“Wild Wild Country,” the recently released six-part Netflix docuseries, is capturing worldwide attention. It recounts the extraordinary story of a group of people, inspired by the vision of the mystic, Osho, who create an alternative way of living in central Oregon.
These events trigger a political and criminal confrontation between a revolutionary vision of a new way of living versus the establishment. Unfortunately, the docuseries fails to explore key aspects and so does not give a clear account of the real story behind the story.
Essentially, this was a U.S. government conspiracy, from the White House on down, aimed at thwarting Osho’s vision of a community based on conscious living.
The extent of these Government efforts has only come to light after repeated applications made via the Freedom of Information Act. White House involvement included President Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese; in Congress, Senators, Hatfield and Packwood of Oregon, and Senator Dole of Kansas; the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) from the most senior officials to the local investigators; and at the state level, Oregon Governor, Atiyeh, Rep. Robert Smith, the Oregon Attorney General, Frohnmeyer, U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Charles Turner, numerous state legislators and many others.
These politicians pressured every available government entity, including the IRS, the INS, and the judiciary to do their best to “get rid of those people.”
The atmosphere of intolerance and bigotry is perhaps best captured by a comment by the District Director’s Chief INS Investigator, Thomas Casey, who stated that Osho will be “deported as an example to wetbacks and other cults.”
The nexus was completed by local hostility from day one, which reflected the same xenophobic quality, referring to the new arrivals as a “cancer,” while brandishing to the press advice “from India” recommending “if necessary, slaughter them….”
The attempts to create a model city in the Oregon high desert was blocked on the fabricated basis – one of many to come – that it was “farmland” where “offices” were not legal. Without that “city” designation, the residents of the Rajneesh community were very reluctantly obliged to buy property which had long been for sale in Antelope, a tiny “ghost town” 19 miles away and with 40 mainly retired residents, in order to have essential services. This was termed “the invasion” that was later used to justify ever-greater efforts to “get them out.”
Only after the community had been destroyed did the Oregon Supreme Court confirm what anybody could see with their own eyes: that the land was not in any sense “farmland.” The court confirmed that the land could only support “9 cows” and that the city’s original incorporation had been legal.
The Oregonian, the states’ main newspaper, ran the headline, quoting the governor, “Atiyeh picks Antelopers over interlopers.” The rest of the media fell in line with the same absence of “fair and balanced” reporting – only fueling the intolerance. The Oregonian later ran an ad bragging of its role in destroying the community.
The residents of Rajneeshpuram, through their legal department, resisted this ugly intrusion on their basic rights with committed intensity, fighting for survival through the legal system.
A critical moment came when Sheela Silverman fell out with Osho. She decided that “He lost it” as she puts it in the documentary. She resisted Osho with the same ferocity with which she had sought to defend the existence of the community. Osho, who had been in silence for over three years, then started speaking publicly again, exposing her whole approach as being totally antithetical to the vision she was claiming to represent. But now she “knew best” how to implement her version of his vision: the ends justified the means. She was reduced to crude criminality, and then fled.
As noted in the documentary, Osho then became aware of her criminal acts and immediately invited the FBI to investigate her crimes.
That investigation in reality exposed the criminality of the investigators. They were only interested in expelling Osho so that the city would be dissolved. They had little interest in Sheela’s “bioterrorism” or “mass wiretapping” except if it led to Osho. When it didn’t, the authorities scrambled to find another way of expelling Osho, finally pursuing a knowingly wrong application of the immigration laws to prosecute Osho.
In the fall of ’85, rumors swirled of an assault on the city to arrest Osho. It was public knowledge that the National Guard and other levels of law enforcement were being mobilized. Repeated attempts by Osho’s attorneys to cooperate with any warrant or allegations against him were rebuffed. Charles Turner, the U.S. Attorney, would not even admit there was a warrant or an indictment, and even refused to allow Osho to voluntarily surrender.
There was a clear atmosphere of pending violence. It later transpired that the National Guard had already mounted machine guns on their helicopters! Oregon seemed to be planning its own Waco!
Osho defused the risk of violence at a stroke: he accepted the advice from those around him to leave. He flew out of Rajneeshpuram on the long journey across the country. His departure from Rajneeshpuram was a gift for the authorities who then claimed he was “fleeing” the non-existent arrest warrant. “Fleeing” whilst filing flight plans with the FAA, and taking the longest possible route across the U.S. when Canada was only 20 minutes away?
This move avoided any violence at Rajneeshpuram but meant the violence was now directed at Osho himself. He was ambushed at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was going to await the completion of negotiations for surrender by his lawyers. They put him in chains, dragged him across the U.S. over 12 days through six different jails, permanently damaging his health in the process. It was a government strategy to force Osho to leave the U.S.
The attacks on Osho’s fragile health required him to allow his lawyers to make a deal to leave the US, all the while maintaining his innocence of the trumped up charges.
As former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Robert Weaver, put it, “I think they (the senior officials) just wanted us to do their dirty work for them… the case was a politically difficult one.” The U.S. Attorney and Governor Atiyeh admitted that there was no evidence against Osho to connect him to Sheela’s crimes.
Finally Sheela received a slap on the wrist for her crimes, allowing the endless repetition of “America’s greatest bioterrorist event” to continue to be directed at Osho and his people to this day. No one asks why, if it was so terrible, was Sheela allowed out of prison after only 39 months, for “good behavior,” while none of her federal offences were even pursued.
One wonders if Osho would not be still serving his prison term today had there been a trace of evidence linking him to Sheela’s crimes.
In summary one could say that here was an Indian man, who wore a dress and an unusual hat, who drove a fleet of fancy foreign cars, round a city named after him in Sanskrit, where everyone wore red, worked for no money but with only the love of a vision of a different world based on meditation, where there was no support for the family, private property or any religion, and where everyone was a vegetarian – right in the middle of red-neck, cowboy country!
As they say, the rest is history. A history that has yet to be fully told.
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