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Perhaps their inquiries went a little too well, though, because a few days later Rajneesh started getting less cooperative. Doubtless he was eager to help get Sheela prosecuted — he clearly felt betrayed by her — but the investigators were asking other questions as well, and some of them were landing very close to the guru himself. This was especially true with questions about his immigration status.
At the same time, some of the law enforcement officers were getting very nervous about what they were seeing at Rajneeshpuram. By now — summer of 1985 — the Rajneesh “Peace Force” was bristling with Colt AR-15 rifles and other military-style firearms, including the semi-automatic civilian variant of the Uzi submachine gun. Most investigators saw it as mostly theater, to make the group look like a harder target; but there were a lot of guns, and a lot of ammunition, and the whole compound was arranged very effectively for urban defense.
To make matters even more nerve-wracking, Rajneesh had, after Sheela’s departure, lifted the red-clothing requirement for the group. This meant if something went horribly wrong, it would be very hard for outsiders to tell friend from foe.
Police in the compound — both investigators invited in by Rajneesh and undercover agents posing as followers — started warning darkly that any attempt to arrest Rajneesh would be likely to turn messy and bloody. The worst-case scenario still fresh in everyone’s mind was the mass murder/suicide by Kool-Aid at Jonestown in Guyana, which had happened just a few years earlier.*
THEN CAME THE spark that could have blown the whole thing up: The warrant came through. It was a sealed indictment from a court in Portland charging Rajneesh with immigration violations.
This presented law enforcement officers with a serious problem. It was now their duty to go and get him. But they would have to be very careful. It was not hard to imagine what the Peace Patrol could potentially do: they had hundreds of innocent noncombatants in their direct control and a huge arsenal at their disposal. They could surround themselves with a human shield of women and children. They could take hostages. Would they? What would they do?
Luckily, no one ever found out. Because a few days later, Rajneesh boarded a chartered Learjet and flew to North Carolina with a small entourage of his people. This flight has been characterized as an attempt to flee to Bermuda, and it may have been so; but the complete absence of any kind of secrecy, along with the fact that he filed a detailed flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration and followed it to the letter, suggests that Rajneesh was at least half expecting to be intercepted. Most likely his departure was motivated by Rajneesh’s growing worries that his presence could bring trouble upon his people.
In any case, Rajneesh’s flight meant that instead of having to invade a heavily armed compound with a huge SWAT team, authorities simply had to dispatch two U.S. Marshals Service officers to the North Carolina airport and pick him up there.
(This story concludes in Part Five.)