by Michael Niman
selected by Stephen Wing
with chapter-by-chapter commentary

NOTE: Though presented in order, the following passages are somewhat random and totally out of context. The only criterion for selection was that they caught my interest as I read through the book for a second time. I don't necessarily agree nor disagree with any given point-of-view just because I am quoting it. Scrolling through these quotes is not in any way a substitute for reading the book. I highly recommend getting hold of a copy and forming your own opinion. If you are so moved (and can quote accurately), feel free to add to my selection.

People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia
by Michael I. Niman
(1997) University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville TN 37996-0325


... the Rainbow Family was founded primarily by an alliance of hippie peaceniks and veterans returning from the field kitchens, hospitals and latrines of Vietnam?

... "The only other long-lasting large nonhierarchical group operating under consensus rule is Alcoholics Anonymous"?

... the Rainbow Gathering was the 3rd largest city in Vermont in 1991 and the 6th largest in Wyoming in '94?

... Billy Ball billed the taxpayers for a long-distance call to every phone number in the Rainbow Guide to spread a rumor that Texas '88 was canceled?

... the State of Minnesota printed directions to the 1990 Gathering and gave it away at rest stops?

... "State government officials in California looked toward the Rainbow infrastructure as a model for the possible resettlement of San Francisco residents to the countryside in the event of an emergency"?

... Swami Mommy suggests "urinating on compost pits, as the nitrogen helps break the compost down to rich soil"?

... a 1990 Cumberland regional was attended by 200 Rainbows and 47 cops?

... the FBI's file on the Rainbow Family is full of exotic fantasies about child slavery, prostitution and drug-running- but the DEA doesn't even maintain one?

... "the most sensationalistic reporting usually appears early on in the cycle of a Gathering, when the press has access only to 'official' sources'"?

... that "even the Forest Service admits that the incidence of crime at Gatherings is 'remarkably low considering the size of these gatherings'"?

... that official "amicability," on the part of Forest Rangers on Rainbow duty, "is often tactical"?

... that according to a 1984 Forest Service report, "Bored officers will initiate unnecessary problems"?

... that "the new [FS] regulations also broaden federal police powers within National Forests, making it easier for officials to close forests to the public"?


"As an author, I am sympathetic to the Rainbow Family, their goals, and the vision they represent. I am also inspired by their ability to not only survive, but to grow and bring their vision to an ever-widening circle. The Rainbows are torch-bearers for an ideology of hope, one that is all too rare in this age of xenophobia, nationalism, and ethnic strife. I'd like to see the Family persevere; that is my bias. As a scholar, however, it is also my duty to report not only on the successes of the Family, but to examine their faults, shortcomings, and failures as well."


The book opens with a fictional depiction of a typical day at the 1990 Minnesota Gathering, featuring Niman's imaginary alter ego, Sunflower. It's well-written and true to life, laced with glimpses of Rainbow philosophy, politics and humor- a real-time, on-the-ground attempt to bodily transport the reader across the threshold into full-fledged culture shock.


This chapter places the origins of the Family in a natural alliance that arose between two formerly opposed camps: hippie peaceniks and returning Vietnam veterans. The chapter also takes the Rainbow cosmology seriously as a philosophical innovation of great promise for that ism-afflicted field of endeavor. It traces Rainbow's roots to Sufis, Hutterites, pagans, Mormons, pacifism, and the Grateful Dead, finally concluding that "The resulting mix is so rich and continuously in flux that any description of the Rainbow Family's roots must be inadequate." (37)

"The veterans, using skills learned in Vietnam, created much of the Gatherings' infrastructure, from 'MASH/CALM' medical facilities to field kitchens and latrines. The confluence of these two groups working, living, and loving together was part of a national healing process when American involvement in the Vietnam war ended." (34)

"Rainbow Gatherings, interfacing as they do with diverse populations, face many of the same problems of people living in Babylon. The Rainbow Family's approach to solving these problems, however, differs radically from that of Babylon. The successes and failures of this large-scale laboratory should prove instructive to anyone interested in human society and its survival." (34)


This chapter captures the essence of Rainbow politics- with a slight NERF accent. He understands the power of consensus: "The fact that the smallest minorities have effective veto power prevents majorities from ignoring their concerns." His tale of the Minnesota Gathering gives clear notice of the problems that ensue when a Main Council does not meet, and smaller groups counciling together make contradictory decisions. In the end, though, he over-emphasizes the role played by Councils: "Ironically, it is the apathy of the masses, expressed in their absence from Council, that allows for a cohesive governing body." (41) The Council, of course, "governs" nobody. The only "governing body" at any Gathering is the working class, because a Council decision is no more than words unless an individual is present with the personal initiative to transform them into work.

"So we listen to the group mind, and try to quiet our own." -Sky Bear (39)

"Gathering economics are vital to the functioning of Council. Gatherings take place on public land, thus there are no landlords who can stand up in Council and threaten an eviction if they don't get their way. ... Kitchens feed everybody, whether or not they work; people can find clothing in free boxes, and community shelters protect people from the rain. The workers are their own taskmasters; there is no supervisory class. Thus, anyone can take time off from a 'job' to attend Council. Anyone may speak up without fear of losing their means of sustenance." (41)

"Long, seemingly inconclusive meetings, a common feature of non-Western societies, are useful for airing problems." (44)

"Bureaucratic organizations that deal with the Rainbow Family have seldom accepted consensus government, often looking for Rainbows they could recognize as leaders. Ranger Bob Burton's widely distributed description of the Rainbow Family accurately alludes to an ad hoc hierarchy: 'There is no easily defined leadership group or formal organization in the Rainbow Family. Members will tell you that none exists, that decisions are made by consensus, that all have an equal say in decision making and that the power is equally shared. As a Gathering develops it becomes apparent, however, that some shares are more equal than others.'" (48)

"Left unchecked, there is a tendency for a de facto hierarchy to form, especially among people who negotiate with the Forest Service." (48)

"A surprising reality of the Rainbow Family's egalitarian approach to an inclusive consensual democracy is how unique it is in the history of North American utopian communities." (55)

"The only other long-lasting large nonhierarchical group operating under consensus rule is Alcoholics Anonymous, which, like the Family, is an 'occasional group.'" (56)

"Rainbows often refer to this and similar suggested Council modifications as 'consensus minus one,' the predecessor, possibly, of 'consensus minus two' and so on." (58)

"Universal participation in government, and the resulting long and sometimes chaotic meetings, have led to authoritarian backlashes throughout North American utopian history. Even communities founded upon democratic ideals, with democratic foundations in their constitutions or bylaws, tended toward authoritarianism." (58)

"Since any individual can block consensus and force protracted discussion, consensus places individual concerns on an equal footing with group concerns. This power of the individual stands in direct contrast to commonly accepted communal theories that place individualism in conflict with collectivism." (58)


It's no surprise that this is the longest chapter. Sections on Seed Camp, sanitation, the Magic Hat, Trade Circle, Kitchens, water sources, CALM, work, communications, publications, and the Internet present a well-rounded and mostly accurate picture of the Rainbow Family in action.

Niman recognizes that "The key to the Rainbow economy is sharing ..." He seems to accept Garrick Beck's assessment that "Rainbow is a society where rich and poor disappear ..." But the chapter still suffers from a case of slight Class Analysis: "Seed Camp workers often stay for cleanup as well. Thus, the poor contribute a disproportionate amount of work assembling and disassembling Gatherings, which are primarily attended by the middle class." (65) True, on its face- but many of these "poor" people are middle-class dropouts who are "homeless" by choice. In his generalizations of rich and poor, Niman forgets that in tribal societies the wealthiest is the one who gives the most away. Our poorest are often our most dedicated, bringing a hundred dollars and donating it all to the Hat, where a wealthier tourist might bring a thousand and spend most of it on himself.

"The key to the Rainbow economy is sharing. People bring what they can to share, often depositing surplus items in 'Free Boxes.' While some people arrive destitute and hungry, others show up with a truckload of produce, a hundred feet of hose, a box of medical supplies, or a pocket of cash for the 'Magic Hat.' ... Such alternative economic organization has traditionally been central to utopian movements: many 19th-century 'Bible communists' were guided by New Testament tales of the Apostles who 'sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all as had any need.'" (68)

"Rainbows are volunteers, working without any regulatory mechanism to monitor their commitment. For Rainbows, like many successful communities studied by Kanter, 'participation in the great communal enterprise ... was its own reward and generated its own motivation.' Likewise, contributions to the collective coffers are truly voluntary, since there is no system for taxing or tithing wealth." (69)

"At many Gatherings in the 1980s, candy bars became a medium of exchange with a somewhat standardized value. ... Unlike general-purpose money, however, candy bars can't store value, since they depreciate in the sun. They also tend to be eaten." (70) "It is important to note that while Rainbows shun monetary transactions and sharing is common, there is no consensus among Family members that the Rainbow economy is, even temporarily, communist . . . It is the tendency of individuals to act communally that gives the Rainbow Family its unique character, as a cooperative community of individualists." (70)

"People donated most of the food, for example, at the 1990 North American Gathering in Minnesota as they arrived. The Magic Hat nonetheless collected approximately $4000 during the Gathering. Hence, the organizational overhead for the Gathering was only 25 to 30 cents per participant. The U.S. National Forest Service, in contrast, playing a minor and arguably unnecessary role at that Gathering, spent about $310,000." (70)

[Rowe 1990:] "'When people sit around the family dinner table instead of going to McDonalds and a movie, there is no cash transaction, little for the GNP. Yet the family dinner table represents a kind of cohesion that Americans are groping to recover.' Rainbow has simply expanded that family dinner table atmosphere to the magnitude of a McDonalds." (70-71)

"Drug use, like meat eating, is problematic for Rainbows. Discussions about substance abuse have given birth to kitchens free of suspect substances. The Brew-Ha-Ha teahouse, for example, is drug-free. Unlike some drug-free events held elsewhere in the United States, Brew-Ha-Ha is free of almost all drugs, including the two drugs Rainbows use most, tobacco and caffeine." (77)

"Potable water is often not available at Gatherings, but information on how to tap springs and how to purify, store, and handle water is available. Much of this information and expertise comes from military veterans and back-to-the landers." (80)

"'At New Age festivals and fairs the vegetarian food is terrific and everybody's got beds within the cabins. There's nothing wrong or bad about it. But for all that the lecturers may [say] . . . the fact is that some servant is being paid to make that bed, cook that food, sweep that floor and polish that door knob. ... Rainbow is a society where rich and poor disappear; where the notions of rich and poor disappear because everybody's living in lean-tos and huts and all you have is what you carry in . . . "'Take a look at how [Rainbow] accomplishes the basic needs of society without punitive justice. Because that's revolutionary. The fact that we dance under the moon, the fact that we believe in love as an idea and peace as a goal doesn't make us special from hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other groups. We're all in that together. But, the fact that we motivate the hard work of human society without money, that's revolutionary." [Garrick Beck] (86-7)

"Rainbows do realize that some people work harder than others and are therefore worth more to the community than others. Because of their commitment to 'egalitarianism,' they don't, however, institutionalize the distinction between willingness/ability and unwillingness/disability into holders of power and subjects of power, dominators and dominated." (87)

"I think that's the real Rainbow concept that you don't have to do anything . . . It's effective." -shopping mall manager (88-9)

"The Family will, to the best of its ability, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, befriend the lonely, and house the wanderer. ... These infrastructural accomplishments set the Family apart from the 'Movement' groups of the 1960s with which the mainstream press identifies them." (97)


No mere chapter on Rainbow demographics could do us justice, I'm sure Niman would agree, but he gives it a noble attempt. Along with familiar people like Felipe and Mother Nature and Bubbleman, his interviews include a Jewish Holocaust survivor who comes to Rainbow to escape urban violence and fear, and a shopping mall manager who believes that Rainbow "provides a service, like a mall would." Niman then proceeds to score us in every known category of political correctness. In contrast to the many historic utopias that espoused gender equality but didn't practice it, he admits, "Rainbow women often acknowledge that Gatherings provide a less sexist atmosphere than Babylon"- but only as an afterthought to several paragraphs of "Only now, as the Rainbow Family is in its third decade, are women's voices respected alongside men's." Interestingly enough, most of the voices quoted in People of the Rainbow are male. Racially, again we fare better in comparison with utopias of the past, even those who claimed to be racially integrated. Our embodiment of the current trendiness of accepting homosexuality is "praiseworthy, but not pioneering." And Niman seems particularly pessimistic about our prospects of improving access for the disabled.

"The prescriptive unconditionality of Rainbow love and acceptance, and the Family's refusal to limit it to deserving members of the in-group, set it apart from other groups that promote or have promoted alternative lifestyles. Indeed, most long-lived utopian groups throughout history differ from the Rainbow Family in that they were, and still are, restrictive in admitting new members." (100)

"To an extent people are coming here for a service. They're trying to get in touch with their feelings; they're trying to kick back- become the person that they know they are- without the outside pressures. So in that respect I think Rainbow provides a service like a mall would." -John, mall manager (105)

"Only now, as the Rainbow Family is in its third decade, are women's voices respected alongside men's. The emergence of the regional Rainbow movement and of Regional Gatherings, in which women play a major role, drives the new Rainbow gender equality. ... The reasons for refraining from sexist talk are twofold: first, the raised consciousness of men, and second, the empowerment of women." (106)

"However, Rainbow women often acknowledge that Gatherings provide a less sexist atmosphere than Babylon. ... 'A couple of places where I worked there were no other women that I could connect with ... There was a support group of women who I would see maybe once a week. Around here it's like, if something weird is happening, I know I could find a sister close by." (106-7)

"Unlike the outside world, where sexist attitudes are reinforced by friends, coworkers, and Rush Limbaugh wannabes on talk radio, sexist men at Rainbow Gatherings are in an environment where overt sexism is clearly condemned. In this regard, the Family has made inroads in trying to combat sexism." (107)

"African-Americans, however, are still underrepresented at Gatherings. A primary reason is tha African Americans are also underrepresented in the middle class, from which the Rainbow Family draws many of its members." (109)

"The Rainbow Family has a vision that is both spiritual and political. The fundamental schism in the Family stems not from racial or class conflict, but from the confrontation between 'politics' and 'spirituality.'" (111)

"Rainbows see strength in their diversity. Their willingness to accept any living being as a member sets them apart from the vast majority of utopian experiments both historically and in the present time. The Rainbow Family open-admissions policy, however, is not unique. Other groups have subscribed to the same inclusive ideal. What is unique about the Family is that it stands practically alone among utopian communities that have survived the quarter-century mark intact, despite its universal membership. Alcoholics Anonymous, which like the Rainbow Family, is an occasional group and an intentional community, interestingly enough, has also survived despite being nonrestrictive in its recruiting." (112)

"Successful utopian groups also tried to mold their new recruits to fit their communal model. ... The Rainbow Family, by contrast, values individual expression and does not demand any type of renunciation. Police officers showing interest in Gatherings, for example, despite their conflicting role, are readily accepted as Rainbows." (113)

"While the Family is still overwhelmingly white, an embarassment to a group named 'Rainbow,' such exclusion is not by design, but is largely inherited from the greater society." (113)

"Since Gatherings, like AA meetings, regularly break down and re-form, long-term social problems have a chance to dissipate. ... The Family is large enough, with many subgroups, to absorb diverse backgrounds and views and still provide a supportive environment for everybody involved." (113)


With this chapter, dealing in turn with Shanti Sena and A-Camp, Niman steps into some deep and sensitive waters with due depth and sensitivity. Both sections suffer from a lack of quotes from those under scrutiny, though he covers these paradoxical subjects from every other conceivable angle. The focus on Shanti Sena and A-Camp, however, obscures the reason why Rainbow Gatherings are universally more peaceful than a comparable population in Babylon: 99% of the people who attend are peaceful people. A-Camp gets nearly five pages, for example, about what CALM got back in Chapter 4- but approximately five pages more than Kiddy Village gets in the whole book.

Particularly troubling is the Shanti Sena section. After barely a page on the "coercive" tactic of surrounding trouble with an "Om circle" comes an even briefer acknowledgement that "A person who sees a problem does not call the Shanti Sena but becomes the Shanti Sena. In theory, all Rainbows should intercede as needed, thus eliminating the need for a security force." (118) Without a single example of how this works- and it does- he plunges on to lavish seven pages on what Forest Service reports respectfully call a "power group," an "internal security force," and "Rainbow police."

He adopts the terminology of John McGee, a government "intelligence source" and "self-proclaimed 'Shanta Sena' member." Over and over the section refers to "the Shanti Sena organization," as in "The Shanti Sena organization is legitimized by the majority of Rainbows, who willingly take orders from them." (119) "Their method was to reason with people and show them love," Niman quotes a 1984 Forest Service report on p. 119- or was it the "use of threatened and actual violence," as McGee claims on the next page? Niman recognizes that "Shanti Sena violence" is a problem that crops up sometimes when male energy predominates. But the only example he gives is that of rolling troublesome people up in their tents and toting them deep into the woods; apparently no charges have been filed.


"The Rainbow Family has its share, however, of child predators, rapists, muggers, and thieves. Members acknowledge that whatever's 'out there' in Babylon is also 'in here' at Gatherings. The Family is, after all, a microcosm of the greater society. What sets the Family apart from American municipal authorities is that while both face violent and disruptive individuals, they respond differently. Rainbows confront violence and hate with peace and love. For many, this peace comes from within." (115)

"The Rainbow Family is an 'intentional group,' that is, it has an explicit program that rationalizes and justifies perpetuating itself. Its program is inherently pacifist. ... The Family is committed to maintaining peaceful gatherings, even in the face of violent provocations." (115)

"... all Rainbows are Shanti Sena, but some are more Shanti Sena than others. A loosely organized Shanti Sena organization, not sanctioned by the Rainbow Family Council, does exist at North American Gatherings. They make decisions in their own covert councils." (118-9)

"There is a distinctly nasty side to the Shanti Sena organization. One Family member from Washington State, looking back at the 1994 Gathering, writes: 'Last year's [G]athering gave me the impression that the [G]atherings are controlled by big rough men ... who make the decisions for everyone else, and get the rubber stamp of consensus by orchestrating the councils ... Many people do seem to be on a power trip which is patriarchal and even violent in nature' (Anon 1995). ... Observations such as the one above, which are common, indicate tendencies among Family members that are both undemocratic and subversive to a nonviolent society." (119)

"Rainbow Councils regularly warn Rainbows to beware of those who identify themselves as the Shanti Sena." (120)

"The U.S. government, on the other hand, welcomes and even promotes an elite Quisling Rainbow Shanti Sena organization." (120)

"Superior National Forest officials in Minnesota, who were generally cooperative during the 1990 North American Gathering, ignored Council wishes and recognized a self-proclaimed Shanti Sena organization as Rainbow Family representatives even when they were clearly acting in contempt of Council." (120)

"Police officers assigned to the Gatherings, to maintain their peace of mind, often need to see a Shanti Sena Police organization. Joseph Wetmore, a Rainbow living in Ithaca, observed, 'For the police, the concept of their own obsolescence is more frightening than Rainbow's usurpation of their power. It's not Rainbow policing themselves that's scary; it's Rainbow saying we don't need police.' Such an example could prove threatening to a healthy growing prison-industrial complex." (121)

"Lack of disorder and violence in the absence of constituted authority for such a long period is a challenge to those who believe that organized society without a ruler is doomed to chaos." [Loomis 1982, about the Modern Times community, which did not believe in hierarchy or government, had no crime problems, and survived from 1851 to 1863.] (121)

"Rainbows often represent Shanti Sena as a 'security force' to appease law enforcement officials who are uneasy with the precepts of anarchy and unwilling to believe that people can live in peace without armed enforcers." (121)

"Bob Burton of the Forest Service, quoted in a front-page article in the Cook County News Herald, explained to local residents how, 'Traditionally they take care of their own problems. Their peacekeeping group, the Shanta Sena, does a good job.'" (121)

"Since there are seldom any peacekeeping workshops for Shanti Sena volunteers, they often do not have the opportunity to learn creative methods for changing other people's beahvior." (122)


"Early in the 1990 North American Gathering, while CALM was unable to raise sufficient funds to rent a water purification system, 'A' Camp was spending thousands of dollars in local stores on beer and liquor." (126)

1991: "They raised much of their money in a coercive manner, attempting to charge for parking, charge 'admission,' or offer to protect parked cars for a fee." (126)

"Other Rainbows point out that many 'A' Campers often work hard at Gatherings when they're not drunk and are on the front lines when abusive locals or authorities try to harass the Gathering. Hence they deserve respect and understanding." (126)

"'A'Camp serves as a conduit to recruit self-destructive alcoholics into the Rainbow Family. Many of the Family's most energetic workers first joined the Family through 'A' Camp." (127)

"Some Rainbows see 'A' Camp as a filter, sifting off what would be disruptive influences, while turning back nonbelievers who can't see past 'A' Camp to what the Gathering is all about. 'A' Camp is the border where the Rainbow meets Babylon. Unfortunately both cultures are at their worst here." (127-8)

"'A' Camp is not a universal fixture at Rainbow Gatherings. It is currently unique to United States Gatherings. The Quebec Rainbow Family, for instance, has never had either an 'A' Camp or an alcohol problem at Gatherings. European Rainbow Gatherings have had alcohol present, usually in the form of wine, but report few alcohol-related problems." (128)

"For the supposedly classless Gatherings, 'A' Camp provides an embarrassing anomaly- the dangerous decrepit neighborhood, where untouchables are ghettoized." (128)

"While 'A' Camp is a stain on the Rainbow banner, it is also testimony to an all-inclusive utopia dedicated to a healing mission. After a quarter of a century of Gatherings, drunken vibes have yet to gain ground within the Family. Gatherings are still overwhelmingly peaceful, and outside of the 'A' Camp there is usually little or no drinking. The 'A' Camp remains a small and isolated phenomenon, yet it has served as an important gateway, allowing drunks transcendance into a new life." (128)

"In an age when most Americans are surrendering to their own fears, surrendering to the chaos of a collapsing society they themselves helped to destroy through greed and apathy, Rainbows are facing problems head on. Rather than sequester themselves in electronically fortified suburban fortresses masquerading as homes, vicariously experiencing life through television and the World Wide Web ... Rainbows are challenging the problems within their own society. This is why they allow an 'A' Camp and why they accept problem members." (128)

"While Rainbows accept violent people, they do not accept violence. They form a nonviolent society, but they are not free from violence. The Gatherings serve as a training ground where violence is discouraged; where a violence free society is evolving. Likewise, it is a nonhierarchical society that is constantly battling against the development of new hierarchies. To banish power-hungry and violent individuals, for the Rainbows, would be to admit that violence and hierarchical order can't be vanquished." (128-9)

"Traditionally, peace movements in North America have failed to effectively reach out to groups most affected by violence. 'None of these peace groups has recruited successfully among the urban lower and under classes- the people whose lives are most painfully disrupted by violence. Pacifist ideals that appeal only to those already fairly safe from violence.' The Rainbow Family, however, has succeeded in recruiting across class boundaries. The 'A' Camp testifies to that success. Whether the Family can succeed in bringing peaceability to the 'A' Camp remains to be seen." (129)

"It should also be noted, that many alcoholics, including those not in recovery, come to Gatherings, but avoid 'A' Camp." (129)

"Groups committed to nonviolence run a risk of inviting attacks by people who don't share that commitment. Thanks to 'A' Camp mayhem, the Rainbows, though they are nonviolent, are often seen as being violent. Hence, would-be bullies and other 'patriotic' Americans shy away from Gatherings, fearful their violence might meet with resistance. Those who do plan on disrupting Gatherings, usually never get past 'A' Camp. Peacability exists behind a real and imagined shroud of violence." (129)

"On rare occasions when violence threatens to spill over from 'A' Camp to the larger Gathering, Rainbows are saved by the flexibility of their band organization, which allows them to scatter and regroup in a more peaceful time and place. The Family's uncanny ability to disperse and regroup is effective in evading violence and persecution, both from the outside world and from within." (130)


Anthropologists know better than anyone about ripping off native cultures, so it's good to see one objecting to the casual abuse of Native American ideas, ceremonies and sacred objects at Rainbow Gatherings. Conscious anthropologists are one of many reality-checks we have incorporated into this Family by welcoming every kind of human there is. And when it comes to some Rainbows' romantic middle-class mis-identification with "Indians," Niman has a point. The problem as that here, more than any other chapter, he mistakes "some Rainbows" for "all Rainbows." He finally does mention the many Native Americans who have attended our Gatherings and given us their blessing, and the many Rainbows who have pitched in to support Native political causes. He acknowledges that "fakelore" is a more serious problem at "New Age" events where the sacred by definition is for sale, right across the altar. But the chapter's superficial stereotype of "Rainbow spiritual practices" and "Rainbow 'prophecies'" strains a bit too hard to make its case.

"Fakelore" doesn't mention the presence of other traditions until its second-to-last paragraph. The non-sectarian Silence on the Fourth of July is the spiritual center of the Gathering, yet the chapter doesn't mention it at all. Instead, Niman spends most of the chapter debunking the legend of the "Rainbow Warriors" as if it was consensed Family doctrine. His chief exhibit is a deconstruction of the 1962 book Warriors of the Rainbow as a "New Age" document, rather than genuine Native prophecy. But is there a real prophecy behind the New Age hype? In a recent interview, Thomas Banyacya told Niman no. 28 years ago, Grandfather David Monongye told 14 bright-eyed hippies yes. It's up to each of us to decide which Indians to believe.

"Rainbow spiritual practices frequently involve the mimicking, perverting, or outright ripping off of Native American religious rituals. As ersatz Indians, Rainbows range from silly to offensive." (131)

"Many Rainbows believe their mimicry of imagined Indian ritual is the real thing, which they describe as sacred and traditional." (132)

"For Rainbows, their supposed Native American heritage constitutes what anthropologists call a 'mythic charter,' which authenticates their experience.' (133)

"When Rainbows impersonate Indians, it causes confusion and undermines attempts by bi- and tri-racial isolates with Native American ancestry to affirm their Indian identities." (134)

"McFadden earns a living peddling his message. Rainbows, by contrast, invent 'Indian teachings' but don't sell them. In keeping with the precepts of the Gathering, everything, including mythology, is freely shared. This sharing differentiates the Rainbow Family from New Agers who profit by marketing supposed 'Indian teachings.'" (138) [Stephen McFadden, author of Ancient Voices, Current Affairs and other books]

"'I also believe there is much good in Christianity... The Christians did not wipe us out entirely. That is a fact that cannot be overlooked. Some spiritual force did not wipe us out entirely. That is a fact that cannot be overlooked. Some spiritual force must have kept them from doing that.' [Ed McGaa, author of Rainbow Tribe and other commercializations of Native spirituality] Hence, in McGaa's historical interpretation, Native Americans survived extermination not because of their own strong spriritual beliefs and self-determination, but because of the benevolence of white folk." (139)

"When New Agers and Rainbows embrace a reconstructed native spirituality, even with sincere 'respect,' they are complicit in ethnocide." (140)

"Unfortunately, it is the Rainbow image of Indians that many people take as authentic. A Montreal newspaper, for example, reported with question that the Rainbow Family Gatherings represent 'the fulfillment of a Hopi Indian prophecy about a 'tribe of different peoples living in peace and harmony.' ... Rainbows are currently exporting their vision of American Indians to Europe. Instructions on how to find the European Rainbow Gathering in Poland, for instance, admonished searchers to follow the 'Hopi signs.'" (141)

"'It is important, for reasons of ethnographic accuracy and proper respect, not to transform the lives of real peoples into utopias for the use of others. When members of a powerful society use a self-serving fakeloric version of another people's history or life as a myth for their own, they may deprive that people of the chance to assert their own, differing version.'" [Dentan 1994] (141)

"Family members often send a delegation to meet with local Indians and seek their approval before holding a Gathering, recognizing the Indians, and not the Forest Service, as having a legitimate claim on the land. "Like other white people before them, however, the Rainbows prefer to deal with Indians who will easily grant their wishes. For example, the Pitt River Tribal Council claimed the site of the 1984 North American Gathering in California's Modoc National Forest as their sovereign ancestral land, and clearly stated their objection to the Rainbows using the site. ... "The Rainbows decided, like White treaty writers before them, that they were dealing with the wrong Indians." (142)

"Historically, utopias, while proclaiming a more fair and just society for their followers, have been at the forefront of U.S. expansion onto contested Indian lands." (143)

"Rainbow culture, when not attempting to pass itself off as the spiritual heir apparent of imagined Indian culture, is in fact compatible with many Native American traditions. For this reason, a significant number of Native Americans frequent the Gatherings, which are somewhat akin to powwows. ... Problems arise when Rainbows try to seize what they perceive as Indian spirituality. When Rainbows respectfully align themselves with American Indian political struggles, however, relations become amicable." (144)

"The Rainbows, with their invented 'Indian' myths, are clearly part of the problem facing Native North America. The appropriation of Native American culture, however, predates both the Rainbow Family and the New Age movement, going back to the first European settlements in the Americas. ... When it comes to playing Indian, the Rainbows are not that far from mainstream America." (146)

"Rainbows are at a threshold. Whether they will take action against fakeloric cultural appropriation, or continue to bask in the fantasy of being Indian, remains to be seen." (147)

"'Indianism,' while the most obvious and prevalent manifestation of Rainbow spirituality, is certainly not the only religious belief in the Family. Family members represent most of the world's major religions, and diverse religious ceremonies and practices are common at Gatherings." (147)

"A rabbi at a Rainbow Gathering, for example, explained how Jewish Sabbath candles represent a nomadic people's version of a 'tribal fire.'" (147)

"Fakeloric and sometimes arrogant, the Rainbow Family's relations with Native Americans are far from ideal. The Rainbow Family's Indian roots are weak, at best. Yet it is important to look past the fakelore, to see Rainbow culture as Rainbow culture, not as ersatz Indian culture. When not pretending to be Indian, it is strong, multicultural, and multispiritual. Likewise, the Rainbow message of peaceful coexistence with one another, other peoples, and the environment merits respect." (147)


This is one of the strongest chapters. We've all noticed that "The media tend to anachronize the Rainbow Family (and the environmental and antimilitarist movements of the 1990s) as remnants of the 1960s." (149) But Niman has taken the trouble to analyze minutely 24 UPI stories about Rainbow from the mid to late 1980s. All without exception "are full of 1960s references." For contrast, Niman also analyzes a good many stories from local newspapers. Their reporters tend to spend more time with the Family and turn in more accurate stories. Still, the standard biases of the media hold. Niman has even dug up the efforts of the Forest Service to keep certain aspects of Gatherings out of the press- particularly their own role- and even to suppress one particular article.

"The descriptive term 'hippies' stood alone in two lead sentences, making it the fourth-most-popular descriptive. 'Erstwhile hippies,' 'neo-hippies,' and 'hippie like folk' each appeared once, characterizing the diverse Rainbow Family as well as the phrase 'middle-aged white folks' describes the population of the U.S. ... These descriptives link the Rainbow Family to a bygone era, signaling to the reader that Rainbows are not to be taken seriously in the contemporary world. Likewise, readers need not take any Rainbow Family philosophies or beliefs seriously. The media can therefore ignore, for instance, the Family's successes with nonviolent conflict resolution, which, if taken seriously, might provide both an inspiration and an example for a violence-ridden society. The media also ignore the legal challenges and threats that government agencies pose to the Family's right to gather. Relegating the Gatherings to the past obscures the implications these challengers have for the rights of other Americans." (150) "Key to the phrase 'flower child' is the word 'child.' The message, that these people have not grown up or matured, supports paternalistic government attitudes about having to manage and regulate Rainbow Gatherings. It also suggests that their concerns, and the solutions they have found to human problems, are beneath the attention of serious people, the same way adults dismiss or trivialize children's concerns and plans. The Rainbow aversion to hierarchy becomes a manifestation of childish immaturity, as in UPI's phrase 'leaderless flower children.'" (150)

"While 'lazed' was the most popular verb, 'ragtag' was the most popular adjective to describe Rainbow people." (151)

"UPI's anachronizing coverage of the Rainbow Family is the norm among the mass media. ... These 'hippie-style' descriptives trivialize Rainbow Gatherings, stressing dress, language, age, and style over politics and ideals." (151)

"Writing that 'Texas made it clear that they did not want the Rainbow Family here,' the [NY Times] reporter backed up her point by quoting a local resident who, she says, 'had arrived by pleasure boat to stare at the Rainbows.' According to her source, 'These people are no-good hippies and we should run them out of town.' She made no mention, however, of the many locals who were using their boats to ferry Rainbows and their supplies around a Forest Service roadblock ..." (151-2)

"A July 9, 1982, NY Times article ... kept returning to the theme that the Rainbow Family was the last gasp of a dead subculture. The lead describes the Gathering as 'a scene from the past.' The fact that Rainbow Gatherings continued to grow in number and size around the world in the years since the article was published would suggest that 'a scene from the future' might have been an equally appropriate description. ... After four paragraphs of cliches, the author proceeded to draw a somewhat more accurate description of the Rainbow Gathering." (152)

"Ironically it is not the Rainbow Family but the American press that is stuck in the hippie era." (154)

"Though left over from the 1960s, most are only 17 to 25 years old; indeed an impressive piece of Rainbow magic." (154)

"While categorically trivialized as fluff in the national media, Rainbow stories are hard news in the local press near Gathering sites." (154) "'The Rainbow Family believes that the only rule is that there are no rules.' This line, which has appeared verbatim in news accounts of the Rainbow Family across the country, comes directly from the narration of the Forest Service video [about the 1987 Gathering, shown in Minnesota at a press conference by Sheriff John Lyght] and not from any Rainbow Family member." (155)

"With their straightforward reporting, PAC-13 [public access TV station] and the Cook County News-Herald derailed Lyght's misinformation campaign and laid the groundwork for a tranquil summer of cooperation between the Rainbow Family and the people of Cook County." (158)

"The difference in reporting [between national and local media] reflects the fact that, in general, the tenor of the press coverage is directly related to the amount of contact reporters and editors have with Rainbow Family members. Those with little contact are more likely to be condescending. The national press usually expends little effort on what it regards as fluff pieces and therefore leaves native stereotypes unchallenged. On the local level, where the Rainbow Gathering is a major story, additional coverage often exonerates the Family from the negative perceptions held by many outsiders." (159)

"While available for comment when journalists sought them out, Allegheny [NF] officials did not try to shape media coverage ... As a result, local coverage of the 1986 Gathering was mostly fair and accurate." (160)

"Media distortion of the Rainbow Family stems in part from overreliance on government spokespersons." (161)

"'The Rainbows are a loose-knit group of latter day flower children, who believe in communing with nature either naked or with the use of marijuana.'" [UPI] (162)

"The 'Incident Command' model used to 'manage' Rainbow Gatherings in the National Forests, for example, follows the model used to coordinate fire fighting. Some officials view Rainbows, like wildfires, as problems that they hope will die down without a major impact. ... If an event is free of mishaps, as was the 1988 Regional Gathering in Pennsylvania, then it is, in the words of the official source for the Buffalo News, a forest ranger, 'uneventful.'" (162)

"The meaning and events of the Gatherings become obscure, as journalists conform them to the crime/mayhem model of reporting. ... Had the Buffalo News reporters been able to escape their reliance on official sources and their fixation with dividing the world into criminals and victims, they might have recalled the West Virginia Rainbow Gathering, not for the murders that didn't [even] happen there, but perhaps for the day the Rainbows danced and played fiddle with the good folks of Richwood, West Virginia." (162)

"'Although they do nothing substantive other than gather, Rainbow family Gatherings are media events that are covered by newspapers with the stature of the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.'" [1990 Chief Incident Information Officer Burton] (163)

"Forest Service officals in California, for example, took steps to block publication of a news article. The forest supervisor also issued a 'media direction' which suggested to reporters that they not report about certain aspects of the Gathering, such as 'Gathering activities' or the use of 'Forest Service agents.'" (164)

Nevada FS report, '89: "'In some cases the lack of media coverage can be seen as a benefit to the management of the Gathering.' Still one officer disagreed: 'How can we keep it from the press? And is it potentially more damaging not to give them the facts from the F.S. point of view before the issues are clouded by the lies of the Rainbows?' Also, we must remember that the media will sensationalize when they don't have access to the Official spokes person ...' ... In fact, the most sensationalistic reporting usually appears early on in the cycle of a Gathering, when the press has access only to 'official' sources." (164-5)

"'You know all the bad publicity that preceded it, and it was nothing like that at all," said Rachel Creamer, owner of the R&R Quick Stop convenience store on highway 69 in Zavalla ...' ... Law enforcement officials said the Gathering wasn't the drug-crazed, destructive orgy they had expected, but added that it wasn't something they would have attended on their own.'" [Texas 1988] (165)

"The Forest Service video presentation of the 1987 Gathering, widely disseminated to the media, showed the Gathering's main meadow on July 4, filled with people. Smoke from campfires mixed with mist hung low over the crowd in the humid air. The voice-over commented that the low cloud is 'certainly not from wood smoke but is marijuana usage there on the site.'" (166-7) [The same circle was featured instead of the 'bud of the month' in the High Times centerfold, labeled 'Natural High'!]

"Neither government nor media has demonstrated any more substance abuse at Rainbow Gatherings than in mainstream communities of similar size." (166)

"The greatest danger of government/media propaganda linking Rainbows with hard drugs is that it may become self-fulfilling. News stories promising a 'drug party' lure people looking for one." (167)

"National reporting of Rainbow Gatherings ignores their successful detoxification and drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs. In a media environment habitually producing stories of innocents going to Rainbow Gatherings and getting turned on to dangerous drugs, stories of addicted persons going to Rainbow Gatherings to get off drugs just don't fit." (167) [Steven Hager of High Times is the example!]

"Peaceability makes for poor copy. ... What makes the Gatherings 'newsworthy' are the aberrations: the drunk who was arrested, the traveler who was busted, or the person who was injured." (168)

"Such inaccurate press coverage has always dogged nonexclusive utopian communities." (168)

"Journalists decided how they want to portray the group, then select spokespersons from the group whose mediated images will best support that predetermined portrayal. Hence, media bias is easy to detect by observing who journalists choose to anoint as 'spokespersons'. ... Journalists have no difficulty, given a crowd of thousands of Rainbows, in finding the caricature that best fits their story." (169)


This entire chapter could be summed up in a phrase quoted from a Pennsylvania journalist: wherever we gather, the Rainbows leave behind "only footprints and money." The first section is about footprints, the second about money. But the journalist didn't hang around long enough to spot the third, less visible thing we leave: friends. Against a background of various Forest Service reports of Gathering sites left cleaner than we found them- "better than the Boy Scouts," in one case- the Land Stewardship section examines the two exceptions. I didn't know the 1990 Minnesota site was already "pretty clean for all intents and purposes" by mid-July, according to one Ranger, but needed attention later on because our friends the bears dug up buried compost and garbage at many major kitchens. I also didn't know that the Forest Service deliberately set out to prevent a cleanup in North Carolina 1987 as a pretext for shutting us down the following year. In spite of Judge Justice's opinion that "Indeed, the government did not offer any evidence of major health, safety, or environmental problems from other past Rainbow Family gatherings, except for the 1987 gathering in North Carolina," (187) the FS used the 1987 Gathering as the basis of a "training video" designed to spread fear and disinformation in advance of later Gatherings.

The Family's dysfunctions do not escape scrutiny either, though Niman's Class Analysis continues to miss the mark: "The Family, like their counterparts in Babylon, leave the dirty work of cleaning up after the multitudes in the hands of a small group." This is sad and true- but the small group he mistakes for our oppressed proletariat is in fact our spiritual elite.

The Community Relations section tells some amazing stories of goodwill gestures both from Rainbows and the people of local communities nearby- and of local people who end up becoming Rainbows. The most powerful was the response to the murders of two young women on their way to the 1980 West Virginia Gathering. In the words of an anonymous Hipstorian: "'When this horrible act against us occurred, the local people came out. They said, "We love you, we are not these people." On the 4th, 8,000 Rainbows and about an equal number of local citizen Rainbows came together.'" (179)


"Since they view the Gatherings as a model for a new society, they want them to be well received by all who come in contact with them." Cleanup, restoration & good community relations are "Rainbow priorities." (170)

"One reason the U.S. Forest Service has failed to legally bar Rainbow Gatherings is the Family's quarter-century-long track record for respecting the land on which they hold Gatherings." (171)

"Despite stated egalitarianism and environmentalism, the Family, like their counterparts in Babylon, leave the dirty work of cleaning up after the multitudes in the hands of a small group." (171)

"Although the Minnesota cleanup crew followed both Forest Service and Rap 701 guidelines, bears returned to the site in force and dug up compost from many major kitchens. According the Tofte District Ranger Larry Dawson, they spread food, cans, and broken glass, a mess that included items that were not supposed to be buried in the first place." (172)

"It's still amazing to me. We searched that area with a fine tooth comb, including the parking lot and we couldn't come up with anything. Not a scrap of paper." (172) [FS District Ranger, Montana 1976, quoted in Great Falls Tribune]

Bruce Platt of Mark Twain Forest, Missouri 85: "It looks better, quite frankly, than it did when they arrived." (173)

"... better than the Boy Scouts" (173) (many more examples)

"Swami Mommy suggests urinating on compost pits as the nitrogen helps break the compost down to rich soil." (175)


"Many people who pitch in and participate at Gatherings are from the local rural communities near where Gatherings occur. Rainbow Family relations with these communities often start out shaky but end well." (175)

"The Rainbow Family is sensitive to the concern that the influx of a large service population can severely strain the county with requests for public assistance. Its policy has always been to spread the word among Family members not to apply for assistance of any sort in the area of the Gathering." (175)

Presty of Presty's Market, Likely Cal: "If I knew for sure where the Rainbows were meeting next year, I'd buy a store there." (176)

"Gatherings expose otherwise isolated populations to diverse lifestyles, offering a crash course in cultural pluralism, anarchy, and a congeries of alternative lifestyles and spiritual beliefs." (177)

"'You want to see some nasty nakedness, you go to your local supermarket and you pick up one of those magazines ... What's going on up on the mountain is a very different kind of nakedness- it's an appreciation for the feel of sunlight, or being able to skinny-dip! And I'll tell you, I don't think there's a single cop or judge or housewife in rural America that hasn't gone skinny-dipping at one time or another!'" [interview with Weinberg, a Rainbow, 1989] (179)

"Water Singing on the Rocks, a CALM volunteer, recalled a town meeting that began in hostility, but ended with Rainbows and locals joining hands in a large circle." [WV 1980] (179) "Like the Texans who comprised the 'Rainbow Navy,' rural neighbors have, at different junctures in history, come out in support of their utopian neighbors." (179)

"Rainbows participate in town meetings, negotiate with local government agencies, and make wholesale purchases from local businesses. It is hard to learn more about a community without actually living in it. The education goes both ways: Rainbows bring alien culture to the American heartland, but they learn something from each area they visit." (180)

"Often it has been through the help and support of local people that the Family has been able to triumph peaceably in the face of government efforts to thwart the Gatherings." (182)

"The 1960s-era 'fuck the pigs' images, like the sixties images of construction workers beating hippies, have fallen by the wayside, replaced by images of middle Americans and Rainbows holding hands and singing. This is the Rainbow revolution that the Family hopes to carry forth into the 21st century." (183)


This is Niman's best chapter. Most of the evidence Niman has assembled in this chapter is from the Forest Service's own internal documents, which he obtained with help from the Freedom of Information Act. It's a virtual warehouse of skeletons, such as: "At the behest of the U.S. Attorney's office, Forest Service agents videotaped people and proceedings at the 1988 Gathering, as they did the previous year in North Carolina, in violation of Forest Service regulation 0.735-11(b)(7), which prohibits covert videotaping." (189)

An interesting anthropological aside notes the typical pattern of conflict between "societies organized into relatively permanent hierarchies" and "those in which egalitarian social relations prevail, like the Rainbow Family." Among other tactics, Niman says, "the hierarchical people recognize (i.e. create) 'leaders' with whom they can deal comfortably, although those leaders have no authority from 'their' people to represent them." (195) This is in fact the enforcement strategy behind the current regulation against gatherings, though a 1978 Forest Service report proves that the Rangers know better. (197) One section takes on the sobering issue of drugs- real and imagined. Another recounts the history behind the Family's longstanding refusal to sign permits to gather. In a section devoted to crunching numbers, Niman makes a good case that "the government's campaign against the Rainbow Family is expensive." And one fascinating section reveals the split within the FS itself where Rainbow is concerned. Even in their official reports, not all law enforcement officers are against us. Gatherings have been termed "rewarding and interesting," "legitimate use," "a holy experience" that might "broaden one's horizons." A 1984 FS report "warned against assigning too many law enforcement officers to the Gathering. 'It is costly and historically has not been needed. Bored officers will initiate unneccessary problems.' This report, published in 1984, had little effect on Forest Service policies, which still encourage, and often pay for, a large police presence at the Gatherings." (200)

"While Forest Service land is relatively abundant and often beautiful, Rainbows gather on public land as a statement, sustaining a bond to the land and exercising their inalienable right to peaceably assemble. They avoid gathering on private land to escape the class distinction between landowners and tenants. Since public lands are ostensibly held in trust, everyone shares equally in their ownership." (184)

"The Family's refusal to appoint leaders seems to Forest Service officials like a ploy to thwart prosecution and intimidation. Forest Service officials sometimes try to identify people, usually men, as 'leaders' or 'organizers,' and then proceed to work with them as if they actually were leaders." (185)

[Contrast between FS response in 1983- $8,000- and 1987- $270,156- p. 185]

"A lawyer representing the Rainbow Family as a defendant class argued that Forest Service interference caused most of the health and cleanup problems at the North Carolina Gathering. The Forest Service, for instance, stopped vehicles carrying fresh water and supply trucks carrying plywood for latrine covers, refusing to let them pass a roadblock and bring their supplies to the Gathering site. Likewise, the Forest Service barred trucks carrying piping and barrels for gravity-fed shower systems. The Forest Service also discouraged doctors from helping at the Gathering ... " [Water's story of the lady doctor with a carload of supplies intimidated and searched until she left] "The Forest Service also refused entry to an ambulance responding to an emergency call as well as garbage trucks hauling trash from the site. The cleanup ended prematurely when the Forest Service arrested the cleanup crew, who were still working at the end of July, collecting the trash bottlenecked on the site." (186) [horror-stories of the 1987 North Carolina Gathering]

"Indeed, the government did not offer any evidence of major health, safety, or environmental problems from other past Rainbow Family gatherings, except for the 1987 gathering in North Carolina." [Judge Justice, Texas 1988] (187)

"From 1976 through 1981, Rainbows tried signing permits, but found that arbitrary permit stipulations made getting a permit so 'difficult and complex' as to impede their right to gather. 'We were faced with impossible permit demands covering lighted parking lots, flush toilets, gigantic insurance premiums, performance bonds, hired policepeople, outside (immense) water storage, enclosed kitchens, state-certified parking attendants, and so on. Each of those five years we ceaselessly negotiated, compromised, worked out arrangements and agreements ... [The] Constitution doesn't give us the right to assemble, it guarantees our right to assemble will be protected by law.'" (187-8)

"They introduced the new regulation, without the usual thirty-day notice and comment period required by federal law, on May 10, 1988, about the time Rainbows started to arrive in Texas. Within hours of publication, the Forest Service initiated proceedings against the Family, based on the new regulations. They argued that the 'emergency' the Gathering threatened justified waiving due process. "The new regulations closely resembled the unconstitutional 1985 ones. Attempting to enforce the new rules in federal court in Texas, government lawyers neglected to mention that another federal court had voided the earlier ones. An angry Judge Justice ruled: "'The amendments to the special use permit regulations did little to correct the constitutional deficiencies of the earlier regulations ... "'Indeed, there is substantial support for the defendant's argument that the government has acted with hostility to the Rainbow Family, in seeking to enforce the special use permit regulations before the 1988 gathering ... "'Forest Service officials could not identify other groups that were similarly required to submit the type of detailed application ..." (188)


"Despite a quarter century of dismal results, the Forest Service, year after year, encourages local police agencies to conduct 'probably cause' vehicle inspections for illegal drugs at Rainbow Gatherings. The Forest Service has even paid local police agencies to engage in such harassment ... After years of searching thousands of vehicles, a constitutionally shaky act, cooperating police agencies failed to turn up an significant quantity of illicit hard drugs. The amount of marijuana and soft drugs confiscated, Rainbows point out, is statistically normal for the number of vehicles searched. Even the Forest Service admits that the incidence of crime at Gatherings is 'remarkably low considering the size of these gatherings.'" (190)

"'Local law enforcement provided intermittent informational check points, at which time general information was provided to those individuals interested in the Gathering. Also at this time, if probably [sic] cause developed, individuals were arrested.'" [FS Report, drug dogs in Nevada 1989] (190)

"In 1990, the government spent about $310,000 on the North American Rainbow Gathering in Minnesota. Almost $180,000 of this money went to agencies other than the Forest Service. The state police, using a drug-sniffing dog borrowed from U.S. Customs, inspected 1,113 vehicles on Highway 61 approaching the Gathering. They made 16 drug-related arrests and issued a host of vehicle-related citations. Rainbows, however, accounted for only 19% of these citations and arrests." (191)

"The density of police cruisers became so high on July 1 that a solitary moose crossing Highway 61 managed to destroy one and heavily damage a second." (191)

"While Rainbows have grown accustomed to such harassment, many locals are outraged. At a 1993 Gathering in Kentucky, local papers reported that police had issued 382 citations and arrested 69 people by July 6, mostly for minor traffic violations. A Somerset, Kentucky, attorney writes: 'I thought it was a terrible waste of taxpayers' money on the Fourth of July weekend to harass a group of people who appear to be engaging in conduct no more seditious than to offer prayers for world peace.' A mayor and assorted residents of Big Piney, Wyoming, the site of the 1994 North American Gathering, complained that police were being 'overzealous' in issuing citations during the Gathering while menacing local motorists. Similarly, Vermont residents complained that their community was turned into a 'police state' during the 1991 North American Rainbow Gathering." (192)

"The lack of any evidence linking the Family with drug trafficking does not seem to exonerate them. The Forest Service seemingly concludes that Rainbows are just too sly to be caught. Police units in cooperation with the Forest Service have planted undercover officers in the Gathering, ostensibly looking for drug dealing ..." (192)

"Despite Forest Service allegations linking the Family to illicit drugs, the U.S, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) seems to see no threat in the Rainbow Family, claiming not even to maintain records on the Rainbow Family." (192)

"'The Rainbow Family is reported to be a group involved in the interstate transportation of white minor males for the purposes of prostitution and also transporting drugs interstate ... Runaways that are recruited by the Rainbow Family must help with the living expenses, therefore they must sell drugs and/or hustle as prostitutes.' The [FBI] memo, while utilizing the passive voice to obfuscate its source, offers no evidence to support these charges." (192)

"You might want to consider planting an agent amongst the Rainbow Family at the Gathering to gather intelligence on their Pentagon demonstration proposal. We will cooperate every way possible and would welcome any additional intelligence your agent would come up with." (192) [WV 1980, FS invitation to Park Service; same at California '84]


"The government's campaign against the Rainbow Family is expensive. At the 1989 North American Gathering, for example, various agencies (excluding the Forest Service) clocked 38,940 miles, driving government vehicles around the perimeter of the Gathering. The Forest Service reimbursed the Elko County, Nevada, Sheriff's Department, for example, fifty cents per mile for vehicle usage, nearly double the regular federal rate. They budgeted for an additional 30,000 miles of driving by Forest Service employees. "Not wanting their employees to be mistaken for Rainbows, the government spent $1821 on new uniforms. Catering for the government team cost $21,000. They spent $603.25 and $2,000 to rent planes and helicopters respectively, presumably to fly over the Gathering, despite Rainbow complaints about the flights and government denials about flying over the sites." (193-4)

"The Forest Service budgeted $15,000 to feed and lodge employees working at the 1990 North American Gathering in Minnesota, putting some agents up in condos." (194)

"Despite ample Forest Service documentation demonstrating the tranquility of the Gatherings, Mike Presti, an Elko County Sheriff's 'Special Reserves' officer, earned $1,286.48 as a 'bodyguard' for state of Nevada health specialist Scott Marteney as he collected water samples and examined latrines at the 1989 North American Gathering." (194)

[Parallels to other conflicts between "societies organized into relatively permanent hierarchies" and "those in which egalitarian social relations prevail, like the Rainbow Family":] "A common result, already described here, is that the hierarchical people recognize (i.e. create) 'leaders' with whom they can deal comfortably, although those leaders have no authority from 'their' people to represent them. Other tactics include treating the egalitarian people as a chronic problem, a sort of social itch.... Egalitarian peoples, despite their relative powerlessness, are difficult to manipulate and control. The analogy with parent-child relations is almost inescapable. Manipulation and control by the dominant hierarchy often takes the form of benevolent paternalism. Thus white South Africans, for example, regard Bantu as 'childlike,' even though they shy away from describing their own children as 'like Bantu.' Similarly, Forest Service bureaucrats rationalize their actions as necessary to protect Rainbows from themselves." (195)


"The Forest Service reacts to news of an impending Rainbow Gathering by declaring it an 'Incident,' and appointing an 'Incident Command Team,' a top-down archetypal hierarchical structure. These teams alternate between the 'heavy-handed approach' at 'managing' Rainbow events, and a more relaxed approach that involves seemingly friendly and cooperative law enforcement. The amicability, however, is often tactical. Recommendations for dealing with the Rainbow Family, released in 1984, point out that 'Rainbows are quick to disdain people who talk and act like bureaucrats.' The report suggests that bureaucrats put on friendlier faces and pick wily people to work with the Rainbows: 'It is important that these individuals are selected on their ability to communicate, negotiate, and manipulate.' [Lee 1984] "The failure of the heavy-handed approach has led the Forest Service to rely more on ostensibly amicable 'manipulation' to control Rainbows. Agents should appeal to Rainbow values. A Forest Service report advises: 'Base arguments from a Rainbow standpoint. They have strong ethics, though different from most. Laws, regulations, government, capitalistic interests are disdained. They respect the earth, nature, Native American[s], and opinions of individuals.' [Lee 1984] This memo suggests that to deal with the Rainbow Family, Forest Service officials must forgo more traditional values, and feign respect for the earth and its inhabitants. Hence, for a short period, the Forest ceases to be a 'resource' to be controlled or 'impacted' and becomes a living ecosystem to be preserved." (196)

"When working with the Family, it is important to keep in mind that their 'organization' is quite democratic in nature, and no chain of command exists and no one person is going to 'give the orders.' Generally, decisions are group decisions and will only be implemented by those who are committed to that decision. However, there are specific individuals who accept more responsibility than others, and once permit administrators can identify them, they are generally the ones that can be counted on to get things done. The interesting thing is that during the course of the Gathering different individuals keep appearing to fit this category, and the ones that were responding one day may move out of the picture for a time and someone else will assume their reponsibilities. ...

"In conclusion, the energy and effort expended during this period were rewarding and interesting in many ways. It is felt that this type of legitimate use provides a different perspective to those involved with its administration, and tends to broaden one's horizons, which may assist in dealing more effectively with the more traditional uses that occur within the National Forest System ... It is essential to try and understand the culture and organization of the Family and to develop mutual trust level early in the relationship. If these two things are accomplished ... more than likely everyone's objectives will be met." [FS report, Martin 1978] (197-8)


"One officer told the New York Times: 'Back in the '60s, people like these used to call you "pig." ... But these people here come up to you and say, "I love you, officer," or "Officer, have you been hugged today?"'" (198)

[Ranger Ron Howard not allowed to join the Circle on the Fourth, Nevada 1989.] "The atmosphere was one of a holy experience." (199)

"At the 1990 NERF Gathering near Ithaca, New York, local off-duty law officers, many accompanied by their families, visited freely." (199)

FS Report by Lee, 1984, "warned against assigning too many law enforcement officers to the Gathering. 'It is costly and historically has not been needed. Bored officers will initiate unneccessary problems.' This report, published in 1984, had little effect on Forest Service policies, which still encourage, and often pay for, a large police presence at the Gatherings." (200)

"The need for new regulations, however, is unclear in light of the federal judiciary ruling stating that 'the government otherwise has available to it a panoply of statutory and regulatory grounds to prevent the alleged harms posed by a gathering." [Judge Justice, Texas 1988] (200)

"The new regulations also broaden federal police powers within National Forests, making it easier for officials to close forests to the public." (200)

"'Facing a common enemy binds people together,' according to Kanter, who observed that, 'a slightly higher percentage of successful than unsuccessful 19th-century groups suffered through these [persecution] experiences.'" [Analysis of psychology of persecution follows] (201)

"The Rainbow Family, enjoying the flexibility of a band society, dissolving and regrouping while maintaining a cohesive identity, has withstood government harassment, both in the United States and abroad. Such attacks, rather than deterring the Rainbows, have served in the long run to unite the Family, which was born in an act of civil disobedience in 1972. The Family's persistence could be related to its oppression. ... The absence of leaders protects the Family from co-optation. In one form or another it will win: attacks against the Family, while hurting individuals, are more of a nuisance than a fatal threat." (201)

"In a society devoted to commonly accepted conservative American ideals, it would be the Forest Service's responsibility not to harass campers, but to coordinate law enforcement activities within their jurisdictions so as not to infringe on the Rainbow Family's constitutional right to Gather. Selective enforcement of vehicle laws and the invocation of drug-related hysteria against the Rainbows flout that responsibility. ...

"The government war against the Rainbow Family involves more than the fear of drugs or abhorrence of supposed environmental degradation. It is a clear and consistent pattern of harassment by a government without a mandate, of a people without a land." (201)


After 200 pages, Niman comes to the same conclusion I did almost the moment I arrived at my first Gathering. But his is backed up by an impressive amount of social science. Much of the final chapter focuses on a detailed analysis of the variables that caused past utopias to succeed or fail, including a detailed comparison with The Farm. With or without a spiritual "vision" or a respectable foundation in Native mythology, he seems to conclude, the Family is here to stay.

"Utopia is the imaginary society in which humankind's deepest yearnings, noblest dreams, and highest aspirations come to fulfillment, where all physical, social and spiritual forces work together, in harmony, to permit the attainment of everything people find necessary and desirable. In the imagined utopia, people work and live together closely and cooperatively, in a social order that is self-created and self-chosen rather than externally imposed, yet one that also operates according to a higher law of natural and spiritual laws." [Rosabeth Moss Kanter, 1972] (202)

"The Rainbow Family is a growing and evolving contemporary movement, not the anachronism that press reports imagine. ... There is no central organization to be subverted or destroyed. It is a movement, not an organization. Its strength lies with individuals who make up the Gatherings.

"The Family attracts a core of young participants who see the Rainbow 'vision' as an alternative to pessimism, apathy, the cynical promises of demagogic politicians, or the sectarian divisiveness of revolutionary politics. ... The Family crosses cultural and geographic boundaries, with Gatherings ranging from Eastern Europe to Latin America. Regional Gatherings in North America are bringing the Rainbow vision within reach of every population center. They encourage bioregionalism, promote a sensitivity to local environmental conditions, and help foster communcation between organizations and individuals involved in myriad progressive causes. The European Gatherings celebrate cultural diversity while mocking international boundaries. Against the backdrop of Eastern European ethnic strife, nationalism, and xenophobia, the Gatherings celebrate human unity and cooperation." (202-3)

"The Rainbow Family is a utopian experiment in the classic sense: perpetually exploring new ways to perfect an imperfect reality. True utopia, the perfect society, however, exists only as an imagined state, a romantic vision. The word utopia comes from Greek. The literal meaning is 'no place.' In reality, utopia 'is not a perfect place, but the aspiration to create one; it is oriented to the future rather than to the past or the present, and its virtue is not in what it has achieved but in what it is willing to attempt.' (Egerton 1977/87) True utopia, given the limited current level of human evolution, will remain elusive. Rainbows, however, won't give up on that dream, seeing themselves as a catalyst for evolutionary change.

"The Rainbow Family, like their utopian predecessors, shares a vision to create a working model for a better, more equitable society. Through such a model they hope to demonstrate the viability of cooperative principles and create an environment where people from all walks of life can 'drop out' of mainstream society, if only for a day or a week, and experience a new way of living. Like their counterparts in the 1800s, who, 'instead of trying to change society from within, by parliamentary reform or by violent revolution, ... tried to set up models of ideal commonwealths, thus providing examples which they hoped the world would follow' (Holloway 1951), Rainbows seek to create a working model for reform. ...

"Utopians and communards throughout history saw themselves as 'social architects,' seeking to redesign society. 'All believed that social change could best be stimulated through the organization of a single ideal community, a model which could be duplicated throughout the country.' (Holloway)" (203)

"Even skeptics admit the success of the Rainbow model. Time magazine, for example, writes: 'For a tribe of peace-and-love anarchists with no structure and no leaders (their council is anyone who shows up at Main Circle), the Rainbows' disorganization is surprisingly effective.' State government officials in California looked toward the Rainbow infrastructure as a model for the possible resettlement of San Francisco residents to the countryside in the event of an emergency." (204)

"Rainbows teach children that they are important, and they know that adults will listen to them. There is a healthy dialogue between generations. Unlike American communities where municipal and school authorities subject children to curfews and random searches, Rainbows do not fear their children." (204)

"Gatherings demonstrate the effectiveness of nonviolent crisis intervention. Rainbow Gatherings are overwhelmingly peaceful, with remarkably few problems for such large events ... Many Rainbows view both the courts and the penal systems as 'violent' in the sense that they depend on punishment. Rainbows are searching for alternatives to turning troubled people over to the state. Their aim is to heal them, ending their violence and helping them grow." (204)

"The Rainbow Family is unique among utopian societies. As a band society it practices 'fission-fusion,' dissolving into the dominant society and regrouping again as a community in a different locale. The freedom that the Family experiences at Gatherings is temporary, yet comprehensive. Within their Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) or 'refuge,' Rainbows enjoy a level of freedom unobtainable in a stationary community which must interface over a long period of time with mortgage holders, neighbors and local governments. In many ways, it is more like a "12-step group" than a utopian movement." (204)

"The Rainbow Family shares few traits with what historians and sociologists traditionally identify as successful utopian communities. It has no permanent settlement or land base; no assets; no formal organization, charismatic prophet, hierarchy, or identifiable leadership; it is nonsectarian and maintains no selective criteria to determine membership; requires no material investment or personal sacrifice from recruits; has no work routines or requirements; does not encourage, discourage, or attempt to coordinate sexual relations; does not require any ideological conversion nor attempt to control child rearing. By all indications, looking at historical precedents, the Family should have collapsed shortly after its inception in the early 1970s. "Whereas utopians have striven for order and are characterized by 'conscious planning and coordination, whereby the welfare of every member is insured,' Rainbows thrive in their own cohesive brand of chaos." (204-5)

"Traditionally, the larger the community, the more centralized the decision making. Even the largest Rainbow Gatherings, with thirty thousand members, however, remain decentralized and nonhierarchical. Such non-organization is usually associated with failed utopian experiments. 'The most enduring communes were also the most centralized and the most tightly controlled' (Kanter 1972). Yet it is the Rainbow Family's lack of centralized control that has allowed it to both endure and flourish. ... Other communities, or even nations, become so bogged down in perpetual power struggles for control of a centralized hierarchy. ... Internal power struggles contributed to the demise, for example, of many well-known 19th-century utopian communities such as Nashoba, Bishop Hill, Skaneateles, and New Harmony. ... The Rainbow Family's consensus Council, by comparison, does not estrange dissenters. Since everyone is supposedly included in all decisions, revolution becomes obsolete. With no one in power, no one is out of power." (205)

"Successful utopian communities have often asked that perspective members make some sort of sacrifice in order to become a member. ... Rainbows by comparison make few demands on new recruits. Contributions are voluntary. Wealthy Rainbows are free to hoard their wealth." (206)

"... the Family consists of vegetarians and hunters; pacifists and National Rifle Association members; anarchists, socialists, and Republicans; Christians, pagans, and atheists; cops and robbers, all celebrating life together. While they share values such as a broad commitment to nonviolence and nonhierarchical governance at Gatherings, they sometimes choose not to, or cannot, practice these values as individuals away from Gatherings." (206)

"Traditionally, successful utopian communities remained small, not being able to absorb large numbers of recruits. ... The Family, by comparison, has had many successes assimilating large groups of newcomers into their Gatherings. ... This is because the Rainbow doctrine is relatively simple and easy to accept. Volunteers at the front gate, for instance, educate newcomers with a basic Rap 107 explaining the noncommercial, nonviolent alcohol-free (except 'A' Camp) Gathering environment. Within a short time, newcomers become familiar enough with basic Rainbow values that they can educate later arrivals." (206)

"During the utopian heyday of the 19th century, the vast majority of successful communities were sectarian, only accepting members with a common religious or ethnic heritage. ... While Rainbows share a broad-based worldview of a peaceful environmentally sustainable society, they are firmly nonsectarian and pride themselves on their attempts to attract a diversified multicultural membership. Rather than hindering the Family's success, such diversity has been key both to the Family's growth and to the warm reception they have received in many parts of the country. The latter is because, wherever the Family goes, locals will share affinity with some Rainbow sub-group. Hence, Christian Texans, for instance, disturbed by rumors that the Rainbow Family members were all pagans or atheists, were relieved to find some Baptists among the Family." (206-7)

"The presence of violent drunks has been associated with the downfall of utopian projects like Earth People's Park in Norton, Vt., which died in the late 1980s. The Rainbow Family, however, has thrived despite 'A' Camp, integrating some former 'A' Campers into the main Gathering, where they are now productive Family members." (207)

"Utopian communities have also collapsed because they were either too successful economically or, antithetically, because they were too poor. ... The Rainbow Family, by comparison, has no assets. The Family's lack of a centralized organization ensures that it will never have any assets. Hence, the Family is not likely to become engaged in a fight over assets. ... The Family is not responsible for providing year-round shelter and care for its members, and its inability to do so isn't construed as a failure." (207)

"Plans, at one time, called for constructing a massive truck-based carbon filtration system and purchasing miles of plastic piping. Had these failed plans been successful, they would have threatened Family cohesiveness as Council debated where the system should be stored, to which regional Gatherings it should go, and so on." (208)


"While there is little interaction between the Farm and the Rainbow Family, Farm founder Stephen Gaskin sees the two groups as 'cousins,' evolving from the same general movement." (209)

"The Farm, like the Rainbow Family, grew out of an idea incubated in the 1960s, was established in the early 1970s, and is surviving today in the 1990s. However, economic necessity forced the Farm, unlike the Family, to undergo major changes and abandon its central tenet of collectivity. The Family, by comparison, has changed remarkably little over the years. Far from being trapped in a time warp, the Family has evolved culturally, assimilating new forms of culture, music, dress, and food. Yet, ideologically, the Family has remained committed to its original goals of maintaining a nonhierarchical, noncommercial, egalitarian, nonviolent demonstration society." (210)

"Although Rainbow Gatherings draw up to twenty times the peak population of the Farm, the Family has not been able to provide the global human services that the Farm has. An elderly Rainbow sister, for example, spoke her Heartsong during a Council: as she grew older and more frail, she was counting on the Family to provide for her in her old age. Everyone present muttered 'Ho!' in agreement, but they laid no plans, and save for possible individual actions, no mechanism exists within the Family to care for this sister or anyone else over the long term. Farm founder Stephen Gaskin, by comparison, has begin the Rocinante community. Geographically adjacent to the Farm, it is a retirement community, a healing center, and a birthing center, able to meet the needs described by the Rainbow Sister, providing a space to grow old with ease and dignity. "Where Rainbows have fed, housed and provided medical care to the homeless for a week here or there, the Farm has made its presence known around the world, training medical personnel, establishing ambulance services, building schools and houses, starting soy dairies, and so forth. But to finance such projects, however, the Farm entered into 'high-stakes commerce with the outside world,' increasing their 'vulnerability to macroeconomic trends.' Such industrial endeavors led the Farm to develop a large hierarchical bureaucracy, replete with incompetence and mismanagement, eventually leading to bankruptcy. Free from manic business cycles, Rainbows have continued to provide basic services sporadically to needy populations, slowly expanding such services as the Family grows." (210)

"The difference between the Farm and the Rainbow Family comes down to commitment. The pre-1983 Farm required new recruits to turn over all of their assets to the collective coffers. The current Farm requires the few new members they accept to ante up $3000 and buy equity in a house. The Rainbow Family requries nothing from new members other than an open mind. ... Put bluntly, the Rainbow Family represents a sort of bargain basement route to tribal affiliation or communal identity, with all the trimmings and none of the obligations." (211) "Currently there is always a Rainbow Gathering somewhere. Unhindered by restrictive admissions standards or requirements for investment or commitment, hundreds of thousands of people have, at one time or another, lived in the Rainbow Family's utopia. After experiencing the Rainbow world, many people go on to commit themselves to projects such as those run by the Farm, Greenpeace, or Sea Shepherd, to name a few. Others find Buddhism, Christianity, or reconstructed Native American spirituality. Others, experiencing less radical changes in their lives, might return home after a Gathering to plant a garden, clean up a vacant lot, organize a block club, or introduce themselves to their neighbors. The Family provides a portal through which people can pass into a new life, a life first tasted at a Gathering.

"The struggle to save the planet depends on the success of the Farm and Rainbow Family models in tandem. While the Farm has accumulated the resources to experiment with sustainable development techonologies, the Rainbow Family, unhindered by material assets, has the freedom to conduct radical experiments with social organization, decision making, and the healing of violent or addicted personalities." (212)

"Despite their accomplishments, it is debatable whether or not the Farm is a long-lived utopia; because of the radical changes during their history, their current organization bears little resemblance to the pre-1983 entity. Using not just chronological survival, but consistency, as a criterion for longevity, leaves no doubt, however, that the Rainbow Family is a successful utopia, having resisted ideological change for over a generation.

"Basic survival strategies, especially for groups facing persistent persecution, involve adaptation and change, as Anthony Wallace pointed out four decades ago. The Rainbows, while remaining steadfast in their ideals, are moving closer to mainstream society, not because they are adapting to Babylon, but because Babylon is adapting, ever so slowly, to Rainbow values." (212)

"Aside from embracing and promoting communalism, the Family also supports individual rights and liberty even when individual rights are at odds with collective responsibility. Where other utopias have sacrificed individual concerns to the collective good, the Rainbow Family seeks to balance individual and collective needs." (213)

"Allowing individuals to block consensus assures, when the system is working, that no individual's rights will be trampled by a majority. Rainbows expect individuals, on the other hand, as a prerequisite for participating, to have reciprocal respect for the group, and not abuse their power to block consensus. The evolving 'consensus minus one' policy, however, limits individual power in the interest of maintaining greater group cohesion in the face of a persistent consensus blocker." (213)

"The only requirement spiritually, or politically, is respect for diversity and a willingness to listen to alternative views. Conversations at Gatherings are enlightening, as members strive for, and find, common ground." (213)

"While one can argue that such a system, where the rich need not share their wealth, is not socialistic or communistic, it is undeniable that the temporary Gathering economy succeeds because the wealthy underwrite the poor. The difference between the Rainbow economy and a hierarchical socialist economy is that Rainbow socialism or communism is voluntary. Hence, there is room for noncommunists and noncommunalists in this communal society. ... The fact that Rainbow communism is pervasive while being completely voluntary demonstrates the Family's commitment both to communalism and to individual liberty." (213)

"The Family, while maintaining consistency for a quarter of a century, has endless opportunities for new beginnings, as it gives birth to itself. Hence, the Rainbow Family cannot fail. At worst, they can only have a bad Gathering." (214)

"The fact that Gatherings are easy to start, and as the Forest Service will attest, difficult to stop, ensures the continuing survival of the Family, even in the face of adversity." (214)

"The Rainbows, on the road following the sun, live in a true utopia, an endless summer. With the exception of a hardy handful of Michigan Rainbows who gather each winter, Rainbow Gatherings are held in the most hospitable seasons; northern Gatherings are in the warm summer months while southern Gatherings are in the cool winters. Hence, a minimal infrastructure is required to gather. The only obstacles are human." (214)

"The Rainbow example threatens governments. It shows that people can live without rulers, without yielding their voices to representatives. It demonstrates that people can be responsible for themselves and maintain peace without coercion or force, without police. It is a model of a true participatory democracy, 'Government by the People.' ... The Rainbow Family is the antithesis of a police state. It challenges all entities that govern by fear instead of cooperation. For them, the Rainbow Family provides the 'threat of a good example,' one others might follow." (214)

"In 1987, a member of the Ruskin community, explaining how their utopia was not a 'paradise,' wrote, 'We are but human, with 5,000 years of inherited prejudices.' A century later the same holds true for the Rainbow Family as they also struggle to perfect society. It will remain a struggle, for utopia is never realized. It will, also, as it grows more successful, become more threatening, and hence, generate more resistance." (215)

"For 25 years the Gatherings have demonstrated that a predominantly nonviolent and nonhierarchical society can successfully operate on a large scale. They have demonstrated not only the strengths of such a society but also its weaknesses. ... Their goal is unwavering. Eventually, they hope, everyone everywhere will always be at a Rainbow Gathering." (final paragraph, 215)

APPENDIX A: Committees Formed at 1990 Thanksgiving Council
APPENDIX B: Rainbow Self-Descriptions (from the Rainbow Guide, year not identified)
APPENDIX C: 1972 Rainbow Demands
APPENDIX F: Sample Howdy Folks! (Pennsylvania 86)
APPENDIX G: Chronological Listing of Annual North American Gatherings (through Missouri 96)