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Revisiting the Rajneeshees

OPB | April 21, 2011 9:20 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10 p.m.

Les Zaitz, an investigative reporter for The Oregonian, has written about many, many things. In a career that has spanned decades, he’s looked into everything from a federal program for the severely disabled to sex abuse in the Boy Scouts to his recent articles about travel perks given to the state’s investment officers. (We talked about this last issue last week.)

But one story just won’t go away.

Back in the 80s, Zaitz was a part of a team that wrote extensively about the Rajneeshees in Oregon. The Rajneeshees were followers of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They bought a 100-square-mile ranch in Central Oregon in 1981, with the goal of creating an international commune. What followed over the next five years remains one of the more bizzare and chilling chapters in Oregon history. Zaitz wrote this summary:

Hand-picked teams of Rajneeshees had executed the largest biological terrorism attack in U.S. history, poisoning at least 700 people. They ran the largest illegal wiretapping operation ever uncovered. And their immigration fraud to harbor foreigners remains unrivaled in scope. The revelations brought criminal charges, defections, global manhunts and prison time.

Zaitz wasn’t simply an observer. He also became, inadvertently, a part of story, when he was included on a hit list put together by leaders of the commune.

He recently published a major retrospective, buttressed by new interviews and access to government documents about what happened in the final months at the commune.

What do you remember about that time? Were you a member of the commune? Did you have interactions with the Rajneeshees? What questions do you have for Zaitz about reporting on the Rajneeshees nearly thirty years ago — and returning to the story today?

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