Jozef Imrich, name worthy of Kafka, has his finger on the pulse of any irony of interest and shares his findings to keep you in-the-know with the savviest trend setters and infomaniacs.
''I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.''
It's (mercifully) Election Day in the United States.
Today's Now I Know is a long one, but it's about elections and, more to
the point, about the biggest bioterrorist attack in U.S. history and how
it was an effort to prevent people from voting. So, now's a good a day as
any for it. -- Dan
Out the Vote
Osho, pictured above, was an Indian mystic and
spiritualist who died in 1990. His free-spirited worldview was something
that one would commonly associate with Woodstock-era hippies (except for
his virulent anti-gay attitudes) combined with many of the notions one
would find in a modern yoga studio. His following grew through the 1970s
and into the early 1980s, attracting many Americans and Europeans into
the fold. As such, he and his followers looked for increasingly larger
plots of land for their ashram (basically a commune). But as tensions
between Osho’s group and the regional Indian government grew, Osho --
then known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh -- left for the United States. In
1981, he founded a commune in rural Oregon on a 64,000 acre plot of
land, called in Rajneeshpuram, and invited his followers to move there.
Four years later, his followers put 45 people in the hospital as part of
the largest bioterrorist attack in United States history.
The Rajneeshee movement is often considered a cult of sorts. As Wikipedia
notes, Osho lived the high-life (owning 90
Rolls-Royces) while his followers were expected to live simple, frugal
lives, eschewing both material wealth as well as relationships with their
former friends. Yet, in the beginning, the Rajneeshees made for good
neighbors -- relations between locals and commune-dwellers started off as
That changed as the commune tried to grow. The people living in and
around The Dalles, the largest city near Rajneeshpuram, saw the
Rajneeshees as a threat to their communities. Relations fractured and in
1984, the Rajneeshees took aim at the ballot box, hoping to obtain two of
the three seats on the county court as well as control over the sheriff’s
office. But the Rajneeshees were outnumbered -- as the New York Times reported, fewer than 250 of its roughly
7,000 residents were able to vote. In order to win those county seats,
Rajneeshpuram needed to grow -- and the rest of the county needed to
The plan came in two parts. The first involved what appeared, outwardly,
to be an outreach campaign to the homeless community from other areas of
Oregon: residents of Rajneeshpuram were expected to share their homes
with the homeless, giving the latter a roof over their heads and the
community another person who would vote in their favor. (That may sound
like a pretty good way to help a group of disadvantaged people -- even if
the motivation is political power -- but keep reading.)
But that wasn’t going to be enough -- and probably wouldn't have worked anyway,
as most of the homeless were considered guests and not domiciliaries of
their new town. So part two of the plan kicked into gear: lower the
number of non-Rajneeshee voters. In order for Rajneeshpuram to prevail
over its neighbors, many of the neighbors needed to stay home on Election
Day -- figuratively speaking, that is. Literally speaking, the neighbors
could be anywhere so long as they couldn’t make it to their voting place.
And if you really want to incapacitate someone and have no qualms about being
a terrible person, sending your enemies to the hospital would work.
Two of Osho’s top followers, known as Ma Anand Sheela and Ma Anand Puja,
acquired some salmonella bacteria from a local medical supply company and
set up a lab to develop more of it. The plan: create enough salmonella to
taint to area’s water supply, effectively incapacitating most of the
electorate. After some time, the duo and their helpers were able to
test their theory. Slate explains:
Over the course of two months, the group contaminated 10
salad bars in the area with salmonella in an attempt to suppress the
vote. Using a plastic bag filled with a brown liquid they nicknamed
"salsa," the poured the salmonella filled slurry directly into
salad dressings, splashed it on produce, put it in water, and generally
got it everywhere they could. 751 people fell ill, and 45 were
hospitalized with Salmonella poisoning.
At first, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) blamed
poor sanitation practices of area food handlers, but locals suspected
otherwise, and the area’s House member, James H. Weaver, kept pointing
the finger at Rajneeshpuram. Ultimately, it was Osho himself who gave
investigators the key information they needed. In September of the
following year, Osho learned of the criminal activity when Ma Anand
Sheela and Ma Anand Puja absconded to Europe and left the bioterror lab
behind. He invited investigators into Rajneeshpuram and the evidence
behind the caper was there for the taking. The CDC recanted its earlier
stance and verified that the salmonella found at the Rajneeshpuram lab
was the same used to poison the people of The Dalles.
During the subsequent investigation, officials found evidence that Osho
himself knew of the plot, but authorities failed to convict him of any
related crimes. He was, however, charged with a bevy of immigration law
violations and ultimately pled guilty to two, leading to a fine and his
deportation. He died in India in 1990, at age 58. Ma Anand Sheela and Ma
Anand Puja were eventually convicted of a variety of crimes; each served
29 months in prison.