Wild, Wild Country is a documentary about the Rajneeshpuram cult who took over a plot of land near Antelope, Oregon in 1981 and began creating a military compound.
8 out of 10 stars.
There are parts of this documentary series of six episodes that are important to watch. But there are also parts that suffer from the Ted Bundy effect–they make it appear that the individuals in this community are normal when they are actually murderous pedophiles. Near the end of episode 5 there’s a scene in which Bhagwan Rajneesh tells his followers that America suffers from brainwashing, dirty politics, fanatic religions, and hypocrisy. Those were the essence of his religion.
In 1981, an Indian woman named Ma Anand Sheelah Silverman is the assistant to Osha Rajneesh, a guru in a small town in India. As more foreigners come to the ashram, Rajneesh sees the need to make more money and build bigger facilities (he has a fondness for buying Rolls Royces). Sheelah, who is madly in love with Rajneesh and 30 years his junior, buys several hundreds of acres of land near Antelope, Oregon in north central Oregon. Antelope’s population is 50, all retired couples who owned farms.
Sheelah immediately incorporates their plot of land into a city, bypassing all state and local laws so they can build an airport, build a dam, build an electrical power plant, build >100 homes, and build hotels and other facilities. In less than a year they’ve completely changed the land and the neighborhood.
The mayor of Antelope becomes concerned when she begins receiving disturbing letters written by the families of many of the young female cult members, speaking of drugs, beatings, rapes, and the systematic indoctrination of their daughters.
Do yourself a favor and completely skip this episode or watch it last.
In 1982, a German filmmaker goes to Sheelah’s city, now called Rajneeshpuram, Oregon, and films several of their gatherings. When he returns to Germany he releases the film and the world is shocked to discover that the cult is practicing pedophilia and is openly endorsing the rape of young girls while others watch. They have daily sex orgies and walk around the facility nude and engage in sex in front of minors. The “teachers” masturbate their students. It is everything the local Christian community feared. (There are clips from this film in the documentary. Prepare to be shocked.)
One of the locals, Bill Bowerman who founded the Nike company, founds an organization called 1,000 Friends which begins a legal battle against the cult for thousands of violations of municipal codes and state laws. The cult reacts by buying up the town of Antelope and changing the name of the town, the streets, and the historical buildings and landmarks. Sheelah trains the cult followers and makes them into a force of military soldiers who carry automatic assault rifles. They take over the city council and appoint their own mayor and then appoint their most aggressive soldiers as policemen who begin arresting the locals. Cult members fly helicopters over the private land of their neighbors, frightening their children, and videotape them.
Watch this episode and watch it first.
A new Attorney General is elected in Oregon and the first thing he does is file a lawsuit against the cult which has established a religion under the guise of a government which violates the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state. The local government leaders who are all cult members begin a campaign of violence and hatred toward the locals of Antelope and to anyone who is an American. Keep in mind most of the cult members are from countries across the world who are white. Very few are Indian. Many are from British colony countries who are sexually repressed and love the openness of sex in the cult, not to mention the guns, drugs, booze, and violence.
It also becomes increasingly apparent that Sheelah is mentally unstable and has a hatred toward white people and toward Christians. This was first evidence in episode 1 when one of the cult members pointed out that Sheelah used white women in the cult to clean toilets and floors, jobs traditionally given to the lowest caste in India. Many of the male cult members who speak of Sheelah talk of her like an old lover which is hinted at being the way she controlled people within the cult.
Sheelah actively sends out cult members to recruit across the world. The recruit by finding people who are homeless and giving them shelter and a job within the cult, something to do to be productive. Then they bring them to one of the many communes across the world. Here’s where the cult becomes more ethnic and not predominantly white. They also recruit former felons recently released from prison, giving them immediate access to the other members of the cult including children.
The motive behind this mass recruitment drive is that they want to influence the Oregon state election and the Wasco County election. They immediately give these homeless people and felons an address and sign them up to vote. Then they enter cult members as candidates. Sheelah comes out publicly and announces that she is taking over Wasco County.
This episode excels at showing Sheelah’s dark side. In episodes 1 and 2 she appears to be a reasonably intelligent person, but in reality she’s not. She’s extremely manipulative and has brought in skilled professionals to use their skills (lawyers, engineers, etc.) but she’s pretty evil and has a hatred toward women, white people, and Christians. It’s almost as though she targeted this little area of Oregon because it epitomized everything she hates. In her public speeches she tells government officials she’ll take their heads. She resorts to juvenile language and antics as do most of the cult members.
As tens of thousands of new cult members show up to vote at the Wasco County City Hall the County Clerk rejects all new registered voters in Wasco County as it’s clear this is an attempt to illegal influence the Wasco County election. 🙂
Sheelah had enraged all of the homeless people she’d brought into the cult so that they’d force the County Clerk to allow them to vote, but that backfired when one of them attacked Sheelah so she gave the orders for their beers to be drugged with a sedative in an act very reminiscent of the Jim Jones Kool-Aid drugging.
After the Wasco County election debacle, Sheelah organizes the cult into a militia with the sole purpose of taking over the local government. She wants to kill the people of Wasco County so that their votes will count more. They do this by growing a dangerous bacterium Salmonella and spread it into food across the area. More than 750 people got sick and ended up in local hospitals. No one is arrested.
Meanwhile the Hollywood crowd comes to Rajneeshpuram and showers Rajneesh with money which he spends on jewelry, clothes, and cars. When he puts them in charge of much of the cult, Sheelah becomes enraged.
As the case comes before the US Attorney they discover the largest immigration fraud in history. Rajneesh and Sheelah have both been implicated in a concerted attempt to defraud the US Immigration Service. They’ve sent men and women to various cities across the US, had them live together and marry then file for citizenship under the guise they were in a loving and committed relationship. Then those couples would return to the cult in Oregon and live their separate lives.
As the US Attorney pursues legal actions against the cult, Sheelah begins putting homeless cult members on buses with automatic rifles and sending them to Portland where they are dumped off by the hundreds. She sends cult members to Wasco County offices where they set them on fire. She sends boxes of chocolates contaminated with poisons to the local county officials, US Attorneys Office, and the residents of Antelope. Several of them end up in the hospital and almost die.
It all comes to a head when Sheelah overhears Rajneesh’s doctor giving him details on ending a life quietly. She orders one of the cult members to kill his personal physician and she attempts to do so. It’s unclear whether the man dies or not, but both Sheelah and the woman who attempts to murder him leave the country. After they leave Rajneesh comes out and tells the cult members that Sheelah attempted to kill three people within the commune and in The Dalles. He goes on to say Sheelah is a criminal and they have bugged people’s homes; they are inhuman. Over the following months he accuses Sheelah and her gang of many crimes.
Following Sheelah’s exodus from Rajneeshpuram Rajneesh engages in a public mudslinging match. He calls her insane; she calls him manipulative. She denies all of the criminal acts she’s committed and looks more and more like a mentally ill and violent sociopath.
As cult members listen to Rajneesh’s rants about Sheelah they become disenfranchised about the cult and eventually begin to leave. They go back to wearing normal clothes, getting jobs, and living normal lives. They are never charged for the crimes they’ve committed.
What is revealed the more Rajneesh tells of Sheelah’s many crimes is that he knew about them. It gives the FBI a right to get search and seizure orders and begin investigating the cult. At the same time, the cult gets one of their members elected as Mayor. After attempting to kill their opponents with fires and deadly bacteria he runs unopposed and they laugh about that. The FBI find a series of secret rooms and tunnels and a collection of recordings that is bigger than any other illegal wiretapping case. It appears the cult has tapped the homes and offices of all of the local officials as well as the US Attorney’s office and home. This leads the FBI to look for illegal weapons dumped in a local lake that were going to be used to assassinate US Attorney Charles Turner.
Someone inside of the commune had read that beavers were a particular bad source of bacteria so the cult members gathered several beavers, chopped them up, put them in blenders, and poured them into the water supply. This was reported directly to the US Attorney.
Eventually Rajneesh orders all of Sheelah’s things, including her clothes, publicly burned at a celebration, behaving once again like a jilted teenage lover. He blames Sheelah for everything he has ever done, including incorporating a religion which he claims he is against. The media finds Sheelah and her followers hiding out in Germany. Stern Magazine finds them and does a story on Sheelah. She poses naked for them and that photograph is included in the magazine which results in record sales. Rajneesh accuses her of stealing $40 million from the commune; she accuses him of spending all of their money on a fleet of Rolls Royces.
Shortly following the Stern Magazine article the FBI searches several buildings at the commune based on information in the article that corroborates previously attained information about crimes the cult had committed. The US Attorney prepares an indictment against Rajneesh. Less than two days later in the middle of the night, Rajneesh gets on a jet and attempts to flee the US.
Rajneesh’s plane is intercepted by the US Marshals attempting to refuel in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is taken by plane across country and spends time in multiple jails on his way back to Oregon which takes three weeks. At the same time Rajneesh’s plane is intercepted in Charlotte, North Carolina, federal agents in Germany arrest Sheelah and she is brought back to Oregon.
The US Attorney interrogates Sheelah and she admits to everything and shows absolutely no remorse. She’s laughing and joking. Throughout authorities experience with Sheelah she is compared to Hitler because she has absolutely no empathy. Sheelah is charged with 1st degree assault, conspiracy to commit murder, arson, and illegal wiretapping. She is sentenced to 4 1/2 years. Her assistant who attempted to murder Rajneesh’s doctor is sentenced to 10 years. They are both put in federal prison.
Sheelah is released after only a couple of years and flees to Switzerland as there are other outstanding charges against her. Meanwhile, Rajneesh pleas guilty and agrees to leave the US. The government confiscates the property and money and all of the cult members leave the compound. A millionaire buys it and turns it into an elite Christian summer camp.
Three years later, Rajneesh dies in India.
8 out of 10 stars. Watch episodes 2 and 3. The rest is up to you.
Reviewed by Jill.
Below are images from episode 2, blurred clips from the German film made of the cult’s activities.
Below are images from episode 3 showing their soldiers who they appointed as police.