Those who read our previous article on The History of Bioterrorism may recall the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. This bearded guru was the leader of a religious movement that grew from a small commune in India into a ruthless cult in the United States. Although our previous article mentioned a few details about the bioterrorist attack perpetrated by the Rajneeshees in 1984, the broader story of the cult is a fascinating case study in the growth of a violent extremist movement on American soil. Beyond bioterrorism, the Rajneeshees were responsible for voter fraud, wiretapping, arson, poisoning the local water supply, and several attempted assassinations.

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Rajneesh’s second-in-command, Ma Anand Sheela, speaking to followers.

We recently came across a comprehensive documentary about the Rajneeshee movement created by filmmaker Fredrik Knudsen. This 39-minute documentary is part of a series called Down the Rabbit Hole, in which Knudsen analyzes various fringe groups. The story starts with the early days of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s popularity in India, then explains how he gathered a strong following of educated westerners and built a 64,000-acre commune in rural Oregon, complete with its own police force and fire department.

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Rajneesh driving by his followers in a Rolls-Royce. Photo credit: Samvado Gunnar Kossatz

Conflicts with local townspeople led the Rajneeshees to seize control of the city of Antelope, Oregon, renaming it to Rajneesh. Over the next three years, the group’s actions only got more extreme, escalating to the attempted murder of a U.S. district attorney and the salmonella-based bioterrorist attack that finally led to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s arrest. You can watch the full documentary, which was funded by Patreon donations and released for free, below:

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