1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack

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1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack was a significant event in the history of bioterrorism in the United States. It occurred in The Dalles, Oregon, and was perpetrated by followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho), a spiritual leader and guru from India. The attack involved the deliberate contamination of salad bars at ten local restaurants with Salmonella, a type of bacteria that causes food poisoning. The incident led to over 750 people falling ill, though there were no fatalities. This event is notable for being the first and largest bioterrorism attack in the United States.

Background[edit | edit source]

The Rajneeshees had established a commune, Rajneeshpuram, in rural Wasco County, Oregon, in the early 1980s. Conflicts between the Rajneeshees and local Oregonians escalated over land use and local governance. The Rajneeshees, seeking to gain political control of Wasco County, decided to incapacitate the local voting population to win seats in the 1984 county elections.

The Attack[edit | edit source]

In September and October 1984, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, led by his close associate Ma Anand Sheela, spread Salmonella bacteria in salad bars of ten restaurants in The Dalles. The bacteria were cultured in the commune's own laboratory. The goal was to incapacitate enough voters in the area so that their own candidates would win the upcoming county elections.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

The outbreak initially puzzled health officials. It was only after a lengthy investigation that the source of the outbreak was traced back to the Rajneeshee commune. In the wake of the attack, several members of the commune were prosecuted and convicted on charges related to the bioterrorism act. Ma Anand Sheela and two other high-ranking members pleaded guilty to charges including attempted murder.

Impact[edit | edit source]

The 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack had a profound impact on public health policy and bioterrorism preparedness in the United States. It highlighted the vulnerability of public food supplies to bioterrorism and led to changes in how food safety is managed and monitored. The event also had a significant impact on the Rajneesh movement, leading to the eventual departure of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh from the United States and the dissolution of the Rajneeshpuram commune.

In Popular Culture[edit | edit source]

The event has been the subject of various documentaries and articles, reflecting on the implications of religious extremism and the use of bioterrorism.

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD