In the early 1980s, the small town of Antelope, Ore., (population 40), became a focus of intense media attention after followers of an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased a nearby ranch of 64,000 acres and began setting up a commune.
It didn't take long for relations between the townspeople and the Rajneeshis, as they became known, to deteriorate. By the time Rajneesh fled the country in 1985, his top lieutenant was accused of poisoning local residents in an effort to sway the results of a county election. He was also dogged by allegations that his followers were in violation of immigration laws and the separation of church and state.
The story of what transpired in north-central Oregon is told in a compelling six-part documentary series available on Netflix called "Wild Wild Country." Through interviews with principal players and archival footage, filmmakers Maclain and Chapman Way bring this disturbing story to life.
At first, a viewer can't help but feel a modicum of sympathy for the Rajneeshis. Antelope residents clearly didn't want them in their backyard, and some expressed openly bigoted views about "cults" and non-Christians settling in the area. A few even attempted to intimidate commune members by approaching their property and flashing guns.
All sympathy for the commune quickly melts away, however. By episode three, members of the group, led by an aggressive Rajneeshi lieutenant named Ma Anand Sheela, have taken over Antelope, renamed it "Rajneesh" and imposed a quasi-theocratic government. They soon began committing serious crimes.
This led Dave Frohnmayer, then Oregon's attorney general, to investigate. He concluded that the town was in violation of separation of church and state and argued that religious groups did not have the power in Oregon to incorporate towns.
Commune members responded with a brazen attempt to seize control of the government of surrounding Wasco County. The Rajneeshis traveled around the country to major cities, urging homeless people to move to their commune. Once they had been there 20 days, the commune registered them to vote. Their plan was to gain control of the county commission and change zoning laws enabling the commune to expand to a city of more than 10,000...