In addition to the prospect of a million motorcycle riders, several thousand hippies could gather in the Black Hills National Forest this summer, and that prospect has local, state and federal law enforcement officers concerned.
About 100 representatives of those law enforcement agencies, including a U.S. Forest Service National Incident Management Team from Washington D.C., gathered at the Black Hills National Forest offices in Rapid City Friday to plan for the possibility that the Rainbow Family Gathering will take place in the Black Hills in early July.
“We have been made aware that they may be coming, but we’re not 100 percent sure that they are coming,” USFS Public Relations Officer Scott Jacobson said Friday. “The last couple of years we understand they have had approximately 8,000 people attend, but they’ve been doing this since 1972 and have had as many as 20,000.”
Websites and blog posts related to the Rainbow Family indicate a group of the organization's members will meet in South Dakota at its "Spring Council" June 17 to make a final decision on the Black Hills gathering.
The Rainbow Family of Living Light describes itself as a nonviolent group spreading the message of peace and love. Previous hosts have said their message may be more akin to hope and dope, while one Montana sheriff’s office described the group as “a hazard.”
In mid-March, the pacifist hippie group gathered in Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest, where the event turned bloody, and one man was shot dead and two others were wounded.
According to a CBS News report, Jacob Cardwell, known as Smiley to his friends, was shot to death around a campfire during the gathering in a heavily-wooded area. Wesley Jones, known as Dice, also was injured when Clark Mayers allegedly opened fire on the group and then stabbed the men.
Last summer, the Rainbow Family set up camp outside the small mountain village of Red Feather Lakes, Colo., where the loosely organized group’s message of nonviolence and equality was belied by the arrest of two of its members who were involved in a stabbing that sent three people to the hospital. One volunteer fire department chief described the incident as a “mini mass casualty,” according to the Coloradoan.
In Uinta National Park in Utah in 2014, an estimated 8,000 people showed up. A National Forest spokeswoman said there were 587 total incidents, including 31 arrests and 136 citations for violations. Two people died in their sleep during the event. The arrests included drug possession, drunken driving and public urination.
Also last year, the Missoula, Mont., Police Department applied for a Homeland Security grant totaling $254,930 to purchase a mobile command communications vehicle to help deal with a gathering of the Rainbow Family, which was described in the proposal as an “extremist” hazard to western Montana, the Missoulian reported.
Black Hills National Forest officials acknowledge potential problems in hosting the group and said that Friday’s meeting was intended to make local agencies aware of possible issues and plan for the gathering.
“If they do come, our biggest concerns would be public safety, resource protection and fire prevention,” Jacobson said. “Just like the Sturgis rally with a million people coming, there are always a few bad apples that come with it.
“Today’s meeting is about informing people it may happen here, so they aren’t surprised,” he said.