PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s been nearly 40 years since the followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh formed a large and influential city in rural Wasco County but the unique chapter in Oregon history still captivates many.
The Rajneeshees bought the Big Muddy Ranch near the town of Antelope in 1981.
The legal and cultural controversy that followed drew national attention. Rajneesh was eventually deported and his community of followers in rural Oregon disbanded.
In 2018, a documentary that chronicled the Rajneesh and its conflict with the state of Oregon was released. “Wild Wild Country” rejuvenated interest in the events that took place in the early 1980s.
Four key players from all sides of the Rajneesh episode, including 3 who appeared in “Wild Wild Country,” spoke Thursday at a seminar hosted by the Oregon Historical Society.
The attorney and former member of the Rajneesh, Philip Toelkes, and the lead federal prosecutor of the case Bob Weaver were on the panel.
William Gary, the lead counsel for Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer on the matter, and U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks, who presided over several of the state court legal proceedings, also spoke.
Weaver said that both sides were armed and agitated but the conflict was able to descalate without violence.
“This thing resolved itself without a shot being fired,” Weaver said. “And I think that’s a great credit to the patience and tolerance of Oregonians, and to them also.”
He added that the case was very difficult to prosecute.
“I think it’s an opportunity to look back on a very exciting, albeit dangerous for some of us, piece of Oregon history,” said Weaver.
Toelkes said his former community was forced out of Oregon after the United States government twisted its laws.
“Forty years ago, I thought we’d still have our community,” Toelkes said. “My master Osho used to say ‘no expectations, no disappointments’ so I try to avoid expectations.”
“Before he died, he asked me to tell the truth about what happened,” said Toelkes. “And that’s what I’m doing the best I can.”