An extraordinary time in Oregon history occurred in central Oregon when a religious sect from India set up an experiment on an abused cattle ranch outside Madras. In the 1980s, the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh presided over a sect that professed self-sufficiency and love that morphed into a tightly-controlled organization that engaged in assassination attempts and plots, orchestrated the largest illegal wiretapping operation in U.S. history, and poisoned hundreds of innocent diners as a way to suppress voter turnout. Why did they come to Oregon and how did they descend into criminal conduct? Local, state and federal officials all were put under enormous pressure to confront the group, and they responded with varying measures of success. What are the lessons even today from those long-ago events?
Two-time Pulitzer finalist Les Zaitz is an Oregon native. He started his professional journalism career right out of high school, hired in 1973 as a general assignment reporter for the Salem Statesman Journal. He continued writing as a staff reporter and correspondent while attending the University of Oregon, working for the Springfield News, the Oregon Journal, UPI, and the New York Times. From 1976-1987, he was a reporter for The Oregonian, handling various beats before taking an assignment in 1982 to the investigative team where he co-wrote a 20-part series about the Rajneeshees that was published in the Oregonian. More recently, he was included in the Netflix series Wild Wild Country, which looks at some of the history behind Rajneeshpuram in Oregon.
Les is the editor and publisher of the weekly Malheur Enterprise newspaper, an award-winning newspaper based in Vale, Oregon. In 2018, he and a partner founded the Salem Reporter, a digital news service based in Oregon’s capital. He is the CEO and editor. Soon after its launch, Salem Reporter formed a collaboration with two other Oregon news organizations to create the Oregon Capital Bureau, focusing on state government reports. Les leads the team of three reporters as its editor.
Les has won state, regional and national journalism awards for 40 years. In 2007, he was part of a team that won the prestigious George Polk Award. He is a five-time solo winner of Oregon’s Bruce Baer Award, the state’s top award for investigative reporting. The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association in 2016 awarded him its highest honor for career achievement – an award not given since 2010.
Les lives on a remote ranch in Grant County, where he and his wife, Scotta Callister, run a small horse/cow operation.
GO! Sense of Place
When – Wednesday, April 15, 7 PM (doors 6PM)
Where – Columbia Center for the Arts, Hood River, Oregon
Cost – $10 (suggested donation)
More info: https://gorgeowned.org
About Gorge Owned
Gorge Owned is a member-supported 501(c)(3) community-building organization working toward resilient, thriving communities in the Columbia Gorge. Through community conversations, powerful lectures, and a passion for lifting up locals, we help people deepen their connections to place and each other.