Netflix’s latest docuseries, “Wild Wild Country,” depicts the scandals surrounding a “crazy sex cult” that in 1984 committed the largest bioterror attack in US history.
The series traces the controversial history of the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the spiritual movement he founded in Mumbai in 1970.
In 1981, Rajneesh fled political resistance in India and led his thousands of followers (“Rajneeshees”) to construct a utopian city in the desert of Wasco County, Oregon.
When the new, expansive commune came into conflict with local ranchers and the Oregon government, many shades of trouble ensued.
The following is a brief history of the Rajneeshee movement and its controversies, as depicted in Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” through six hour-long episodes of archival footage and interviews:
In 1970, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, founded a spiritual movement and commune in Mumbai, India. His teachings — which featured “an odd mix of capitalism, meditation, ethnic and dirty jokes, and open sexuality” — earned him an international following and reputation as a “sex guru.”
In the early 1980s, Rajneesh faced increasing pressure from Indian authorities over his group’s sexual rituals and controversial practices. In 1981, he fled the country and gathered around two thousand of his followers to establish a utopian city on a 64,000-acre plot of land in Wasco County, Oregon.
Source: Oregon Live
The utopian commune, called Rajneeshpuram, immediately came into conflict with the small enclave of ranchers residing in the nearby town of Antelope.
“They’re invading,” an Oregonian says in footage from the series. “Maybe not with bullets, but with money and, um, immoral sex.”
Sexual politics aside, Rajneesh became notorious for owning the world’s largest fleet of Rolls-Royce cars. The New York Times listed his collection at “85 almost-new Rolls-Royces” in 1986.
As Rajneesh’s red-robed followers, called “Rajneeshees” or “sannyasins,” started to build their utopian commune, locals from Antelope began to raise legal barriers to confront the group’s expansion.
Source: The Daily Beast
In the face of legal challenges, Rajneesh’s right-hand woman, Ma Anand Sheela, led an attempt in 1984 to take over the county’s municipal legislature by busing in thousands of homeless people to vote Rajneeshee members into state government positions.
Sheela also orchestrated the largest bioterrorism attack in US history when the group contaminated 10 local salad bars with salmonella in an attempt to depress voter turnout among Oregonians.
751 Oregonians fell ill, and 45 were hospitalized with food poisoning in 1984, according to Slate.
In 1985, US authorities invaded the commune and found that it housed the largest illegal wire-tapping operation ever discovered. They also discovered that Sheela had planned an assassination of Charles Turner, a US attorney in Oregon.
In 1986, Sheela pleaded guilty to charges of “attempted murder, electronic eavesdropping, immigration fraud and engineering a salmonella outbreak,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
Sheela was sentenced to 20 years in US federal prison but received parole after 39 months. New interviews with Sheela and her accomplices make up the narrative backbone of “Wild Wild Country.”
The commune dissolved after Rajneesh was deported from the US in 1985 for pleading guilty to violations of immigration law. He moved back to India and died in 1990 at the age of 58.
Source: The New York Times