In 1981 a mysterious guru from India named Rajneesh Bagwan Shree found him and his many followers practically exiled from India and in need of a new home. They settled on an unlikely place a ranch in Wasco County Oregon.  Over two years the group would move 7000 followers to the ranch many illegally from India. Originally they claimed they were using the ranch as a sort of farm commune and were trying to protect the land but as the numbers grew and more development took place on the ranch the locals of Wasco County started getting suspicious.

Their suspensions came to a head when the government of Oregon tried to put a stop to the Rajneeshee’s ambitions. State law said that land zoned for agriculture can only be developed so much. Needless to say several large dorm buildings for 7000 people was way too much. But they were not to be deterred and Sheela Silverman the cult’s proxy leader had a plan. Make the commune its own town and then redo the zoning. They set to work building home, businesses, a full sewer system and even a militarized police force.  They named the “town” Rajnsheepuram and then they took over the nearby town of antelope and named it Rajneesh (they weren’t every creative apparently). They then tried to incorporate the area as an actual town in the state of Oregon. Needless to say other citizens of Wasco County were still not happy with having a city owned and fully populated by what many thought was a cult.

The county in order to stop the expansion denied several building permits to the group on environmental concerns. This angered them and especially Sheela who preceded to create a frankly deranged plan. They would run Rajneeshees for county judge spots and for the sheriff of the county. The problem was there was no way they would in a fair election and needed an edge. So on September thru October eight known members visited the nearby city of The Dalles and infected several restaurant salad bars with home-grown salmonella bacteria. They also infected some nearby grocery stores and tried to infect the local water. The result was 751 people were made ill, 45 enough to have to stay in the hospital. Luckily no one was killed as in rare cases salmonella can be fatal. This would be the first and largest bio attack in America Even scarier this was just a trial run they wanted to try this again right before the election.

See the idea was they could replace the people too sick to vote with local homeless through their housing charity. It was voter laws though that foiled there plot not letting the homeless register to vote so they never went through with the next attack. In the end the Rajneeshees lost. In September of 1885 the cause of the outbreak was reveled from an unlikely source. In a press release the leader Rajneesh Bagwan Shree claimed the cult was behind the poisoning and it was Sheela’s idea, and that she had fled Oregon. It appears he was unaware of the plot and Sheela had basically tried to usurp him as the effective leader. When the authorities investigated the compound they found a full bio lab with vials of salmonella.

Not only did they poison over 700 people they also were later found out to have attempted to kill a state lawyer and a doctor of the cult’s leader. For their crimes Sheela got 59 years for 2 counts of attempted murder, product tampering, and wiretapping she only severed 29 months and was then deported. They only other charged was women named puja with 48 years who also only severed 34 months.   Rajneesh Bagwan Shree was arrested for immigration fraud and fined 400,000 dollars and deported from the USA for 5 years. This effectively killed the cult and Rajneesh disbanned it in 1886.

What was once the cult’s massive compound is now partly a camp for kids and the members now are trying to live normal lives. Because this and the later 2001 anthrax attacks the department of homeland security now has a whole task force for preventing bio terrorism now working to keep anything like this from ever happening again.  But those who have lived a long time in Wasco County will never forget the time they were overrun by the Rajneeshees and being the victims of the first and largest bio attack ever in American history.

Sources

https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/rajneeshees/#.WksMN7pFyUk

http://www.oregonlive.com/rajneesh/index.ssf/2011/04/part_one_it_was_worse_than_we.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/a-strange-but-true-tale-of-voter-fraud-and-bioterrorism/372445/