Cheyenne, Wyoming - The U.S. Forest Service should consider banning the Rainbow Family from Forest Service land after a confrontation last week led to the arrest of at least eight people, a top agency official said Monday.
John Twiss, director of Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations in Washington, D.C., said he was among the officers who responded when Rainbow Family members threw sticks and rocks at federal officers.
The confrontation started when officers tried to arrest a member of the Rainbow group for an alleged drug offense.
Twiss characterized the Rainbow participants as "non-compromising," "arrogant" and "anti-authority." He said this year's episode and other disturbances at recent gatherings should prompt a review of whether Rainbow Family events are allowed.
"I think we have to have that discussion within the agency," Twiss said. "We spend an awful lot of time and effort on these people. And frankly, the taxpayers deserve better."
About 7,000 people turned out for this year's Rainbow event, a weeklong gathering of eccentrics, young people and hippie types, held on the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Big Sandy.
The confrontation Thursday night escalated as about 400 Rainbow participants tried to intervene in the arrest, the Forest Service said.
About 70 people were yelling profanities and throwing rocks and sticks at officers from about 25 feet when Twiss arrived. He said no officer was hit.
Officers then fired "pepper balls" - similar to paintballs but containing a pepper substance - to control the crowd, he said.
Jeff Kline, a Rainbow participant from Santa Fe, N.M., said Forest Service statements that a mob of 400 people confronted federal officers were "an absolute lie, and a fabrication."
Kline said he saw officers arrest a man near the children's area of the camp and that officers shot pepper balls at crowds of people who responded to the commotion because they were worried about their children.
"The Forest Service law enforcement crew, I could see them running and pushing people aside," said Kline, a 30-year veteran of Rainbow gatherings. "And more people kept coming, because all the little kids were there."
Five people were arrested during the disturbance and another three people have been arrested in subsequent days for related offenses, said Rita Vollmer, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service management team.
The identities and specific charges were not released by the Forest Service. Vollmer said the charges included interfering with an officer and drug-related offenses.
The suspects were scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate Monday afternoon at a temporary court set up in Lander, said John Powell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne. Powell said information on the suspects and the results of their arraignments were not immediately available.
The Rainbow Family, which has no spokesmen, leaders or officials, has relied on the First Amendment for decades as it has held its annual gatherings on public land. That provision guarantees the right of the people "peaceably to assemble."
Linda Burt, state director for the ACLU, said it's clear that the group has a right to assemble. She said her organization is investigating the actions of the federal law enforcers.