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WHAT'S STREAMING: 'WILD WILD COUNTRY'

A bizarre chapter of Oregon’s history

Oregon has its share of history. But when an Indian guru moved into Eastern Oregon, developed a town from the ground up, militarized the community, began assassination plots on state government officials, mass-poisoned neighboring towns and encouraged open sexual relationships in public, the state forever gained an asterisk in the history books.

How could such a thing happen? Sounds like the script to a Douglas Adams novel without the humor, right? Except this isn’t a fantasy written for broader consumption. No, this was a reality for many living in Oregon in the ’80s. Netflix has documented this time period with the six-episode documentary “Wild Wild Country.” Comprising interviews with those who lived through the ordeal and archival footage, this series is both mind-boggling and engaging.

Using the law and politics, the orange-clad (orange and maroon were the mandated colors the followers wore) citizens of the town of Rajneesshpuram soon bought out the city of Antelope and renamed the town and all its streets much to the dismay of the mostly retired residents.

In the early ’70s, a prominent figure arose in Indian culture, a guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho) who taught spiritualism through open relationships and naked scream therapy (yes, naked and screaming). His followers were devoted to his ways and his influence grew extensively.

By 1981, Osho left India without notice to his followers and boarded a plane for the United States. His plan was to devise an entire community based on his philosophy. The site of this grand plan was 19 miles away from Antelope, Oregon, at the 64,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch.

An impressive amount of work began, which required building all the infrastructure and a complete foundation for the town. The group told its neighbors that it was a peaceful group of enlightened people. However, there soon would be much more to the story.

Shortly after the town was built, the aggression toward neighbors began. Using the law and politics, the orange-clad (orange and maroon were the mandated colors the followers wore) citizens of the town of Rajneesshpuram soon bought out the city of Antelope and renamed the town and all its streets much to the dismay of the mostly retired residents.

So, Oregon lived through its own Jim Jones-Jonestown scenario, luckily without the mass suicide. Eventually, the state and federal government stepped in, prosecuting Osho, and the town of Antelope regained its name.

Osho (who never wore orange or maroon) was beloved by his followers, and they gave him everything they had. Somehow, this spiritual guru had talked thousands of people into donating their life savings to him and flamboyantly collected some 30-plus Roll Royces, flashy robes, diamond-encrusted watches and lots of sequins.

However, Osho retreated to a secluded lifestyle and put his secretary, Sheela, in charge. Sheela had talked Osho into coming to America, and once the city was established began what can only be called a campaign of terror, filled with secret plots and lots of guns. She even had moved homeless into the town to sway state voting and then drugged them to keep them complacent. Needless to say, it gets weirder and more dangerous than that.

So, Oregon lived through its own Jim Jones-Jonestown scenario, luckily without the mass suicide. Eventually, the state and federal government stepped in, prosecuting Osho, and the town of Antelope regained its name. Osho moved back to India in a plea deal to avoid prison and died a short time later.

Osho’s followers are still active today throughout the world (minus the orange and maroon clothing) and have left their mark on Oregon, creating one of the most bizarre chapters in the state’s history. Thanks to Netflix, you can watch the drama but leave the danger on the television.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com

Ma Anand Sheela and Osho during the the '70s in India. (Netflix)
John Silverton, the former Mayor of Antelope, interviewed years later. (Netflix)