FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CHILDREN, DOGS AND CAMPERS ATTACKED ON EVE OF DAY OF PRAYER
USFS attempts to incite another riot
Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyo (July 10, 2008) – Federal Law Enforcement Officers ("LEOs") of the United States Forest Service (USFS) committed multiple acts of violence against campers, their children and their dogs at the Annual Rainbow Gathering being held in the woods near Big Sandy, which unofficially ends today. The gatherers' entire purpose in assembling is to silently pray for world peace on the Fourth of July. The harassment included multiple tasering incidents, writing hundreds of tickets, searching many gatherer's vehicles, kicking sunbathers awake to search them for guns and poking into people's tents. The harassment culminated in an attack of 50-60 rounds of pepper ball bullets being shot both indiscriminately and specifically at campers in the Gathering's Kiddie Village (KV), a camp where children play gently and joyfully all day. This incident took place at dinner time while campers were praying before their meal.
At 12:00 pm on July 3, phalanxes of LEOs equipped with sidearms, tasers, pepper spray bullet rifles, mace, nightsticks and wearing bulletproof vests entered camp in flanking military formation. Throughout the day they swept through the site rousing people from their tents, handcuffing and searching them, writing many tickets for minor infractions and answering most people's concerned questions with silence. Gatherers with cameras kept watch of their movements from a good distance. A trombonist provided musical accompaniment for part of the way.
Around 6:00 PM, dinnertime in the main meadow was starting. As gatherers prayed before their meal, they witnessed officers moving towards KV. Moments later, main meadow gatherers heard the call "fire at KV" and saw smoke coming from the camp.They sprung into action grabbing buckets of water, responding to the call. They soon found out the smoke was really a cloud of pepper spray.
Meanwhile at KV officers invaded KV's kitchen, charged through it's food preparation area, tackled an approximately 50-year old man and apprehended him. When parents moved to shield their children from the officers with tasers and pepper ball rifles now drawn, shots were fired towards the ground. The LEOs continued to aim at gatherers who sat, prayed and calmly and repeatedly asked them to leave. One gatherer explained to the officers, "Kids are here, this is Kiddie Village, everything is fine." Others pleaded, "Please get your guns out of Kiddie Village," and reminded the officers, "We mean you no harm." The LEOs would not leave.
One woman begged the officers to say why they were arresting the man. A LEO pulled her to the ground by her hair while she was holding her dog, and she was also apprehended. The officers moved the woman in a direction away from the Gathering exit, to an area out of view of witnesses. Gatherers needed to keep witness to her and her dog's mistreatment, so they moved closer. Officers opened fire once again, this time striking people.
Gatherers with buckets of water arrived on the scene, and upon witnessing this violence realized that the call, "fire in Kiddie Village" was a different call, "Shots fired in Kiddie Village." They didn't know if they had come upon real ammunition being fired in a camp that had always been a safe haven for children, or what was going on. Upon hearing shouts such as, "Terrorists!" and "You're shooting at children," they became upset and tried to escort the LEOs quickly away from the children and onto the trail leading out of the Gathering, determined to protect the children. The LEOs would not cooperate and maintained position.
Officer Lampy (of the USFS) pointed out her non-violent targets to a LEO armed with a pepper ball rifle, who obeyed and fired. Multiple rounds of pepper ball bullets were fired indiscriminately as well. OC pepper spray hit babies; the air in KV was thick with the chemical weapon released. Most people in KV were affected by the spay and suffered symptoms including respiratory distress, temporary blindness and breaks in skin integrity such as burns, bruises and welts. Nurse Practitioner Jane Albert said, "Many children were visibly upset, crying hysterically and were inconsolable."
"The police then fired shots and hit a child, before turning to fire upon another man carrying a child on his back. The man went down and the child fell," explained witness Jeff Bender. "Both myself and my dog were shot repeatedly," said another witness named Michael. -Pissed Off Former Democrat Blog, July 9, 2008.
Peacekeepers tried to keep a safe distance between the LEOs and confused and agitated volunteers who'd just run all the way up from main circle with buckets of water. The peacekeepers held their arms out wide, walked backwards with their backs to the officers, close to the main meadow volunteers, and called out orders such as "Stay peaceful, people!" The "safe distance" was not safe enough for the satisfaction of the officers who continued firing aimlessly. While the peacekeepers reminded people that we are all peacekeepers, they were then specifically and deliberately struck by the LEOs with pepper ball bullets. One peacekeeper was shot in the back eight times. He turned around and asked, "Why did you shoot me? I'm trying to help you!" He was then shot three more times.
Long time gatherer David Alexander English guided the officers towards a short cut out of the Gathering which they eventually used. "We're making a left," he said calmly. A LEO pointed a taser with an aiming laser at English's face from three feet away and warned, "Come any closer and I'll shoot you!" English responded, "Dude, I'm trying to lead you out." The officer said, "Oh, okay." English later reflected, "It was a really heated moment." Another woman was held while she was maced in her face.
More rifles were pointed deliberately and directly at children and a baby. One gatherer reported that on the LEOs' way out, they shot up a camp on the road, sending "vets scattering into the woods for safety!" -Wyoming Gathering 2008 Blog, July 4, 2008. Reinforcement officers also did not hesitate to point their assault rifles at the campers. The LEOs left with their arrestees. The gatherers collected information, wrote depositions, and then shook it off and had a great and spirited Fourth of July.
It has been printed widely that 400 gatherers threw "rocks and sticks" after LEOs arrested someone at main meadow, that a government vehicle was damaged and that an officer was injured. There were about 100-200 gatherers present at the height of the incident, no LEO incidents took place at main meadow this year, no government vehicle was damaged and no officer was hurt. Video shot from the beginning of the incident on through has already left the Gathering, and will clearly show whether any rocks or sticks were thrown; not one gatherer said they witnessed anything being thrown.
Smears in the press regarding the "rocks and sticks" accusation were rampant and went as far as one headline stating "...Forest Service officials stoned by hippie group..." -World Net Daily, July 7, 2008.
USFS Law Enforcement and Investigations director John C. Twiss contradicted the release sent by his own agency by saying, "About 70 people were yelling profanities," and said "no officer was hit." -Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 7, 2008.
Twiss added, "They've (Rainbow gatherers) been attracting a different kind of crowd in recent years." -Casper Star Tribune, July 8, 2008. It should be noted that this statement is commonly given by law enforcement agencies right before instigating a non-stop campaign of continuous police presence and harassment towards any number of events they wish to squelch.
Twiss ended by stating, "When you're throwing a rock at somebody's head, you're potentially looking at hurting somebody seriously or killing them. Our officers certainly could have been looking at using deadly force, but they didn't." -Casper Star Tribune, July 8, 2008.
In fact, officers already used deadly force when they struck at least three peaceful gatherers in the face, "at somebody's head," with pepper ball bullets shooting from rifles at a much higher velocity than any arm could ever throw. One witness reported that a peacekeeper "was shot six times in the back (no wounds in the front!) one shot went through his arm entering his bare tricep and exiting his bicep leaving two holes with blood pouring out the entrance wound in the back and the exit wound in the front requiring on site medical and bandaging." -Wyoming Gathering 2008 Blog, July 4, 2008. Many other gatherers were also hit in the back and front repeatedly; photos were taken of one individual who had 11 pepper ball welts.
Gatherers reported being tasered on their way in to help set up the Gathering prior to June 24. On the July 3 "The Rule of Law" radio program, a gatherer named Rob reported live via a satellite phone belonging to the show's co-producer, that they (the USFS) "tasered and assaulted a guy last night (July 2)...Multiple officers tasered him. We spent the entire morning trying to figure out what jail they took him to because they don't really want to tell us anything. They supposedly tasered somebody else again this morning. We're still trying to verify that one." The USFS also refused to answer questions from the press regarding the whereabouts and status of arrestees. Agency spokeswoman Rita Vollmer stated, "we're not releasing that information. It's sensitive information for investigations. They're still in custody."-Billings Gazette, July 6, 2008.
Another taser incident happened on July 2 around 2:00 PM when the 50 year old passenger of a vehicle moving between parking spaces was dragged out of the car, tasered repeatedly, handcuffed and then tasered some more. There is footage of this incident.
Also on July 2, yet another taser incident was reported by the clerk of the federal court in Casper. "'One defendant on Wednesday apparently got out of hand and was subdued with a Taser,' she said." -Casper Star Tribune, July 5, 2008.
Even more witness accounts of harassment were reported. If drivers forgot to use their wipers before being stopped by officers, they received tickets for having dusty windshields. A couple returning from town counted 20 LEOs along a 4 mile stretch of road. Almost every officer they saw had at least one vehicle pulled over each with all of its occupants outside. There were also reports of tainted dog food being deliberately left on trails for babies and pets to get into. This atrocious act resulted in the death of one dog.
Many gatherers were upset to see such provocative violence occur in, of all places, the sanctuary of Kiddie Village, and at such a time as dinner prayer on the eve of the gatherers' annual day of prayer. Immediately following the KV incident, witnesses called in to the live radio program from the Gathering and gave their reports. Rainbow gathering supporter Dan from Illinois reacted upon hearing the reports from the Gathering streaming in: "If you can disrupt prayer, you can disrupt mankind. These demons (LEOs in parking lot) high-fiving each other, it just brings tears to my eyes. What is going on in this country?"
But most gatherers weren't surprised; they'd been through this before.
A year earlier, also on July 3 at dinnertime at the Annual Rainbow Gathering in Arkansas, USFS LEOs drove multiple sports utility vehicles into main meadow which is the heart of the gathering and also a strictly spiritual area like KV where violence is absolutely not tolerated. They parked in the middle of the river that ran through the meadow and again made a scene by making arrests and tasering a man in the back. They remained parked in the main meadow; when they became impatient that a sizable crowd still had not formed, they proceeded to repeatedly blare their sirens which instantly drew a crowd and a loud reaction. They attempted to instigate a violent reaction from one of the Rainbow gatherers by holding their position, waving their rifles around and waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, the LEOs left. The entire riverbed was lined with rocks. Video of this incident is enclosed with this release.
Although Wyoming gatherers were upset with the LEOs' behavior, many expected this show of force, recognized its pattern, and kept cool. They know the USFS is trying to get a rise out of the gatherers, so in return, the gatherers give them the exact opposite response; non-violence. Some gatherers who were at the scene know the purpose of these intimidation tactics; the USFS indeed carries out regular training exercises on the Rainbow gatherers.
In U.S. v. Wirtshafter (July 5, 2007), FS officer Gene Smithson gave sworn testimony that crowd control training is done at Rainbow Gatherings. Smithson identified himself as "Special Agent with the U.S. Forest Service currently assigned as an Incident Commander (of the Incident Command Team)," and during cross examination, when asked if there is any ongoing training that officers receive in crowd control, Smithson answered, "Every year we are -- we are going to be recertified in it." When asked if "they are receiving training credits for being out here (at the Rainbow Gathering) this week?" Smithson answered, "Every officer on the team."
Smithson was then asked, "Can you describe a little bit about the training that officers are receiving while they are here at the Rainbow gathering?" Smithson answered while still under oath, "Basically they have received training in formations and how to protect themselves, how to dissipate crowds, how to deal with crowds."
The Associated Press reported that "in 1998, the Forest Service established a national response team (the Incident Command Team) to deal with the group." -Houston Chronicle, July 5, 2008. The Rainbow gatherers have had and continue to have enormous success in self governing, far surpassing the invention and/or need for any governmental "national response team," especially one staffed by LEOs. The "Incident Command Team" (ICT) succeeds in "commanding" its officers to create an "incident" far from the public eye, which then forms a crowd. Then the "team" attempts to incite the crowd to riot, with the hopes that it will so that the team can "respond" by getting a chance to practice "how to dissipate crowds," all with the intent to train on easy, non-violent targets relaxing in the woods.
Another long-time Rainbow gatherer named Jasmine expressed, "The USFS has been trying to intimidate us since day one. Now with the creation of the ICT, supposedly under the USFS, the harassment has gotten worse. Still their tactics haven't worked, as we continue to exercise our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble on public lands. It seems that finally their behavior and the validity of the ICT as an organization of 'responders' is being brought into question in the public court."
Regarding the ICT's training exercises being carried out on Rainbow gatherers, she exclaimed, "We are not lab rats! We are a peaceful people with over 36 years experience holding gatherings completely on our own, and we wish to keep it that way. We want this harassment to end now. Not one more cent of taxpayers' dollars should be spent on funding policing of a self policing event." Jasmine ended by stating, "Instead, the LEOs involved in this harassment should receive felony convictions in federal court on counts of inciting a riot, assault and battery, child abuse, reckless endangerment, child endangerment, false arrest, infringing on civil liberties, and animal cruelty, to name a few."
Tomorrow cleanup will start, yet harassment towards gatherers often continues when they're in small numbers; less witnesses. Reports have come in that subsequent arrests are being made days after the KV incident, in which people are being ordered by USFS LEOs to "lift up your shirt" and anyone with a pepper ball welt on their skin or traces of pepper spray on them is being apprehended.
Travel advisory for getting to and around camp: most of the Gathering is a hike from the parking lot. To get there you will need to park and then walk about 1-3 miles, so be prepared with good shoes, water bottle, etc. The shortest trail into the site is from the "Middle Back Gate Bus Village Parking Lot." You will find there are many gatherers who love interacting with the media and will gladly be filmed. But in respect for people's freedom of religious expression, it is requested that anyone taking photographs or film images first ask permission from each individual to be included in the shot.
Directions to the Wyoming Gathering
Footage of USFS' Attempt to Incite Riot, July 3, 2007 at Annual Rainbow Gathering in Arkansas
First link contains arrest, quiet part, sirens at main meadow, reaction. Plays audio only; video peculiarly missing as of this press release
Part One http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=12590276
Part Two http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvvcwcHkYQA&feature=related
Part Three http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD6bX-36Fbc&feature=related
Part Four http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uklob4ooh1w&feature=related
U.S. v. Wirtshafter transcript of Motion to Suppress Hearing, July 5, 2007
"Rainbow Family & Christians Unite to Give Hope After Katrina" film
"Effects of Rainbow Gatherings on Local Residents" film
"The Rule of Law" radio program, July 3, 2008
Hour One http://mp3.wtprn.com/Kelton/0807/20080703_Thu_Kelton1.mp3
Hour Two http://mp3.wtprn.com/Kelton/0807/20080703_Thu_Kelton2.mp3
FS Taser purchase document
Additional press releases
Additional video evidence of the USFS's harassment campaign against Rainbow Gatherings can be made available to the press.