I debated adding a spoiler alert at the beginning of my last post, then I remembered: you can’t spoil true events. Without the documentary-style editing, Wild Wild Country could’ve passed for a Wes Anderson film.
Let’s meet some more characters.
Owen Wilson*, who thoughtfully answered an interviewer’s question about what he’d say to someone who was considering coming to live on the ranch:
“[Don’t] come… unless you want to be a queer. ‘Cause there’s all kind of queers, I seen it myself.”
“They were kissing and hugging, and the lesbians too.”
Hugging lesbians? Must’ve been terrifying.
This judgmental pale raisin with a wig:
This guy, who I’d hate to get into a staring contest with:
Yet another vocal evangelist. This guy felt that standing on the hood of a car to scream at people about the wrath of God was a rational thing to do:
This listless rally attendee, who cared very much about money–specifically her tax dollars:
Unlike the Rajneeshees, she feared God! This was supposed to make her a good person, I guess?
None of the other characters in the documentary–not even Bhagwan–came close to touching Sheela’s brilliance. Here she is pulling some serious Jason Schwartzman vibes:
Sheela found a thrill in appearing on tv with her shit-stirring spoon. She’d laugh in the faces of suit-wearing middle-aged white men, which brought me joy.
Antelope resident, Rosemary McGreer, appeared alongside her on The Merv Show and attempted to undermine the Rajneeshees by blabbing about their fleet of Rolls Royces.
“The Bhagwan has from four to 13 Rolls Royces,” Rosemary scorned, expecting Sheela to go on the defense.
No, not Sheela. Sheela was proud of what the Rajneeshees had accomplished, and their fleet of Rolls Royces only proved their success.
“…17 Rolls Royce,” Sheela smugly corrected Rosemary, also adding that three more were soon due at the ranch.
Opulence! We own everything!
Considering all the misogynistic statements the residents of Wasco Country spewed at Sheela in multiple interview footage, I got the feeling that women were better-respected in Rajneeshpuram.
Of all the people interviewed, the McGreers were the most despicable. In the early days of Rajneeshpuram, Jim marched around Antelope with a grammatically incorrect sign parading his bigotry.
Thirty years later, in the interviews, he shows no remorse over his past actions. Here, he and his wife are shown laughing about the failure of Share A Home:
This could’ve been a good opportunity for them to further damage the Rajneeshees’ legacy. Instead, they made themselves out to be jerks. You just know they’re hiding several “Liberal Tears” coffee mugs in the back of their cabinets.
Anyway, the Rajneeshees didn’t become armed until after the bombing of the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland.
Gun rights supporters regularly cite the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Yet, the sort of people who sympathize with the Branch Davidians for the government’s actions in Waco, though, don’t appear to extend the same sympathy to the Rajneeshees.
While not responsible for the bombing–which was carried out by a member of another cult–the government of Oregon had been conspiring to get rid of the Rajneeshees for some time. The Bowermans even hit up the Attorney General of Oregon, David Frohnmayer, with a phone call that probably went something like, “Hey, remember all those summers our families spent together? Good times. Oh, by the way, I have a couple of new neighbours that I’ve been trying to get rid of. Like, 3,000 of them. Help plz.”
Soon after Frohnmayer interfered, the Oregon legislature created three bills repealing the city charters in Rajneeshpuram.
So, when two seats were up for grabs in the 1984 Wasco County election, the Rajneeshees needed these seats if they hoped to block further attempts at flushing them out of Rajneeshpuram, and ultimately, the US.
Sheela’s Plan A was to sabotage the election legally. At the time, anyone 18+ only needed to live in Oregon for 20 days before they could register to vote there. For Sheela’s Share A Home program, she slapped a bow on 3500 homeless people and turned them into registered Wasco County voters.
To guarantee that their votes would go to the Rajneeshee candidates, all Sheela had to do was harness the power of the media. On tv, she outright announced her motives, knowing Frohnmayer and co. would trip over themselves trying to block the new registrants. Upon learning that their right to vote was being challenged, the homeless were even more determined to vote.
This plan backfired when the county overrode the law by suspending the right to vote.
If the Rajneeshees couldn’t saturate the constituency with supporters, Sheela decided, she’d take out the competition.
If you remember from my first post, Bhagwan had asked of his followers, “Whatever you do, do it with great creativeness.”
So, guns weren’t the answer.
Sheela recognized her opponents’ weakness for shitty buffet places by dressing the self-serve food with fresh, lab-grown salmonella.
So, maybe this documentary wasn’t so much Wes Anderson as it was M. Night Shyamalan.
While explosive diarrhea wasn’t enough to influence the outcome of the election, it was enough to become the largest bioterror attack in the US. It still holds this distinction, at least until we learn that COVID-19 was the work of a terrorist group all along. So, if you enjoy conspiracy theories, get on board with this one.
But, no, I wasn’t on board with Sheela’s mass-poisoning plan. Or the arson. Or the assassination attempts.
But, where was Bhagwan during all this? Hot tubbing on the ranch, oblivious to what his secretary, with whom he was meeting every night, was up to? This fantastic, wise spiritual leader who practiced mindfulness? Yup.
When Sheela left overnight for Europe, knowing that her luck in the US had run out, Bhagwan took the opportunity to throw Sheela under the bus. The following morning, the media was called to the hall where Bhagwan then listed all the crimes Sheela was guilty of, thus disassociating himself from them.
He made a mistake in thinking he could dangle a shiny object at the FBI to distract them from the crimes he definitely knew about (immigration fraud) by opening up the ranch for investigation so that they could go after Sheela. But, Sheela was already out of the country: the FBI could deal with her later.
Before the FBI raided the ranch, though, Bhagwan took his throne with him on a little plane and tried for Bermuda, from where he couldn’t be extradited. How embarrassing would it have been for the US had he succeed?
My absolute favourite part of the docuseries was this shot:
I startled Yann when I burst into uncontrollable laughter, as he describes my typical laugh as a whisper-laugh. Well, this shirt broke my whisper-laugh barrier and had me in tears. “Big seller, the hot pink there. Everyone likes that one,” revealed the backseat entrepreneur.
As a Canadian, I’d like to separate myself from Americans and their inclination towards monetizing tragedies with cheesy souvenirs, but the pun puts it to a whole another level. This hawker must’ve been sitting on this idea for some time. I wonder what other gems he’s put out since then.
Sheela, of course, was also “bhagged”. She doesn’t talk about her time in prison in the documentary, but in all likelihood, she became the Top Dog while in there. Bhagwan escaped a prison sentence and instead got a $400k fine and was deported to India. It’d have been less work for the US Department of Justice had they allowed him to live in Bermuda as a fugitive. But, this wouldn’t have been a t-shirt worthy outcome.
What once was Rajneeshpuram is now the site of a Christian youth organization. The townsfolk of Antelope claimed that the Rajneeshees building a city on a land that was zoned agricultural was the problem, yet they had no objections about kids sliding down wet chutes in the name of Jesus!