Here's a feature on new Netflix series Wild Wild Country I did. Hope you enjoy.
In 1981 followers of controversial Indian free love guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh bought a ranch in rural Oregon to set up a religious community called Rajneeshpuram.
What followed is a jaw-dropping story of bioterrorism, armed militias, assassination plots, bombs, and the world's largest collection of Rolls-Royces.
It is the subject of newly-released Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country – and is tipped to be just as explosive as Making A Murderer and The Keepers.
Indian spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who preached a vague philosophy of meditation, materialism and free love, attracted followers from all over the world to his commune in the city of Pune.
In the early 80s the guru allowed his charismatic personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela to buy the 64,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch in remote Wasco County, Oregon, with the intention of building a utopia for his followers, the sannyasins.
Every day Rajneesh drove past his waiting devotees in one of the 93 Rolls-Royces bought for his use – the largest collection of the luxury cars in the world.
The sect quickly ran into confrontation with the residents of Antelope, Oregon, a tiny town of fewer than 50 people located 19 miles away.
The residents were angry that the sannyasins, who exclusively wore red, maroon and pink, were setting up a new city – complete with a fire department, police, restaurants and an airstrip – instead of a small agricultural commune.
They also considered them a dangerous cult and thought Rajneesh, who owned scores of gem-studded Rolex watches, was a con man.
In turn, the residents of Rajneeshpuram accused the deeply conservative townsfolk of religious intolerance towards their bizarre meditation practices and group sex rituals.
One local told TV news reporters at the time: “They’re invading. Maybe not with bullets, but with money and, um, immoral sex.”
Tense electoral and legal battles at a local and then state level led to a series of violent crimes.
A bomb attack on a hotel run by the sannyasins in the city of Portland led to the people of Rajneeshpuram arming themselves with assault weapons and undertaking military training.
This, combined with Rajneesh's “acid-tongued” right-hand woman Sheela threatening the sect's opponents, alarmed law enforcement officials and locals.
In 1984 the salad bars at ten restaurants in The Dalles, a city in Oregon, were contaminated with salmonella by followers of Rajneesh, hospitalising 45.
Staff cultured the potentially-lethal bacteria in labs inside the commune.
The plotters also poisoned two visiting Wasco County commissioners during a visit to Rajneeshpuram.
They had hoped to incapacitate the voting population of the city so that their own candidates would win county elections. It was the largest bioterrorism attack in American history.
It later emerged that there was an assassination plot to murder US Attorney Charles H. Turner, who was appointed to investigate illegal activity at Rajneeshpuram.
The guru accused his personal secretary Ma Anand Sheela, who had left the commune for Europe, of being behind the crimes, saying "the perfect bitch" was guilty of “arson, wiretapping, attempted murder, and mass poisonings”.
She in turn accused him of ordering the attacks.
Sheela, who one former follower called a “power-mad megalomaniac”, was extradited from Germany and imprisoned for 29 months of a 20-year sentence.
She now owns and operates nursing homes in Switzerland.
The former leader is unrepentant, telling the documentary makers that “the people of Oregon should think themselves lucky” to have lived next to Rajneeshpuram.
Rajneesh himself was accused of immigration violations and eventually returned to Poona in India. He died in 1990.
His followers left Oregon shortly after he was extradited, to the delight of people in Antelope. His movement still thrives in India and throughout the world.
In Wild Wild Country, former residents of Rajneeshpuram speak fondly of their time there, claiming it was the only place they had ever been loved and accepted.
One said: “Everyone was in a good mood, always. We built this incredible city that was truly joyous.
“It was real people, living real lives.”
The site where it once stood is now a camp for a pro-abstinence Christian youth organisation.