frustrated because
there were some great photos of all the car searches and busts happening
around us but he had used up all of the room in my camera.
The four of us watched a team of 8 officers tear apart the vehicle
in front of us. Handcuffed people were sitting in custody all over
the place. We were not sure if we were next. They held us almost
a half-hour. The officer who took my drivers license came to the
vehicle and apologized. He said he got so aggravated at the people
in the car in front of us that his tension caused him to break my
driver's license in half in his hand. Eventually we were allowed
to proceed without being searched. We chanted our brag all the way
back to camp, "We got tickets, we got tickets." The challenge
But of course, then it hits. The implications of being admitted
to the bar, being allowed to cross-examine my opponent and then
having him order my arrest all in the same day was astounding. I
am accustomed to being around law enforcement either as a silent
witness or as the tough attorney fighting for a client. Now I was
their target. It did not feel good but at the same time I was harnessing
my anger for a long fight. There certainly was no shame in this
ticket, rather, the gatherers considered the citations to be a reward
from the government for good work performed.
When we got back to camp I set up my computer and printer on the
hood of my car. I had pages of notes and ideas I wanted to print.
It was then I discovered that the new printer did not come with
a cable to hook it into the computer. ARGHH!
One cool thing happened on the way back to my kitchen. As I walked
through the hugs tent that was set up on main trail, only one guy
was hanging out. I felt sorry for him; he looked so lonely standing
there. So I hooked around the center pole of the tent to give him
a hug. Just as I let go and turned around to head home, the tent
was overrun by a team of LEOs leaving the gathering. The LEO who
gave me the most hassle that day was 3 inches from me and about
to run me over. Perfect timing; to catch my balance and express
my love, I gave him a hug, bulletproof vest and all. He froze up;
I don't think there is anything in his police training to deal with
an assault like that. We smiled and I let go. Tim Lynn was right
behind him but was able to avoid my attempts to give a hug.
It's difficult to describe the mood in camp. This was the year
of paranoia. The police presence was not just at the gate, it was
clear they had undercover agents inside. They obviously had a pretty
good view of who was doing what at the Gathering. It got so bad
people feared that the feds had bugs in the trees and every stranger
was the FBI. Obviously the feds had done a really good job using
their intelligence methods to figure out who was doing what at the
gathering. And they pressed their enforcement efforts on the doers.
I told the court over and over again that I did not mind the heavy
law enforcement effort at the Gatherings so much when these efforts
were directed at the drainbows--the few individuals who were at
the gathering to make trouble for us--but the massive federal assault
now aimed at our best people, the people getting things done This
really smacked of religious intolerance and repression.
Their most effective move was on our medical crew. The Rainbow
Gathering has always been known as a healing gathering. People come
to get healed from a wide variety of ailments. Every year the gathering
draws talented medical practitioners from a variety of fields. Fully
accredited osteopaths, MDs, nurses and nurse practitioners work
with herbalists, acupuncturists, homeopaths, massage therapists
and a variety of other healing disciplines. They work together in
a holistic approach that gives famously good health care and teaches
all involved a lot about healing.
This year, these medics were targeted for attack. One of our ambulance
drivers was stopped on the road miles from the gathering and given
a ticket. One of our best EMTs was arrested for interfering with
the duties of a police officer for trying to help individuals involved
in a traffic accident. One nurse had her tent raided and her medical
bag became the subject of a controlled substance charge. It took
a week of aggravation for this nurse to convince the prosecution
that she truly was licensed to have the medicines that she possessed.
The effect of this was that qualified medical people ran scared
for their careers. CALM, our emergency medical center, was staffed
by good volunteers, but not by the usual cadre of well-qualified
professionals. The result was that we had way more medical evacuations
than at any time in the past. And the healing spirit of the gathering
But the profiling wasn't exclusive to the medical crew. Anybody
the Forest Service identified as a "Rainbow Leader" was
targeted. Our radio crew, our water crew, the banking council and
our front gate crew were all given tickets. At times, the Forest
Service would send teams right into the middle of the gathering
in the middle of the night. These teams would head right to one
of their target's tent, wake them up and issue a ticket. How did
the FS know where our key people were sleeping without having an
insider feeding them this information? These tickets were truly
used as a weapon of terrorism. This had a huge effect on the gathering
spirit. The publicity about these police hassles and the presence
of the roadblock really cut down our potential numbers.
I was pretty wiped out that evening and went straight to bed.
Day 3, Monday July 3rd.
Having received a gathering ticket the previous evening, my mood
was completely different. I lost whatever shred of professional
detachment I had, no longer was it protecting my family and my clients,
now it was me that needed protection. I also had to examine the
ethical implications. Could I represent people accused of the same
crime that I was accused of? Would the court allow me to continue
as an attorney with these charges over my head? That day I also
found out that Brian, the only other attorney helping the family
with these tickets was also selected to receive a ticket. Not only
were they targeting our leaders, they were after our lawyers.
I walked through the metal detectors at the same time as the Magistrate.
He checked me out to see if I was wearing the tie he ordered me
to wear the day before. I had picked up a dress shirt and bolo in
town the day before. The magistrate saw the bolo and realized I
had one on him as the bolo is accepted as a tie in the West. He
raised his fist to meet mine in a silent affirmation that I had
won a round.
I had to stay quiet in court that day, my anger level was too extreme.
In the morning pretty much everyone wanted to take the deal offered
by the prosecutor. And the volume of tickets had slowed down giving
us all some breathing room.
Goodwater was the only case scheduled for hearing that afternoon.
Tony had already fought the FS once on a gathering ticket using
the religious freedom defense. He lost despite a valiant effort.
To build a religious freedom case takes a lot of work. You have
to prove the spiritual nature of the gathering and prove a purposeful
effort to abridge religious freedom. I was begging for a constitutional
lawyer to help me craft the right questions, but finding such a
lawyer on the 3rd of July was impossible. And going into depth in
the issue was impossible with the Kangaroo Court cutting off lines
Goodwater tried. He got his chance to question Tim Lynn and got
some good answers out of him. He put on his own testimony about
the religious nature of the gatherings and his own motivations for
being there without a permit. He had us all in tears; I think this
deeply felt testimony even affected the magistrate. Goodwater then
put Philippe on the stand as a witness about the religious nature
of the gatherings. When he rested Magistrate West began reading
a pre-written memo that summarized previous rulings on the religious
issue. I wonder who in the Forest Service wrote that for him. The
Magistrate even used Goodwater's previous case as a precedent. But
the magistrate then did something significant. After ruling against
Tony on the religious freedom defense, he dismissed Tony's charges.
The magistrate noticed that the LEO who wrote the ticket had failed
to include the words, "In the Routt National Forest" in
the location blank of the ticket. It was clear that unless the complaint
against Tony gave the court jurisdiction that the complaint failed.
So Tony was declared innocent despite his loss of the religious
Goodwater's valiant but futile effort convinced me that we have
to stick together and that we need the right professional help to
win on these complex issues. We keep losing appeals based on poorly
developed cases. My hope is that this year they will give us enough
cases where we can accumulate contradicting testimony on the part
of the government and get the evidence needed for either a religious
freedom defense or a right to assemble defense. There are enough
gathering tickets issued that we will get many bites at the apple
of government testimony. I hope my efforts will result in the postponement
of few choice cases until a hearing in Denver. There, we can secure
real help and a proper defense can be incorporated into all of our
appeals. I know that even with three years of legal training and
20+ years of experience, that I don't have the requisite knowledge
to conduct these complex defenses. So I can't blame Goodwater or
anyone else for not knowing the proper questions to ask.
The question remains, will they actually give us trials in Denver?
Four years ago, on the 4th of July in Michigan, I was handed a gathering
ticket. I was determined to fight it and with Scottie's help, papered
the government with all sorts of motions. I bought a ticket to fly
to Marquette, Michigan for the hearing and prepared for a fight.
On the night before the hearing, just as I was leaving for the airport,
the AUSA called to tell me they were dismissing my case. I was out
of a lot of work and a plane ticket. It would have been cheaper
to just pay for the collateral forfeiture. The lawyer in me that
wants a fair fight worries that the US Attorneys will drop all the
cases scheduled for Denver leaving on the record only those cases
tried in the Kangaoo Court. This leaves few others in a position
to appeal their cases, but on a less than perfect record of evidence.
Even with the testimony of each of these "trials" accumulated,
I am not confident we have the critical testimony in the record
to win these appeals.
As there were no contested cases, I headed back to camp early that
afternoon. It was glorious to finally be home and have a chance
to catch up with my friends and family. I was exhausted and burnt
out from too much sun and pressure. I had found a cable for my printer
so I hooked up my office again on the hood of the car. I did well
installing the new printer until it had to test a test page. It
then turned out my inverter would not power the computer and printer
at the same time. Things got hopelessly jammed and I could not get
out my needed printing. It was getting dark so I gave up.
A hot shower at Musical Veggie revived me, but I was beyond sore
with back pain. Mark, Lynn, Linda and others gave me a great massage
in the massage tent. But in the middle of the massage I began to
feel sick. Oh no, not the flu everyone else was getting! I don't
want to be sick on the 4th. The need to evacuate came so suddenly,
I had no time to react except to pull my hat off my head and purge
into my hat. A bucket was quickly found for the over laden hat.
My massage team just kept working as I continued to puke into the
bucket. Somehow it all worked, the deep massage must have gotten
all the sickness out of me. Things were okay until I got back to
the fire. Zoe immediately asked me what happened to the hat she
had painted for me. When I told her I puked in it she freaked out
I got through feeling sick in an hour but relaxing around the fire
was difficult as I faced a constant barrage of questions from people
with tickets or people trying to be of help. I had a dozen people
I needed to find, people with tickets, people who were material
witnesses, people who had knowledge of the legal history of the
feds vs. Rainbows. How do you do that in a gathering spread out
over four square miles?
The best news came. Because we had shown the right people that
the FS case was based on evidence garnered from a web page, we attracted
the attention of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, a great group
with the First Amendment expertise we need to defend the gathering
tickets. The EFF understood that if people could be prosecuted for
something that was said on a web page, then the government could
put just about anyone in jail for anything. But reaching the attorney
we were referred to proved impossible, even with a borrowed satellite
phone. When we finally did reach him a couple of days later, it
turned out his mandate was illness all out of my system to defend
just one of us--not the bulk of the gathering tickets. Still, it
felt great to have a knowledgeable person to consult when necessary.
Day 4, Tuesday, the Fourth of July
I got up early and rode my bike down to the circle to meditate.
I figured I would get some meditation time in before the sun got
too hot. Even at 7:00 am, there were 500 people sitting in silent
meditation. The camp was as quiet as could be; everyone was respecting
When I returned to camp, my daughter was still sleeping. I got
inspired to write down 100 good questions for Tim Lynn so I was
better prepared for my next opportunity to question him on the stand.
To get away from the chaos of my camp, I got a cup of tea from BrewHaHa
and sat down against a tree in some deep woods and started jamming
writing into my notebook. Within 5 minutes a cadre of the worst
of the LEOs surrounded me and the tree. Included was Jason Tackfas,
whom we came to refer to as Tackless for the way he was always starting
trouble in peaceful situations. They recognized me. I was glad I
was not smoking a joint or anything. They asked if I wanted another
gathering ticket and I replied no thank you that one was enough
to motivate me to fight. They left me alone.
So much for a quiet cup of tea in the woods. I was not in a mood
to go chasing ahead of these renegade FS employees warning my fellow
campers of their presence. But I could not let them run amuck through
the gathering without an escort or any witnesses of their abuses.
So I tagged 20 feet behind. I watched these guys come across a campsite
with a barely smoldering fire. Although it was with a large kitchen,
there was no fire permit for this fire. The LEOs awoke the few kids
sleeping near the fire and began to write them all tickets. The
kids answered correctly that they had nothing to do with the fire
that they were cold and fell asleep next to the fire to stay warm.
Still, according to the LEOs, this was use of the fire and a violation.
They began to write tickets, but changed their minds when someone
with some sense poured water on the few remaining embers.
I then followed these same five LEOs as they ran through the gathering
to meet up the five other teams of LEOs approaching the main circle.
There were at least 10,000 people in the circle already. The LEOs
wisely stayed just to the side not disturbing the silence or ceremony
very much. Many of the LEOs were there with their families and were
quite curious as to what was happening in the meadow. I got the
feeling that 25 of the 30 LEOs in uniform were totally friendly
and just wanted to join us in our pilgrimage. The other five took
off to harass more campers.
One of the LEOs came up to talk to me. A beautiful blonde who always
had a smile. She asked me how long I had been an attorney. I told
her 21 years. She replied, "Wow, you survived somehow and haven't
let your profession destroy you. This was the perfect setup for
my favorite lawyer joke. I sided up to her, leaning over real close
like I was trying to hit on her. I asked her if she knew the similarity
between lawyers and sperm. Taken aback just a little she answered
with some trepidation, no and asked for the comparison. I told her,
"Well there's a million of them." To which she agreed.
I continued, "But only one in a million turns into a real person."
She guffawed so loudly that her supervisor noticed and called her
back into the group. I then watched her repeat my joke to the LEOs
around her. I could tell because they all started laughing out loud
and she turned beet red.
In all this, I lost my five trouble-making LEOs. So I wandered
away from the meadow listening for six-ups or other commotion. The
camp was so silent that it was easy to tell which direction the
LEOs had wandered. I sat down against another tree, continued my
note taking and waited for the LEOs to find me again, which only
took a few minutes.
The rest of the morning, I followed these guys as they marauded
through camp after camp. It was clear that they were looking for
a few particular individuals. Whether these were people with warrants
or their suspects in the one rock throwing incident, I was not sure.
I saw them stop three guys with dark blond curly hair to see if
they were the ones they sought. They ordered one guy out of his
tent only to realize that his hair was much lighter in the daylight
and let him go. I watched these same five LEOs go into one camp
were they saw four people puffing. They let one go and hassled the
other three. I watched Tackless unzip and enter into their tent
while the other officers went through their backpacks. I saw this
scene repeated three times. I had to run to keep up with these guys;
they ran from camp to camp to get ahead of any Six-up warnings.
They tolerated me quite well as I kept notes on all I saw and heard.
Of course all this was happening at the peak of the gathering experience,
when most all of the camp was in the meadow trying to unite in silence
and pray for universal peace. As the LEO group blasted through Granola
Funk, I heard over the FS radios that at least one of the people
they were trying to find had been arrested. These LEOs then marched
out to meet their comrades at Nick at Night and left the gathering
area. I was free to join the big circle.
I was really proud of my family on the 4th. We don't have written
tenants or even a clue of how to gather in a group of 20,000+ people.
We agree there should be silence, but how this silence is maintained
and when it ends has always been in question. One of our biggest
debates is whether we can use the OM to silence people. Some feel
this is a bastardization of a deeply held religious belief. I think
of it as more of a manifestation of the human beehive. In our rougher
gatherings, like Texas, the OM was quite useful in stopping trouble.
Any disturbance would be quickly surrounded by a hundred people
OMing and chilling the vibration.
When I approached the circle there were a few who wanted to shout
out signing, a few who wanted to shut them up with an OM and a few
just yelling for silence. Whatever, it worked. For the first time
in years, the 20,000 people assembled held their silence until the
last of the children's parade made it all the way into the center
of the circle. It was magnificent. Thank you everyone, we did great.
After the silence broke the dancing began but I was not in the
mood for a huge celebration, I had too much on my mind. So I headed
for the shade. I had a great 4th of July the rest of the day. Most
of my afternoon was spent listening to friends singing and playing
guitars. I went to bed early that night knowing I was due in court
the next morning for my own arraignment.
Day 5, Wednesday, July 5th
The 5th of July was the hardest for me. True, there were a lot
less defendants, the Forest Service hardly wrote a ticket on the
4th of July. It gave us more time to talk to each defendant. One
of my worst problems how to cover the proceedings inside the hearing
room and meet with and prepare the mass of defendants waiting outside
the gate. The FS refused to allow more than 10 in the courtroom
at once, despite the agreement worked out by the attorneys in Denver
that 30 more seats would be opened in the courtroom. Letting the
defendants in would have gotten them out of the sun and helped them
to be better prepared for seeing the magistrate.
In front of all the defendants, I walked up to the guard whose
job it was to call the defendants into the courtroom. I asked, "Could
we try a kinder, gentler approach to calling the defendants today?
How about you give me the docket and we will get defendants lined
up in the proper order?" He refused. He had orders to do the
lineup and perp walk exactly the way he was doing it. I then asked
for a volunteer who did not have a ticket to stick with the guard
who was calling out names while the rest of us went to have our
circle in a nearby woods. Today's circle was excellent because it
included Garrick who had been issued a gathering ticket and could
tell the history of this struggle including his own 90-day jail
sentence for defending our right to gather. Still, most defendants,
including Garrick, felt the $40 fine was the quickest way out and
took the deal.
That afternoon, my own name came up in the rotation for going into
court. By now the Forest Service guards and the US Marshals were
quite used to me going into and out of the courtroom on my own.
I tried to avoid having to stand in the sun with the other defendants,
but no, the LEO guards really wanted me to do the prep walk with
the others. They put me in the end of the line so I was maximally
exposed to the sun. Then, the magistrate stopped the court action
to tell me to put on my suit jacket, sopping wet with sweat as it
was. Thanks your honor for giving me one more opportunity to put
on the record how impossible it was to properly represent clients
under these harsh conditions.
I used my own appearance to offer a better solution for some defendants,
especially those who did not want to plead guilty but wanted to
state their religious beliefs and perhaps win on appeal. I said
wanted to submit a plea of no contest while preserving my rights
to appeal the case on constitutional issues. I wanted to be able
to testify on my own as to my religious beliefs the same as Goodwater
had done on July 3rd. The prosecutor had a knee jerk reaction against
this, but the magistrate understood what I was offering. He said
it would be okay to do as a plea of not guilty and then admit the
prosecutor's facts in the case, a victory for once. But I didn't
trust the magistrate, so instead of going forward, I pled not guilty
and set my case for July 28th in Denver. I also tried to have my
case dismissed because my ticket was as defective as the one he
dismissed against Goodwater. The LEO who had written my ticket also
failed to indicate the crime took place in the Routt National Forest.
I should have known better as I lost such a motion 35 years ago
in a traffic case. The magistrate educated me that you have to wait
to make such a motion until after the prosecutor begins to offer
evidence. Then "jeopardy" attaches and it becomes too
late for the AUSA to amend the charge. Oh well, the AUSA was permitted
to amend the charge against me, thereby keeping my case going.
That afternoon Philippe had a hearing on his gathering ticket.
Most of you know Philippe as a focalizer of Kiddy Village, the quiet
refuge for families at the gathering. Philippe and a bunch of my
other defendants had just returned from an almost year-long effort
helping on the front lines of Katrina relief in New Orleans. He
had already appeared as a witness for Goodwater and had stated his
religious objections for attending the gathering. Philippe asked
me to be his attorney at the last minute, something I agreed to
do. I tried to get Philippe a continuance so he could get more prepared
counsel, but he wanted to get this over with. Doing this trial gave
me an hour to further question Tim Lynn. Then I noticed that Philippe's
tickets were defective too. They teach us in law school that it
is unethical to fake jurisdiction of the court. If the court lacks
jurisdiction, you have a duty to point it out. So I moved to dismiss
the charges because the tickets against Philippe were invalid. You
would think I had fired a weapon in the courtroom.
The prosecutor went ballistic. Of course the tickets were valid.
The court agreed. But I asked to approach the bench and compared
Philippe's ticket with the version the court had. The arresting
officer had clearly modified (forged) the ticket after he presented
it to Philippe. Their copies had the requisite language, Philippe's
original did not. I argued that it was the complaint served on the
defendant that we were in court to answer to. That the defendant
needed notice of the charges against him and the forgeries presented
to the court were improper and should be discarded. In the end,
the magistrate had to agree with me. Philippe's charges were thrown
out. This would have been a great victory, but my client was upset.
Even though he was found not guilty, Philippe wanted to win on the
larger issues. It took a day for him to come around and understand
that every victory is to be savored, that he could easily go and
get another gathering ticket if he wanted and that others were better
prepared and better suited to win the big case. Philippe called
a few days later to thank me for my efforts, but I left for home
that day feeling like you just could not win, even when you did
We were stopped in the roadblock this afternoon as we headed for
home, but this time they let us go without tickets. They knew we
had already received one and joked about it. Badger had received
his fourth ticket by now. They were still searching some cars.
Finally on July 5, I found a circle of people interested in discussing
the legal situation. They were much more interested in the long
view. How were we going to sue to gain our rights? How we could
liaise with the FS and get a resolution to these problems. It was
discouraging that the discussion kept looking for a solution in
the future while I was trying to figure out what to do with a raft
of defendants coming to court during the next two days. I realized
if we were going to build a record, we had only two more days to
do it. I still doubt whether they will ever hear one of these gathering
cases in Denver. Federal judges are not going to waste their time
with $40 tickets. The prosecutors look bad pressing such little
shit. So I was desperate for help crafting cross-examination of
the FS personnel to get the answers we needed to win on appeal.
Still, some heard me. By the end of the circle I had a pledge of
enough money that the situation changed for me. Instead of begging
for people with great cases to plead not guilty, and promising to
help them find an attorney, I could actually promise them an attorney.
This changed everything for these defendants and myself. Also somebody
loaned me their cell phone. I did not realize that some services
worked at the fire station. I was able to call Pat McCarville in
Boulder who agreed to represent all these cases for a reasonable
fee. These cases will attack the constitutionality of the roadblock.
Day 6, Thursday, July 6th
On day six my friend Ed volunteered to help me with the rush of
defendants held outside the gate. It was too hard for me to keep
an eye on what was happening in the courtroom and meet those being
herded into the next group. We were surprised to see only a small
crowd waiting for us. The Forest Service essentially stopped writing
gathering tickets on July 4th, so only about 20 defendants were
waiting to get into the courtroom when we arrived. Just about every
one of these defendants was there for a tiny marijuana bust, people
who had their cars or vans invaded at the second checkpoint. Usually
a dog would "alert" to the car and this and the gathering
without a permit violation were used like crowbars to get the officers
into the forest visitors' vehicles.
What was amazing was that I was looking at maybe 15 cases that
I doubt had as much as a half-ounce of marijuana between them. Most
of the charges had to do with residue on a pipe or "residue"
on a car seat. There was one open container violation; they found
an unsealed bottle of whiskey in the kitchen cabinet of a van. There
was a fireworks violation for a small packet of fireworks found
in one of these searches. Today, my defendants were stronger, more
locally-based and quite pissed off. Perfect defendants. Some of
them (especially two with outstanding warrants) were relieved to
hear they could get the charges dismissed for a $125 legal bribe.
But for the others, the determination to fight boosted with the
promise of some help with attorney fees, helped ten decide to plead
not guilty. I can't describe how this changed the mood of the courtroom.
The government's whole plan to create shortcuts to our legal system
for dealing with masses of people is impossible if a modicum of
legal services are provided to the defendants and they are given
the resources to fight back.
At our lunch break we went to a lodge only four miles down the
road. They had Internet access!!! All of a sudden I could catch
up with my mail and have free telephone communications through my
Skype account. I was back in civilization. I used my time to download
the appellate forms needed to perfect an appeal. The manager of
the restaurant was nice enough to allow me to bring in my new printer
in to print the Notice of Appeal forms we needed. We made the appellate
forms available at Info and other places. At this point I know of
three perfected appeals, but there will certainly be more.
That afternoon I tried to defend a brother named Michael who was
ticketed while helping in Kiddy Village. He wanted to get the thing
over with. He felt he could not attend the series of court hearings
in Denver that would result from a not-guilty plea. So we took advantage
of the plea I had worked out with the magistrate for my own case
but then chose not use. Michael pled not guilty, but admitted the
facts of the case--that it was him in the woods who was given
a ticket. This meant that the prosecution did not need to put on
their case. Michael took the stand and I questioned him about who
he was, what he was doing at the gathering and why. He gave a great
personal statement. Unimpressed, the magistrate found him guilty,
but Michael's rights to appeal the case are preserved.
Another brother, Piper, tried to fight his own constitutional case.
He went so far as to approach the LEOs and ask them to give him
a ticket because he wanted to set up the constitutional challenge
over religious freedom as per Goodwater. The court had already ruled
that I was not allowed to talk to or help these defendants in any
way. Either I was to be the attorney and the client could not talk,
or the defendants appeared on their own and could receive no coaching.
So it was frustrating watching someone with even less courtroom
experience than myself struggle to get the facts out. It was a good
try, but of course the magistrate ruled against our poor defendant.
At least his appeal rights are preserved, but again, I have deep
concerns that these appeals will be pursued without a good record
and without competent counsel who understands the details of First
Amendment law. More bad precedents will be set against the family.
That evening I had a group shower with some of the most beautiful
people I know. I felt renewed. One more day in the Kangaroo Court
Day Seven, Friday, July 7th.
Ed is here to help with the rush of defendants, but things are
even slower today. The Forest Service has stopped writing tickets.
We get through the arraignments in an hour. Several trials are scheduled
for later in the morning and all through the afternoon.
Stone, an accredited EMS, med student and post-Katrina relief worker
in New Orleans, was on trial next. Adam Mayo of the Hammond Law
Office came out from Steamboat Springs to conduct his defense. The
Forest Service evidence against Stone was quite contrary. One officer
related how Stone appeared at the accident and checked in with the
local EMS team that responded to the accident. The injured parties
had refused EMS help, so Stone got the go-ahead to proceed. Another
officer, the one who wrote Stone his tickets, denied this happened.
Stone was ticketed for interfering with the police officers and
also cited with a gathering ticket. There was no evidence of anything
he did to interfere with the officer other than helping the injured
accident victims The AUSA's new exhibit backfired on him as Stone's
attorney was able to show that the gathering ticket was delivered
miles from the gathering site. So that charge was dismissed.
Stone put his family lawyer from Chicago on the stand. Les Blau
had gotten involved because of the LEO hassles Stone had received
in the past. Les testified to his efforts to liaison between Stone
and the Forest Service. He told the court of the agreement he had
worked out with the Incident Commander to assure that Stone would
not be harassed this year. I thought Stone was home free, this was
sterling evidence. But the Kangaroo Court was not impressed and
convicted Stone on the Interference charge. He and his family were
quite upset. Stone later told me by phone he doubts he will be able
to come to next year's gathering. The guy did everything right to
the point of having his lawyer confirm his being welcome to do his
medical work at the gathering. He was extremely skilled and
Badger was scheduled next. He tried hard on his own to continue
his case. He said he had been unable, due to the primitive conditions,
to find an attorney able to come for the hearing. He asked for a
trial in Denver. The Magistrate would not hear it and forced Badger
into trial. Badger then asked me to represent him. Even though Badger
had been with me day in and day out in court for the last six days,
we were always too busy to have chance to discuss his case. The
magistrate insisted that we go forward. This gave me one final opportunity
to lambaste the court scene. So the first thing I did was to renew
Badger's motion for a continuance. I explained how difficult it
was to get communications, how impossible it was to reach a lawyer
during the four day July 4th weekend, how impossible it was to get
an attorney to travel hours into the bush for a petty trial, how
Badger had the right to counsel of his choice, how I felt unqualified
and unprepared to help him, etc. Even so, the magistrate forced
me to go forward to defend Badger. To me, this was astounding. I
had never heard a request for a continuance to obtain counsel or
a request by newly-hired counsel for more time to prepare being
turned down before. The right to counsel is so fundamental to a
normal conception of American justice. Throw away all your training
and all of your perceptions if you are going to appear in our new
Great, I get one more crack at Tim Lynn. After he testified against
Badger, I cross examined Lynn about who decided that any gathering
of individuals was "illegal." He had testified that the
first roadblock was to warn campers that there was an "illegal"
gathering ahead. Lynn answered this was a line officer's decision.
Who determined the boundaries of the "illegal" gathering?
Who decided that a particular person would be ticketed? Again, this
is supposedly determined in the field by whatever officer wanted
to act. I think this is powerful testimony that will help tremendously
on appeal. If any LEO can determine that a group of hunters has
exceeded 75 people, he, acting on his own, can block the road and
issue tickets to all that pass him. This sets up all sorts of challenges
to the regulations as vague, ripe for unreasonable enforcement or
as unconstitutionally applied to our particular group. It's the
court's job to determine something is "illegal", not the
Two officers then testified about giving Badger his tickets. Then
the AUSA moved to dismiss the third charge as the officer had already
left for home. No objection from us. Boom, it instantly came to
me that I had to do it again. After giving Badger an apology for
what I had to do, I moved for dismissal. The two remaining tickets
against Badger both failed to include the words, "In the Routt
National Forest". The prosecutor had failed to amend the charge
in time because these tickets were also changed by the LEOs after
they were handed to the defendants. The court had no jurisdiction.
The AUSA argued harder this time as he was quite embarrassed to
lose their case against their perceived "rainbow leader."
Badger was not happy, he too wanted to fight the bigger fight. But
he was not unhappy with me as he understood I did what I had to
Rob was my final case. It was after 4:30 pm and the Magistrate
had made it clear that he would not start trials after 4 pm that
day. Still he was pressing me to go forward. Luckily, Rob's new
counsel had filed a notice of appearance for him in Denver. Once
the court could confirm this, there was no problem. I was relieved
of duty and a hearing was set in Denver for Rob in August. I was
off the hook. I doubt they will ever give Rob a hearing. His charges
are so ridiculous. Federal Judges are used to trying federal crimes
like conspiracy and huge money cases. The Forest Service could get
away with such minor cases when they had their own rent-a-magistrate.
But nobody, even a magistrate in Denver is going to have patience
to try this little stuff.
My girlfriend, Zoe, showed up just as our day in court ended. We
rushed into Steamboat to attend the free Michael Franti concert
being held in the ski area. I love Michael Franti and think he has
the potential to change the world as did John Lennon. But what was
most cool about the concert was the rainbow that formed perfectly
over the concert venue just at dusk. This happened just a Michael
was playing his Rainbow song. He had to remark that he had seen
rainbows, moonbows, sunbows but he had never seen a rainbow at night.
We did not know at the time that the same rainbow was awing the
crowd still left at the gathering 50 miles away.
Heading back in that night the roadblock was down to one police
vehicle that left us alone. Progress.
Cleanup of our camp was easy with a huge team helping. We started
early in the morning sending our kitchen's huge carts down the hill.
In a dozen trips we moved all the kitchen equipment and all of our
camping gear down to the trailhead. We had a sense of urgency as
we could tell a real rain was finally coming. We made it almost
in time, our last two loads got wet, but nothing was ruined. My
family was already tired and wanted to make tracks, so I missed
hugging and saying goodbye to many people. Sorry, we had to be on
our way. Four days driving and a couple of days to recover have
restored my energies. But I still need a Rainbow Gathering to restore
my spirits. I kind of missed this one.
So after a couple days of recovery I am busy contacting everyone
involved and trying to line up attorneys for the live cases remaining.
Several appeals need to be filed, but we have time because as of
today the cases have still not been filed in Denver. So our 10 days
to file Notices of Appeals have not begun to run.
I am especially interested in helping those who pled not guilty
to gathering tickets ("use and occupancy of a National Forest
without a permit to do so"), little shit marijuana busts, and
especially those who were arrested simply because they could not
produce their ID in the woods. Some generous family supporters have
donated enough funds that we are able to offer attorney help in
the right cases. All the action is happening in Denver except for
a few tickets issued with appearances in Grand Junction. We have
several Denver-based attorneys willing to help, which means you
may be able to fight your ticket without ever having to go to Denver.
If you have an unresolved ticket, please contact me.
The third category of people who need help are those who ignored
their tickets and did not show up in court. The clerk of courts
says there are 125 of you. If any of you want help getting through
these tickets, let me know. I hate the thought of 125 of my friends
and family walking around with these time bomb warrants. A simple
traffic stop can turn into months of hell if you have one of these
hanging over you. My legal research shows that these warrants were
improperly issued. In my best case scenario we will be able to get
these tickets dropped, but this right now is only wishful thinking.
Mostly, I need your stories. Thousands of you witnessed abusive
police tactics at the gathering. These tactics get more outrageous
every year. They get away with testing their fascist technologies
on us because we don't fight back. The way we fight back is to write
it all down and make the proper complaints to the Dept. of Agriculture
and to Congress. As one old Colonel once implored me: "take
names and kick ass." If we had good personal accounts of the
LEO abuses, we could take them down with much more efficiency than
they are using to take us down. So several of us are starting a
new website intended to document the intensity of the police pressure
on the gathering and how it affected us as individuals. You will
hear about this soon, but in the meantime, please write down your
stories while they are fresh in your minds. Photographs are needed
as well. If you have any good photographs of the roadblocks, police
encounters or such, please email them to me. I will pay the actual
cost of copying any videotapes or non-digital photographs that people
To me, the Gathering was a vision of the fascist future of America,
a future certain to fall on all of us if we don't stop it in the
bud right now. This was certainly an exercise of the Homeland Security
Department trying to figure out how they can do quick adjudications
in the future; adjudications on such issues as whether or not someone
is an insurrectionist or whether or not an individual "has
been exposed to the virus", or whatever. I am not sure what
I am asking my fellow pilgrims other than to write down what you
saw and send it to the legal team, details below. Please be aware
there is a significant part of the federal government with a huge
budget and an agenda to wipe out the counter culture. I would not
be surprised to see them attacking the "leaders" of other
activists' organizations next. We know such tactics are being used
by the feds against Earth First and cop scenes like this are now
common at events such as the Bonneroo Music Festival. I know if
we do not join together and fight this vile attack from our government
now, they will be coming after all of us next.
Sorry for this grim view, but I paid dearly for the privilege of
seeing the gathering from this sad perspective. Write me individually
with any questions.
Don E Wirtshafter
740 662 5297 before 7:00 pm EDT, please