Netflix‘s new docu-series Wild Wild Country has renewed interest in the Rajneeshpuram commune of the 1980s, where spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s followers engaged in free love, cooked up salmonella to poison 750 people and took over the local government.
Today, it’s the site of a Young Life Christian youth camp where kids arrive each year to learn about Jesus Christ in a resort-like haven complete with water slides.
Wild Wild Country explores the strange and mysterious story of how Rajneesh and his devotees took over a remote part of eastern Oregon, documenting the rise and fall of the commune through conversations with former members and the locals who hated them.
As Wild Wild Country reveals over six episodes, the Rajneeshees transformed the property into a community with its own shopping malls, infrastructure, airport and restaurants. Skirmishes with the local town of Antelope’s nearly 60 residents eventually culminated in murder plots and a bioterror attack, bringing the life of sex and drugs to an end when Rajneesh skipped town, while his next-in-command, Ma Anand Sheela, was arrested.
The 64,000-acre expanse where the Rajneeshees lived was eventually purchased by billionaire Dennis Washington in 1991. After encountering zoning problems, Washington donated the property to Young Life, a Colorado-based Christian youth group with branches throughout the world. These days, Washington Family Ranch operates as a Christian youth camp — where kids come each summer to learn about Jesus Christ.
Camp manager Andy Squires told TIME he’s seen a surge in interest in the history of his camp since Wild Wild Country premiered in March, but he wants the past to stay firmly in the past.
“Things have changed and we’re excited about what’s going on here,” Squires, who has worked at the ranch for 16 years, said. “We get the opportunity for kids to come and have fun in the summertime.”
Where red- and orange-clad Rajneeshees once danced naked and worshipped the Bhagwan, children now drive go-karts, zip line and slide down a giant water slide that sits in a park within the camp. Campers also “get to hear about life with Jesus,” each day at meetings that involve singing and skits, Squires said, noting that everyone is “free to decide” how much they want to participate in religious education.
Notable buildings at Rajneeshpuram have now changed. Sheela’s house, where the group’s bioterror attack was planned, has been remodeled into suites for guests who help out at the camp in the summer and stay for about a month. In a somewhat lucky turn for planners trying to figure out what to do with Rajneesh’s house, a 1997 wildfire burned it down. Squires said very few of the original structures remain and every building has been remodeled.
Although the residents of Antelope objected loudly to the Rajneeshees building a commune, Squires said Young Life has easily integrated with the locals. Some camp employees even go to church in town, he said.
Wild Wild Country addresses how the area changed from commune to camp in the closing minutes of the series. Footage from Young Life shows youth jumping and cheering at sermons, drawing a parallel to how the Rajneeshees acted upon seeing their guru.
Antelope Mayor John Silvertooth said in the last episode of Wild Wild Country that he sees a few eerie similarities between the Young Life camp and the 1980s commune, but “they’re much better neighbors than the Rajneeshees.”
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