In 1984, followers of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh spiked salad bars at 10 restaurants in town with salmonella and sickened about 750 people.
The cult members had hoped to incapacitate so many voters that their own candidates in the county elections would win. The scheme failed, but the episode spread fear in The Dalles and drained the town's economy.
Seventeen years later, there are lots of things this quiet town would like to be known for -- its lush cherry groves, its renovated downtown and its grand views of the sweeping Columbia River, among them. But not its role as the site of the first bioterrorism attack in modern US history.
Some townspeople are bothered that the story is being retold as the news media cover the national anthrax scare.
"We didn't ever expect it to raise its ugly head again and it's not good," said Karen LeBreton, a food-poisoning victim who was Wasco County deputy clerk at the time. "For us, in small-town America, it was very overwhelming."
The Dalles, a town of 12,000 people about 130km from Portland, is suffering badly in the weak national economy, said Susan Huntington, Chamber of Commerce director. The closing of two aluminum factories and a downturn in the cherry market have cost 700 jobs in the past year, she said.
The renewed publicity about the 1984 poisonings "doesn't exactly make people want to pack up their families and move here," Huntington said.
There was little national attention given to the salmonella poisonings in the years immediately afterward, largely because it occurred in a remote town and was perpetrated by a fanatical fringe group, said Gary Perlstein, a Portland State University professor and terrorism expert.
"They assumed that it would never happen again," said Perlstein, who wrote about the poisonings in his 1991 book Perspectives on Terrorism.
A brand-new book on bioterrorism, Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, devotes an entire chapter to the outbreak.
Some residents say the episode was good preparation for the anthrax threat.
"We lived with that fear on a daily basis," said Sue Proffitt, who was Wasco County clerk in 1984 and was among those who fell ill. "We understand in The Dalles how bioterrorism can happen."
Beginning in 1981, Rajneesh assembled nearly 7,000 followers on a 40 hectare ranch south of town. The cult members incorporated their commune as a city, created an intimidating police force, stockpiled weapons and took over the city council of nearby Antelope.
The cult plotted to win two of three Wasco County judgeships and the sheriff's office by incapacitating non-Rajneeshee voters in The Dalles.
The cult members had planned to contaminate The Dalles' water supply. The salad bar contamination was a test of the salmonella.
Residents suspected the cult members were behind the poisonings, and went to the polls in droves to make sure they didn't win any of the county positions.
The outbreak cost restaurants hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the months that followed, many residents feared cult members would try to spread the AIDS virus or poison the water.
The cult came apart in 1985 and some cult leaders became prosecution witnesses.
In 1986, two leading cult members pleaded no contest to the salmonella poisoning, among other things, and served four years in prison. They then fled to Europe before prosecutors could pursue further charges.
The cult's leader, Rajneesh, was fined US$400,000 for immigration fraud and died in India in 1990.
More than 20 other cult members were indicted on charges ranging from immigration violations to concocting a plot -- never carried out -- to murder a federal prosecutor.
A bronze statue of an antelope stands in front of the county courthouse in The Dalles, a gift from Antelope. A plaque reads: "In order for evil to prevail, good men should do nothing."
"That's kind of our ongoing message -- that you can't just stand by," Huntington said. "We certainly survived it, and I think the nation also needs to hear that. It's a great American message."
CALL FOR PEACE: Czech President Petr Pavel raised concerns about China’s military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and its ‘unfriendly action’ in the South China Sea The leaders of three diplomatic allies — Guatemala, Paraguay and Palau — on Tuesday voiced support for Taiwan’s inclusion in the UN on the first day of the UN General Debate in New York. In his address during the 78th UN General Assembly, Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr urged the UN and all parties involved in cross-strait issues to exercise restraint and seek a peaceful resolution. “The well-being and prosperity of nations and their economies are intrinsically linked to global peace and stability,” he said. He also thanked partner nations such as Taiwan, Australia, Japan and the US for providing assistance
CROSS-STRAIT CONCERNS: At the same US Congress hearing, Mira Resnick said a US government shutdown could affect weapons sales and licenses to allies such as Taiwan A Chinese blockade of Taiwan would be a “monster risk” for Beijing and likely to fail, while a military invasion would be extremely difficult, senior Pentagon officials told the US Congress on Tuesday. Growing worries of a conflict come as China has ramped up military pressure on Taiwan, holding large-scale war games simulating a blockade on the nation, while conducting near-daily warplane incursions and sending Chinese vessels around its waters. US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner said a blockade would be “a monster risk for the PRC [People’s Republic of China].” “It would likely not succeed, and it
IMPORTS: Fifty-four million imported eggs with a value of more than NT$200 million had to be destroyed, mostly because they expired in storage facilities Minister of Agriculture Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) last night announced that he would resign from his post. Local media on Sunday reported that Chen had resigned due to controversy over the ministry’s egg import program. Later that same evening, the Executive Yuan said that Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) had asked the minister to stay on to resolve the issue. Chen Chi-chung last night made public his decision to resign on Facebook, saying that this time he would not be dissuaded. Chen Chi-chung earlier yesterday apologized for the furor surrounding the egg import program, but added that misinformation had made the problems worse. The government was
AMPHIBIOUS EXERCISES: The defense ministry said that it had detected 24 Chinese PLA Air Force planes entering Taiwan’s air defense zone over the previous 24 hours Chinese movements around Taiwan were “abnormal,” Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) said yesterday, flagging recent amphibious exercises in addition to drills Taipei has observed in China’s Fujian Province. Taiwan has reported a rise in Chinese military activity over the past week as dozens of fighters, drones, bombers and other aircraft, as well as warships, have operated around the nation. “Our initial analysis is that they are doing joint drills in September, including land, sea, air and amphibious,” Chiu told reporters at the legislature in Taipei. The “recent enemy situation is quite abnormal,” he said. The comments followed a statement from the