William Baxter, Joseph MacCrimmon on trial in U.S. District Court in Erie on charges of assembling without a permit
By BRIAN KINAL Staff writer
Defendant William Baxter, left, walks to court with his friend
and legal adviser, Scott Addison.
District Ranger John R. Schultz of the National Forest Service spent at least four and a half hours on the witness stand under direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Trucilla and cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Public Defenders Khadija Diggs, Stephen Misko. Diggs is Baxter's attorney and Misko represents MacCrimmon.
By mid-afternoon, Judge Baxter told attorneys to "tighten up'' their questioning, saying, "My mission is to get Mr. Schultz off the stand which Schultz replied, "That's a noble mission, your honor."
Schultz testified that on Aug. 22, 1996 he was hosting a Bureau of Forestry tour of the park when he noticed "signature items" of a Rainbow Family gathering. Those items included tie-dyed T-shirts, teepees, and cardboard signs with arrows pointing to the gathering place, he said.
Schultz said he was familiar with the telltale signs from his experience as district ranger at Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois where a Rainbow Family gathering was held in 1993 or 1994.
Under questioning from Trucilla, Schultz related how he walked into the Allegheny National Forest encampment and asked who was in charge He said some people pointed in the direction of an old pick-up truck, and when he approached the truck MacCrimmon came forward and asked if he could be of any help.
Schultz said that when he told MacCrimmon he was looking for 'the group's leader, MacCrimmon said he should talk to Baxter, who soon walked up from an area below the encampment.
Over the next several days, Schultz said, he negotiated with Baxter and MacCrimmon, and tried to get them to sign a permit application. They ultimately refused and were cited.
The two defense attorneys came at Schultz from numerous angles to try to demonstrate that Baxter and McCrimmon were not leaders of the Rainbow Family, which the attorneys said does not have leaders.
"Not only did they not set themselves forth as leaders, but consistently denied a leadership status," Diggs said, citing Schultz's own testimony that the two told him repeatedly they represented only themselves.
Testimony revealed that the regulation requiring. a permit for groups of 75 or more people has been in effect only since September 1995. Before that, no permit was needed for a group wishing to assemble in a national forest.
Under cross-examination by Diggs, Schultz also conceded that the Rainbow Family, which was said to number about 1,000 at that gathering, followed acceptable practices for toilets, kitchens, use of streams, and post-event cleanup.
Misko told Schultz the ranger had no reason to believe the defendants were leaders, other than they were the first people he met who were willing to talk to him in a cooperative spirit. He said the two never sought out authorities, but that authorities continually sought them out, including waking MacCrimmon from an afternoon nap, as Schultz had testified earlier.
Schultz had also testified that the defendants told him many times the Rainbow Family has no official structure. "They're just a collection of people with similar beliefs and they like to sit around and talk about them, right?" he asked Schultz.
Scott Addison, a friend of William Baxter's, is serving as an ex-officio member of the defense team. Addison said he's been attending Rainbow Family gatherings since the first one in 1972 in Colorado. Although not a lawyer but a city planner by profession, he said he's gained considerable legal expertise following the legal travails of the Rainbow Family.
Addison said the trial has drawn national attention, although Judge Baxter's verdict will not set precedent unless it goes to appeal.
Addison said the permit requirement not only violates the Constitutional right to free assemby, but interferes with "the ancient tradition of gathering on the land"
During a break, defendant Baxter said Rainbow Family gatherings are held in the summer, and people find out about them through word of mouth and other informal means. One was held previously in Allegheny National Forest in 1982.
He said in recent years, they've been held in Scotland, Poland, and other European countries, and one is planned for Russia.
Although a recent Rainbow Family newsletter urged people to show up and support Baxter and MacCrimmon, only a half dozen supporters materialized