How a 'sex guru' and his cult held a small Oregon town hostage: The true story behind Netflix's Wild Wild Country
Netflix's Wild Wild Country is set for release this week and revolves around Osho and the Rajneesh movement. But what actually was the Rajneesh movement and what became of it?
Netflix's six-part documentary series 'Wild Wild Country' turns the clock back to 1980s Oregon and draws our attention to one of the most infamous periods in the state's, as well as, the country's history.
Revolving around the lives of a cult-ish leader in Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, more popularly known as Osho, and his diehard followers, the Rajneeshee, the show follows the rise and fall of the Rajneesh movement.
The trailer of the show is pieced together from archival footage of the town of Antelope, a tiny town in Oregon's Wasco County and the accounts of those who were at the forefront of the frenzied movement in the early 80s and is perfectly complemented by the ominous music that accompanies it.
It depicts how a once-peaceful community would soon be at furious loggerheads with the local community and the government, taking up arms and radical measures to protect themselves from what they felt was an attack on their freedom.
Somehow at the center of this titanic tussle, is the small peaceful town of Antelope. Boasting a population of a meager 40 residents, this sleepy town inadvertently finds itself next door to Rajneeshpuram, a sprawling 60,000-odd acre ranch that Osho and his neo-sanyassin followers acquire to achieve their desired utopia.
But in doing so, they break umpteen Oregon land laws that set them on a collision course that will culminate in assassination plots to murder a federal prosecutor and a U.S state attorney and the largest bioterrorist attack in U.S history.
"Everybody felt as if they were at the beginning of the great experiment. Like they were the chosen ones."
That statement encapsulates what it was like to be one of the members of the Rajneesh movement and to understand more about it, we have to delve into the life of the man who was at its forefront: Osho.
Born in India, during his lifetime, Osho was often regarded as a controversial mystic, guru, and spiritual leader who was viewed with distrust by the government because of his open disdain for Mahatma Gandhi - the man who helped India gain its freedom through his non-violence movement - socialism, and Hindu religious orthodoxy.
He heavily advocated for an open attitude towards human sexuality, teaching that sex was the first step towards attaining "superconsciousness" and earning himself the nickname of "sex guru."
Initially a teacher of philosophy, Osho gave up his university job to focus on his teachings and initiating neo-sanyassins. His discourses, which gave an original insight into the writings of religious traditions, mystics, and philosophers around the world, garnered both a local and an international following.
But his unorthodox teachings would clash with the traditional principles of the ruling party and after an assassination attempt by a Hindu fundamentalist, he refocused his activities to the United States in its entirety.
The 2,000 Rajneeshee immediately rubbed the local residents off in the wrong way. Garbed in their orange, red, maroon, or pink clothes and wearing wooden necklaces or malas, Osho's followers came to be known as the "Orange People" and stood out like a sore thumb amongst Antelope's rural, elderly conservative Christian retirees.
These residents came to believe that the Rajneeshee were "run by a Satanic power" and wanted the "guru and his evil influence" out of their city.
It was whispered quietly, but talk of vigilantes wanting to take action against the Rajneeshee soon spread, counteracted by the Rajneeshee themselves taking up arms to protect what they felt was a threat to their peaceful existence. The 1983 bombing of the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland finally pushed the followers over the edge. They banded together to form a "volunteer Rajneesh Security Force," which could then often be seen walking around the commune wielding Uzis and driving Jeeps with .30-calibre machine guns mounted at the back.
Osho never personally intervened or took a stance in the clashes between the townspeople and his followers, which soon became increasingly commonplace.
Instead, he left the dirty work to his second-in-command and "secretary" Ma Anand Sheela, a native of India who had been born into a privileged family as Sheela Patel.
Unassuming and soft-spoken but at the same time, quick-witted and power-hungry, it was she who served as Osho's mouthpiece and who attempted to orchestrate and elevate the development of Rajneeshpuram to suit the vision of her leader.
Unsurprisingly, the group's ambitious expansion project was heavily resisted by the locals, who put up legal barriers at every possible interval to stem the rapid development taking place. In response, Sheela fought by moving Sanyassins back to Antelope so they could take control of its municipal government through elections.
She then set out to make an example out of the residents, importing busloads of homeless people from around the country into Rajneeshpuram in an effort to swell their numbers enough to take control of the entire Wasco County legislature.
But that plan failed and it was that point that the public perception of the Rajneeshee shifted and they realized that this group of so-called peace-loving hippies was willing to go to frightening lengths to get their way.
Aiming to incapacitate the voting population of the city of The Dalles so that their own candidates would win the 1984 Wasco County elections, a leading group of followers of Osho deliberately contaminated ten salad bars at ten local restaurants with Salmonella. The resulting fallout left 751 poisoned and was the first and single largest bioterrorist attack in United States history.
Initially, the incident was blamed on bad hygiene, although an initial investigation by the Oregon Public Health Division and the Centers for Disease Control did not rule out deliberate contamination. The agents and fact of contamination were only discovered a year later, upon Osho's eviction from the United States for violating immigration laws.
According to Slate, the government found a "fully fledged bioterrorism lab containing salmonella cultures and literature on the manufacture and usage of explosives and military biowarfare."
They also found that the Rajneeshee were running the "largest illegal wire-tapping operations ever found" and had plotted to assassinate Charles Turner, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon.
Despite the prosecutor seeking 20 years in prison for Sheela on charges of attempted murder, assault, arson, electronic eavesdropping, immigration fraud, and conspiracy, she pled guilty and only got two years. This combined with Osho's deportation from the US as part of his Alford plea deal meant that the commune no longer had its two leaders, leading to its demise. It was destroyed in September 1985.
The movement took its natural course in the US, its once thundering, ceaseless wheels of motion slowly coming to a halt. Physically, there remains no visible sign that Antelope was once ground zero for one of the most bizarre episodes in the country's history, but mentally, the movement's imprint still persists.
Watch the trailer for Wild Wild Country:
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