Tag Archives: bioterror

Recent read: The Rajneesh Chronicles

By Win McCormack, The Rajneesh Chronicles proposes to tell the story of an Indian cult’s takeover of a tiny Oregon town, the shenanigans committed by the guru’s minions, their biological terror activity and their downfall.

This interests me because my home residence was rather close to Wasco County, Oregon. I played high school sports against teams from Wasco County, shopped there, drove there for such fun as existed. The bioterror attacks harmed people I knew and liked, folk who were just going to The Dalles for dinner (typically a substandard prospect). The short version: in 1981, a guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh got out of India before the state turned the heat up to frying temperature, and decided to park his movement in Antelope, Oregon. Antelope only had about forty residents, its county of Wasco having about 20-25,000 residents. The Rajneeshees bought up a distressed ranch near Antelope, started building a compound, brought in over a thousand of their own people, took over Antelope by sheer electoral numbers, renamed it Rajneeshpuram, and tried to take over the government of Wasco Country. That’s where the bioterror attack came in–it was meant to keep voters from the polls. They had homebrew salmonella, and they hosed it onto public salad bars. It sickened about 750 people, with roughly forty hospitalized (a very heavy load for the local hospital). With bad timing, my family could have been among them.

The Rajneeshes were pretty sinister; imagine one of those breakaway pseudo-Mormon polygamist communities with their total control over sworn local police and politics, but larger. Supposedly, this was all about enlightenment, peace, love and such. Given how efficient the Rajneesh leaders were at milking money out of new arrivals, and how many expensive cars Rajneesh owned, looks to me like it was a big con game dressed up in cute red robes. Eventually the state of Oregon caught on, the Federal government got involved, and both started leaning on the Rajneeshees. Rajneesh himself was deported, some of his lieutenants did jail time, and Antelope got its town back–and for the first time in its history, it might actually interest the outside world. (Antelope is remote as hell.  It’s about 85 miles south of The Dalles, and the only thing nearby that would attract traffic is a resort on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.) The nearest city is Madras, OR (which has decided not to rename itself Chennai).

Here’s what’s awful about this book. On its face, it can’t lose. It was assembled by a reporter who spent a lot of time busting out Rajneeshee shenanigans, back in the day. He was perfectly positioned to write a definitive history of the group, its activities, its people (especially the colorful and combative Sheela Silverman, aka Ma Anand Sheela), the whole story. It ought to hit the story into the nosebleed seats.

It does not. The editor/author just gathered up a bunch of old magazine articles from the Rajneesh years (many of them his own), arranged them in chrono order, added some pics, and called it a book. What is wrong with this? Think of what goes into a magazine article. An article cannot assume the reader’s familiarity with the previous events. It has to re-introduce the persons involved, define again esoteric terms, recap the story to date, and so on. In every article. Every time. What’s more, except for the front and back material, that is all the reader will receive. No ongoing analysis and interpretation, no insertion of new facts come to light in the intervening quarter century, no fullness of story. If you had an old stack of the magazines in which the articles originally appeared, you’d already have the book.

This I do not like. Every columnist, blogger or journalist who just gathers up a pile of old stuff and slaps it together into a book has cheated, because any hosehead can do that. A book meant to tell the story of an event (such as calling it ‘Chronicles’) should do just that, relating the tale in light of all relevant knowledge past and present. This could have been an excellent study in religious cults, their tendency to exaggerate leaders’ virtues and faults, and how people got sucked in. It could have been very much worth the money, especially in these days in which the threat of biological terror is taken very seriously. We could even have learned which restaurants were attacked, how it was carried out, more about what went on inside the cult, what its current ‘Osho’ diaspora thinks of it now. (They aren’t hard to find. I dated one for a year.) We could have heard stories from those who got sick.

Nope. That would be work. Other than the intro material, it’s just a bunch of old magazine articles. The source material has been mistaken for the book.

What a cheesy way to wring some modern profit from a bunch of outdated work–for which one was already paid once.