Back when I was two feet tall, bald, and couldn't control my bowels, my home state (Oregon) came down with a bad case of cultism. Until recently, all I really knew about it was what I had read in Bloom County.
After I found out more, though, the whole mess turned out to be even wilder than I expected. For one thing, they weren't making the Rolls-Royces up!!
After thinking for years there's no way it could have been this bad, I found out it was exactly as Berke portrayed it.....and even worse. Not only that, it also resembled the "Movementarians" episode of The Simpsons by no coincidence. In fact, just about every cult satire I've ever read or seen has been based on this one true incidence!
In 1981, a long-bearded Indian man arrived in the eastern side of Oregon. "Baghwan Shree Rajneesh" bought an old cattle ranch located along Big Muddy Creek east of Madras and planned to form a religious commune there, starting with a few followers that had arrived with him. Baghwan had taken a vow of silence, so he let his assistant speak to the curious reporters. "Ve baleeve in harmany, ve vill create a community here az there has nevar been known in the univarse," she quipped. The only time the cameras could see Baghwan was when he was riding around the commune in the backseat of all his aforementioned Rolls-Royces.
And he did it several times a day, waving to his followers, who worked endlessly in grain fields and longed for the sight of his supernatural arm yet again. That's all the pay THEY ever needed. Yes, this is exactly what was shown in that Simpsons episode....It was real, gang.
And it was, for some reason, growing. Word
spread about the commune and the disciples looking for wisdom
poured into the area--driving citizens of Madras nuts. Not only
were the Rajneeshees impossible to reason with, they had no laws
in their faith on promiscuity, leading to all kinds
of....interesting public displays that made a LOT of parents
All the money they had, or earned, they donated to the Baghwan and to the commune--and then they started building their sacred city. One problem, though--none of them had any building permits or the right to develop the property in that manner. They built anyway.
The commune was sued because of this, and had to turn to Plan B. Many of them moved into the nearby small town of Antelope and took over the town council. There, they voted in a huge tax increase for themselves which kicked out a lot of the longtime residents who couldn't pay that much. It was no problem for a large group of people who shared their wealth, so boom--City of Rajneesh! Welcome to You!
And the weirdos looking for easy direction continued to come in. And Oregon was faced with a frightening reality....they were surely going to take over more cities, and keep spreading like a well-organized pack of ants, unless there was SOME way to stop them, which at the time there was not.
It wasn't over yet---it kept getting worse. They spread out and started recruiting homeless people with the promise of food and shelter. It sounds harmless enough, until you realize the commune was only recruiting those homeless that were US citizens 18 and older--voting age, in other words. They were going to take over one way or another. Film crews started seeing Rajneeshees marching--with weapons!
Naturally, these concerns led to meetings, where the Baghwan's representative (whose name was Sheila) had to explain what was really going on. Responding to the homeless accusation, she claimed that they hadn't thought about the voting power until the reporters suggested it....then she said "But I tell you wot, theez county eez so ****ing beegoted, it DEESARVES to be taken ovar!!" If things continued on their current course, then I was about to grow up in a state known for its cults and not for its....um..... its..... its...........roses.
Whether or not the homeless recruitment was a scheme, it didn't work...most of them left before the yearly election, dismayed with the zero pay and zero booze. The Rajneeshees didn't have the necessary numbers to sway the county election, with many of their members being immigrants. Some were in America illegally, including.......guess who?
Yes, the Baghwan himself had only a temporary visa that let him into the States for medical reasons. It had expired and he was breaking another law. On top of that, there were now allegations that to win the election, Rajneeshees had planned to poison the water supply (and HAD poisoned some salad bars). He had to break his silence to counter these accusations, and his response wasn't exactly a clear bill of innocence: "Eef we had been the ones to pwason you....you would not have been able to climb out of thee grave....to give thee evidence." The tape where he says this looks eerily similar to similar recordings made by Osama.
Wire taps and eavesdropping bugs were discovered, planted by high-ranking cultists, who weren't even trusting each other at this point. Sheila revolted against her master and paid the price--those who worked with her fled to Germany, and she faced mass persecution Rajneeshee-style. Members accused her of plotting to kill the US Attorney General and went public with that accusation...and she may had actually tried!
Finally, the government was about ready to break down the Baghwan's door and indict him. He and 14 of his closest followers fled by plane, but were caught when said plane had to refuel in North Carolina. He was arrested and jailed. Sheila fled to Germany to hide with her accomplices, but was caught there, extradited back and charged with attempted murder. She was convicted and also jailed.
None of the cultists knew this had happened for several days--word doesn't travel very fast in a commune. It took a few weeks, but eventually it all sunk in, and they realized they would never see another waving hand from a Rolls-Royce again unless they started begging in Beverly Hills. They all began filing out of the area....to go weep, to go back to their parents, to go find real jobs, whatever.
Sheila has now served her time and currently lives in Europe, off a big wad of cash many say she stole from Rajneeshee businesses. The Baghwan himself returned to India, where he changed his name to "Osho" before shortly dying. He was 694. (Not really.)
That's the entire story. I had no idea something happened in my state that was this bonkers until I read up on it. And I've never said "OMG" so many times in one history lesson. This whole thing is just too unreal. Between this, that mountain exploding and the video arcades, Oregon's Generation X had all the fun.
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