Oregon: From Cult Site to Teen Camp

Anything that can go right will, Young Life discovers
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When the 35 residents of Antelope, Oregon, heard two years ago that some kind of religious group planned to take over a ranch 12 miles from town, alarm bells sounded. Some drew comfort from learning that their new neighbors would be the evangelical group Young Life, which simply wanted to turn 700,000 square feet of abandoned buildings and 64,000 acres of land into camp facilities for teens. But few would blame those who lived through the town's occupation by followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh for casting a wary eye at outsiders.

BHAGWAN'S OLD DIGS: Young Life's new Washington Family Ranch, which opened one of two camps planned for the site this past summer, bears stark contrast to its previous tenants, who took over the Eastern Oregon high desert town from 1981 to 1985. The 3,000 Rajneeshees who poured in during that time squelched local resistance by buying up enough of the town to control the city council. Renamed "Rajneeshpuram," the town drew international media attention that focused on the Bhagwan's more than 90 Rolls-Royce cars and unconventional religious teachings that "free sex is fun, materialism is good, and Jesus was a madman." The Justice Department kicked out the Bhagwan and his followers in the fall of 1985 and Rajneeshpuram became Antelope again. The Bhagwan died in India in 1990.

Nearly 15 years later, however, the wounds are still tender. "I have yet to hear anybody speak one kind word about them," says Jim Walker, a former rancher and sheriff's deputy who has lived in the area since 1970. "As far as people in Antelope and the ranchers around there, if you're an East Indian, if you have a turban on your head, or anything weird, or speak different, they want to know what you're doing."

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