Rainbow Valley founder and marijuana activist Gideon Israel dies

Gideon Israel (right) pictured at Rainbow Valley with friend Christa Simon in 1994.
Gideon Israel (right) pictured at Rainbow Valley with friend Christa Simon in 1994. Olympian file photo

Gideon Israel, an old-school hippie, marijuana activist and former owner of Rainbow Valley, died Sept. 8 in Olympia. He was 68 years old.

Israel, born Jeff McMonagle, grew up in Lacey and attended North Thurston High School. But he became a polarizing figure in Thurston County for decades. He clashed with local officials over festivals hosted at Rainbow Valley in south Thurston County, and was convicted in 1998 of three marijuana-related charges, and sentenced to nine months in custody.

His friends, including local musician Michael Olson, remember him as being “a kind old hippie.”

“He was always so engaged,” Olson said. “Always. As intense as things would get, he was a calming presence.”

In 1986, Israel purchase his Rainbow Valley property. In a 1996 letter to a local judge, Israel wrote the following about the property:

“Rainbow Valley is a year-round staging area and headquarters for Peace Movement Northwest, whose purpose is to end the marijuana/hemp war. ... I consider the marijuana laws to be generally applicable laws that have a chilling effect on our right to practice our style of Peace Gatherings.”

Olson described Rainbow Valley as a place where like-minded people could gather and express their ideas.

“Sometimes you have to experience something to understand how wonderful it was,” Olson said. “But it was a place where the counterculture could go and just be who they were.”

Olson played with the band Obrador at Rainbow Valley a few times. He said that Israel never had much money to pay musicians, but local bands were always willing to play events there because they loved Israel and the venue.

But Israel began facing off with Thurston County officials in 1990. Thurston County Superior Court documents show he was arrested in 1997 following a lengthy investigation by the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force.

A 1997 court document alleged that undercover officers purchased marijuana and LSD at a Fourth of July festival. A majority of the purchases were made from festival vendors, and some were reportedly made from juveniles.

The document also alleges that officers saw minors using drugs.

Israel pleaded guilty in 1998 to three felony drug charges: unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and conspiracy to commit a violation of the uniformed controlled substance act.

He was sentenced to nine months in custody, and agreed not to hold festivals or gatherings in Thurston County. Rainbow Valley was seized and converted into Shotwell’s Landing Nursery, which grows native plants.

The experience didn’t stop Israel from being an advocate for marijuana legalization. He appeared at Olympia’s Hemp Fest, and won the High Times Freedom Fighter of the Year award in 1999.

During his legal battle over Rainbow Valley, Israel was already in poor health. Court records noted in 1998 that he suffered from Type II diabetes and severe cardiac disease. He was hospitalized a few months after beginning his sentence.

Olson said he knew Israel for decades, but the two weren’t consistently in contact. They met in the 1960s, when Israel was still known as McMonagle. He legally changed his name after joining the Love Family. The movement’s founder, Love Israel, died in 2016.

Gideon Israel and Olson reconnected last year while Israel was staying at Providence Mother Joseph Care Center. Olson said his old friend had the same presence that defined him decades earlier.

“He was always a light in our community, and his death won’t change that,” Olson said.

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly