14 lessons from Oregon Rajneesh scandal Netflix film

By M. Martin,
Oregon writer

One of America’s biggest religious scandals, The Rajneesh movement, played out in Oregon in real life in the 1980s and is now featured in a six part Netflix series called Wild, Wild Country. Here are some things I learned from the series on the Rajneesh cult that came to Oregon:

1. Terrorism on a scale unseen in America: The Rajneesh poisoned 700 people at various restaurants and by mailing laced chocolates to government workers. They burned down government buildings and had plans to destroy the County Courthouse with either bombs or with airplanes.

2. Government over-reach: Wild, Wild Country spends a lot of time with Rajneesh defenders who make a passionate case that their civil and religious liberties were violated. For instance, was it right for the Government to declare that the Bhagwan (their leader) was not a legitimate religious teacher because he had undertaken a vow of silence?  Was it right for the City of Antelope to dissolve themselves because they feared loosing the majority on City Council to the Rajneesh? Was it right for Wasco County to deny new voter registrations to legitimate voters because the Rajneesh brought in new homeless people into the County who were living in their commune?

3. Unparalleled privacy invasion: The Rajneesh community had secretly wiretapped both their leader, the Bhagwan, and thousands of private rooms in the commune.

4. Confessions of an assassin: The film showcases the confession of a Rajneesh member, Catherine Jane Stork, assigned to gun down the U.S. Attorney who was prosecuting the Rajneesh. Her story of her waiting outside the courthouse with a rifle shows how seriously close the U.S. Attorney could have been murdered.

5. Beaver poison plot: One of the government prosecutors retold an unconfirmed testimony during his investigation where Rajneesh people tried to place beavers in the drinking reservoirs.   The aim was to poison the residents as it was believed that beavers carry high-risk levels of bacteria. When the beavers could not fit through the filters, they were then killed and blended into puree and dumped into the reservoirs.

6. Sheela still defiant of Oregon: The well known ring-leader and conspirator, Amand Sheela, said of Oregon long after the incident “Oregonians are a rare breed…they have not learned their lesson yet.”

7. Journalism record breaker: There was so much controversial and scandalous history of the Rajneesh that the series The Oregonian newspaper did on them was the longest ever series run for the newspaper.

8. Sexually disturbing: Both what happened and how the documentary covered sexual matters were unfortunate. Some Rajneesh would engage in nude hypnotic convulsions and other violent or degrading acts as part of their meditation. Showing these scenes was a gross violation of the privacy of the people involved who did not know they were secretly being filmed by a journalist at the time. The respectful thing to do as a filmmaker would have been to cover the faces and private parts of these people who were victimized by a cult and many regret their involvement today.  They surely would not approve of it being shown to 10 million viewers.

9. Record turn-out: When the Rajneesh tried to overtake Wasco County by shipping in 6,000 homeless people into the commune, the people responded with an astonishing 93% voter turn-out. This holds the highest ever recorded voter turnout in Oregon history.

10. Documentary unfriendly to Christians: The appearance of Christian voices in the documentary are mostly portrayed as bigots, fanatics or vengeful in many scenes.  Even the success of story of the commune being turned into a Christian youth camp is mentioned as “trading one cult for another” by one interviewee.

11. Pre-Oregon scandals: Wild, Wild Country reminds everyone that the problems of the Rajneesh while in India (money laundering, arson, etc.) are what drove them out of the country and into Oregon only to be repeated again.

12. Vast immigration machine: Despite all of the controversy and threats of violence, the Government’s earliest and best evidence against the Rajneesh was of immigration fraud. They would recruit American Rajneesh citizens to meet with arriving foreign Rajneesh visitors and quickly marry them in order to obtain a Green Card. This was done systematically in dozens of cities across the country as to evade detection by immigration officials.

13. Bhagwan poisoned: The film makes a credible case that the Bhagwan could have been poisoned by his own doctor.

14. Rajneesh popular as ever: As of today, the works of the Bhagwan are translated into 50 languages and over 1000 newer book contracts for reprinting his works.

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