Scary And Strange Facts About The Rajneeshee Attack, A Bioterror Assault On Oregon's Salad Bars

In the fall of 1984, a strange illness befell the town of The Dalles, Oregon. One by one, people were getting sick. Really sick. In the span of about two months, the afflicted numbered in the hundreds and dozens of people had to be hospitalized for what was, essentially, severe food poisoning. The cause? It was a deliberate salmonella outbreak conducted by people of the Rajneesh movement. 

It was the largest bioterror incident on US soil, and it was a coordinated effort to strike down voters. In a bizarre story involving the spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (sometimes called Osho), a contested election, and bags of "salmonella filled slurry" called "salsa," this bioterror strike ended in serious jail time for some. This list explores the scary and strange facts about what happened in The Dalles in 1984, and why.

  • Who Was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, And What Was Up With His Followers?

    Who Was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, And What Was Up With His Followers?
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

    In order to gain a little background on this strange event, one would first need to get to know a man called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh - otherwise known as Osho. In 1970, Rajneesh, an Indian mystic of sorts, started a new spiritual movement in Mumbai, India. His teachings were unconventional, and they involved a lot of dirty and biased jokes, as well as a trumpeting of the benefits of capitalism and open sexuality, among other things. Rajneesh became known as the "sex guru" for his efforts, and by the 1980s, his following had grown to tens of thousands. 

    Indian authorities weren't too thrilled with the hoards of followers Rajneesh was amassing, and sensing the pressure he fled the country. With the help of his right-hand advisors - a wealthy couple named Ma Anand Sheela and Marc Harris Silverman - Osho purchased 64,000 acres of land in Oregon to build a "utopia" called Rajneeshpuram.

    About 7,000 followers moved to the ranch, which featured an airstrip, a fire department, restaurants, public transportation, and its own zip code. Locals, of course, got nervous, and tensions flared up between neighboring townspeople and the Rajneesh movement - especially when their new spiritual gang started getting involved in the local government.

  • It Was All An Attempt To Sway An Election

    It Was All An Attempt To Sway An Election
    Video: YouTube

    So, the pressing question here is, why did a new age cult target a small town Oregon? After the establishment of Rajneeshpurim, Osho and his followers sought out to expand their territory. When Wasco County denied the group the necessary permits to build a city on a nearby mountain, they didn't take the news very well. In lieu of an arduous, drawn-out process of appeals, the Rajneeshee's second-in-command, Ma Anand Sheela - a woman who toted a .357 Magnum and called herself the Queen - decided it would be more prudent to simply take over the Wasco County government

    The Rajneeshees' first attempt at a takeover was ultimately unsuccessful. The group bussed in 2,000 homeless people to vote some of their members into the local government, but Wasco County tossed the votes out. 

    Plan B, of course, was to spike a local salad bar. The Rajneeshees theorized if they were able to incapacitate enough of the local electorate, they could gain enough votes to get their members elected. Essentially, they were banking on a bulk of Wasco County being unable to leave their toilets on election day.

  • Like With Many Other Good Stories, It Started At Taco Time

    Ground zero for the 1984 Rajneeshee bio-strike was perhaps at the most unlikely of places - Taco Time. One September day, a woman entered the Mexican fast-food chain in The Dalles, Oregon, with a small plastic bag in tow. In the bag - securely zip-locked - was a light brown slurry mixture loaded with salmonella.

    The woman began squirting the liquid into a salsa bucket near the salad dressing station, and as she slipped out of the restaurant undetected, she kicked off a bioterror strike that has never been matched in scope in the United States of America. 

  • Hit 'Em Where It Hurts - The Salad Bar

    With the Rajneeshees' first charge at Taco Time successfully under their belts, they expanded their operation, and over the next two months, they hit 10 additional salad bars in and around The Dalles. In each instance, they used the same method of dumping brown, salmonella-packed liquid into salad dressings, as well as pouring it directly on top of produce. 

    In a more brazen instance, the culprits also put the contaminate directly into glasses of water served to two city officials. In the span of just a few weeks, citizens of The Dalles began falling ill at a high rate, and no one could find an obvious reason why.