Camp Zoe Seizure: Could Other Music Festivals Face Trouble, Too?

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click to enlarge Is this SWAT team coming to a music festival near you? - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Is this SWAT team coming to a music festival near you?
Carrie Goebel went to sleep this Halloween in her own version of paradise. She woke up to a nightmare.

The 46-year-old artist from Warrenton, Missouri, spent the last weekend in October camping out at Camp Zoe's Spookstock music festival. "It was a good time, the weather was great, there were lots of good costumes," she recalls. "Little kids were trick-or-treating from campsite to campsite. It was a good time. It was a great weekend."

But on the morning of Monday, November 1, Goebel and several hundred other Spookstock holdovers awoke to find a small army of law enforcement officers storming the campground.

"I was making coffee and I look over and there was a pickup truck full of police officers and in the back was men in camouflage," Goebel says. "They were going from tent to tent telling people to get out. There was a hazmat team and police cars from Salem and Rolla. I wasn't there when the dogs came, but they wrote down my driver's license info in a notebook and then filmed me leaving. I didn't know what to do. I felt like I was being terrorized."

Only later did Goebel learn that the raid was the culmination of a four-year-long investigation by the DEA and the Missouri State Highway Patrol into alleged drug use and sales by Camp Zoe concertgoers. No one -- including Camp Zoe owner Jimmy Tebeau -- has been charged with a crime, but the eastern Missouri U.S. Attorney's Office is attempting to confiscate the 352-acre property using a controversial process called asset forfeiture.

It's not just alarming to festival attendees like Goebel. The situation has other music festival organizers worried that they, too, might be held accountable for any illegal activity that happens to take place at their event.
"It has gotten our attention," says Brian Cohen, the organizer of St. Louis' LouFest. "All festivals take on some degree of liability. That's why we hire security, medical personnel, etc. But the potential penalties in this case seem to put it in a different category. LouFest and Schwagstock are two very different animals, so it's hard to know what impact this could have on us. But we're definitely watching it."

Dave Roland, an attorney with the for the non-profit advocacy group Freedom Center of Missouri, calls the Camp Zoe seizure "a shot across the bow" for individuals who host music festivals or popular events on private land.

"My home state is Tennessee," Roland says. "What about Bonnaroo? The folks who own that property need to be very aware and very concerned. With any large gathering of young people, there's probably going to be some illegal activity, and if that's taking place, it appears that property could be subject to forfeiture."

Of course, the Camp Zoe case is not the first time federal authorities have attempted to crack down on hippie-friendly festivities. Last year, for instance, agents from the U.S. Forest Service arrested dozens of attendees at a Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico.

Garrick Beck, a Rainbow Gathering collaborator in New Mexico, says he's not worried about facing asset forfeiture, because the group always congregates in federally-owned National Forests. However, Beck does believe that the threat of forfeiture will be an effective scare tactic in the years to come.

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