Seekers flocked to central Oregon in the early 1980s to learn Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s secrets to inner peace and communal harmony.
It didn’t turn out how most of them expected.
“In the end, prosecutors charged more than 30 members of the Rajneeshpuram community with immigration violations or more serious crimes — attempted murder, racketeering, arson, burglary, assault, conspiracy and illegal electronic surveillance.”
That quoted snippet comes from the description of “Wild Wild History: The Rise and Fall of Rajneeshpuram,” the latest seminar collaboration of the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon Historical Society. The program, open to the public, takes place Thursday, June 27, at 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in downtown Portland.
The bizarre Rajneesh episode has fascinated Oregon history aficionados for years — and then along came the 2018 Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country,” which brought the event to a much wider audience.
In 1981, followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased and quickly transformed the Big Muddy Ranch near the small Oregon town of Antelope. They may have sought peace and enlightenment, but when they faced criticism and resistance from locals in and around Antelope, their response wasn’t very peaceful or enlightened. Murder attempts followed, along with local-election shenanigans and even a mass poisoning.
The Bhagwan eventually was deported and the Rajneeshees abandoned their Oregon paradise.
Check out a photo series that documents the decay and rebirth of the expansive former Big Muddy Ranch property after the guru left:
The Oregonian published a 20-part investigative series in 1985 that still stands as the comprehensive history of the Rajneeshees in Oregon:
Need still more? Read some recently discovered notes from the Rajneeshees’ secret files.
Okay, now you’re definitely ready for “Wild Wild History.” The speakers at the seminar will be Philip Toelkes, who was a Rajneesh follower and served as attorney for the community; former assistant U.S. attorney Robert Weaver; William Gary, lead counsel for the Oregon attorney general during the Rajneesh episode; and U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks.
Oregon Supreme Court Justice Tom Balmer will serve as the moderator.
— Douglas Perry
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