A New Netflix Documentary Explores the Insane Rajneesh Crisis That Shook '80s Oregon
Today, Netflix drops its latest look at deeply odd Oregoniana: Wild Wild Country, a six-part documentary crime series on the Rajneesh commune's ill-fated attempt to build utopia in a tiny ranch town. In 1981, religious guru Bhagwan Rajneesh and 2,000 orange-clad disciples purchased a 64,000–acre ranch in Wasco County, Oregon. They spent more than $125 million to transform the desert land into Rajneeshpuram, a city complete with its own hospital, schools, restaurants, police force, shopping mall, and airport. The commune, which they hoped to grow to 50,000 inhabitants, was mostly self-reliant. They practiced sustainability, farmed organically, installed solar panels, and rebuilt riverbanks. Their main indulgence was buying the guru one Rolls Royce after another—93 total.
The Bhagwan (also known, at various points in his strange trajectory, as Osho) chose this plot of land for its isolation, but the 40 or so residents of the closest neighboring town, Antelope, Oregon, 19 miles away, found themselves understandably unnerved by the influx of true believers. As tensions mounted, the disciples armed themselves, and dark tidings began to spiral out of this obscure corner of the state: election tampering, immigration fraud, smuggling, biochemical terrorism, and the near-murder of a presidential appointee.
Was violent conflict inevitable?
“Had they not felt like they were being persecuted out there, I think it could still be a functioning, utopian new age community for those who are interested in spirituality and meditation and enlightenment,” series co–directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Wild Wild Country is the Ways brothers’ second Oregon-hooked Netflix documentary, after their 2014 debut, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, which recounted the short but legendary existence of the minor-league Portland Mavericks. In 2016, they directed the documentary segment “The Silver Thief” for Amazon’s The New Yorker Presents documentary series.
For Wild Wild Country, the Way brothers spent four years splicing together old footage and interviewing with those involved, including disciples high in the Rajneesh power structure, such as Ma Anand Sheela, the guru's personal secretary, and Jay Nanda, who handled finances. Were these brainwashed cult members who resorted to violence? Were they victims of religious discrimination? Or were they something between the two? That becomes the documentary's overriding question.