Phrase of the day

“Salmonella Salsa”

(n) The name of a concoction comprising mostly of salmonella typhimurium.  Term coined by the Rajneeshee Cult in 1984 in their attempts to sway a local election by poisoning the voters as they ate in restaurants.

Rajneesh Chandra Mohan Jain a.k.a. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Text ripped from

    “As the summer of 1984 waned, a cult led by the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh near the town of The Dalles, Oregon, used a biological agent to sicken hundreds in an apparent dress rehearsal to sway the outcome of a local election. The Bhagwan brought followers with him from India when he immigrated in 1981.

    The hardworking Rajneeshees were isolationist, with some 150 armed people to keep outsiders away from their ranch. When the Bhagwan decided to enlarge his ranch and his flock, he took over the small town of Antelope, christening the new town Rajneesheepuram.

    Oregon’s attorney general, however, stated that the municipality was unconstitutional because it did not separate church and state. To outmaneuver the attorney general, the cult’s hierarchy hatched a plan to make the Wasco county residents too sick to vote in November, enabling the Rajneeshees to seat their favored candidate on the county court. The cult’s nurse was the scientific brains behind attempts to put this plan into action.

    Although the cultists considered other organisms (AIDS and Salmonella typhi, which causes hepatitis and typhoid fever, among other illnesses), the Rajneeshees decided upon Salmonella typhimurium, which results in food poisoning.

    The cult bought bactrol disks from a Seattle medical supply company under false pretenses. A trio of cult members worked in a laboratory equipped with an incubator and freeze dryer to brew what they called a “salsa”. Several more Rajneeshees were involved in distributing the agent on various occasions.

    Starting on 29 August, the Rajneeshees began sprinkling their Salmonella typhimurium in personal drinking glasses, on doorknobs and urinal handles, on produce at the local supermarket, and on salad bars in eleven restaurants.

    Soon, a steady stream of patients were reporting to local physicians and hospitals with symptoms ranging from nausea and diarrhea to headache and fever. In total, 751 fell ill. Wasco county commissioners and ordinary citizens were among the victims. Within four days, local health care providers were able to identify the Salmonella typhimurium as the source , but over a year passed before there was confirmation that a single strain caused all of the illnesses and the Centers for Disease Control filed its report. No one died in this test to see if a ballot box could be fixed, but the Bhagwan reportedly observed that one should not worry if a few perished. Law enforcement authorities thought that the Rajneeshees were practicing to poison the water system of The Dalles. Cult members had already put dead rodents and perhaps raw sewage and salmonella salsa into The Dalles’ water supply.

    Several cult members were involved in the planning and execution of the salmonella attacks, but only two of the Baghwan’s chief lieutenants were prosecuted. This pair received multiple concurrent twenty-year sentences, among other penalties. According to one analyst who studied the Rajneeshees carefully, the cult did not work its way up the ladder of violence to bioterrorism. Rather, the Rajneeshees appear to have abruptly embarked on their salmonella spree as a means to a specific end.”

I first heard of this cult when reading Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War
by Judith Miller, William Broad, and Stephen Engelberg. It has a fascinating account in the first chapter of what lengths the cult went to in order to further their dominance over local politics.

Makes me wonder what the next cult-related attack event is going to be like. Perhaps the focus on international terrorism these days is obscuring the threat from our own citizens. Or perhaps our home-brewed cults are mere amateurs in comparison to well-organized groups like Al Queda. At any rate, I’m sure the cults will catch up and shift our focus again.

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