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Was This America’s Worst Utopia?

In the early 1980s, Baghwan Shree Rajneesh brought his cult Osho from India to Wasco County, Oregon, and began a community of around 7,000 people called Rajneeshpuram. As the community expanded, they needed more space, but that would butt up against the rights of other communities.

In 1983, the Red Vermin started taking over nearby towns and tried to weasel representatives into government positons to gain control of the area and independence. Locals grew resistant and began to worry about the Rajneeshpuram utopia’s presence. Then, Wasco County turned into a battle zone when the Rajneeshees wanted to expand their city up on a mountain but city officials rejected the request. Enraged, the Rajneeshees bused in 2,000 homeless people to vote Rajneeshee members into the county government. However, the county did not recognize the homeless as voters.

The Rajneeshees then came up with an extravagant backup plan: poison the restaurant salad bars in the area with salmonella to prevent locals from voting against them. The Red Vermin created a brown liquid mixture of salmonella, carried it around in bags labeled “salsa,” and contaminated wherever they could—salad dressings, produce, water. After the salmonella salsa raid, 751 people fell ill, 45 were hospitalized, and two Oregon officials got sick. Thankfully, no one was killed.

The Rajneeshees were implicated in the plot, and their leaders fled, spelling the end of Rajneeshpuram. But that’s only one of the six failed utopian communities in this list. Read about their philosophies and how they crashed and burned -literally, in one case- at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: © Samvado Gunnar Kossatz)


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