Oregon town is bracing for showdown

Residents see the specter of the Rajneeshees in newcomers

The Associated Press/April 24, 2000
By Joseph B. Frazier

Antelope, Ore. -- A showdown is brewing in Antelope -- between longtime residents and newcomers over who will govern this high-desert hamlet of about 60 souls tucked in the rocky hills of central Oregon.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of turmoil stirred up here by a different group of strangers in the 1980s -- 4,000 followers of cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

The chanting, purple-clad Rajneeshees left 15 years ago, after their leaders tried to poison food in nearby towns and hatched a plot to kill a federal prosecutor.

But trouble has once again come to Antelope.

Tomorrow, Antelope will vote on whether to recall all but one of the five City Council members -- a campaign started by one of the newcomers, Allen Yow.

Yow has succeeded in drawing a lot of attention to himself -- and in the process has aroused suspicions among the locals.

Outside his home, a filthy, tattered American flag flaps in the breeze. This battered Old Glory, Yow said, represents the depths to which this nation has fallen -- the "sin of immoral living."

Above that flag is one that is pristine and white, with a blue corner that harbors a red cross. This is a "Christian flag" popular among Christian fundamentalists such as himself, Yow said.

John Silvertooth, a city councilman who is among the targets of Yow's recall, said he has seen the white flag on the home page of the white supremacist group Aryan Nation.

As it turns out, however, the flag has no connection with extremist groups. Still, the flag display has riled a lot of people in Antelope -- as has Yow's recall effort. They wonder about his motives.

Backers of the recall effort, many of whom are fairly recent arrivals, are referred to by local residents as "the 10," the number of people who signed the recall petition.

"All of us got along fine until the 10 rolled in here," said Dan Wilson, an Antelope resident.

The locals whisper concerns of links to radical-right groups such as the Montana-based Freemen and the Aryan Nation. Yow denies any extremist connection.

"I have never been in contact with the Freemen whatsoever. I'm not sure who they are except that they come from Montana," he said, adding that he doesn't know what the Aryan Nation is.

The FBI has entered the picture. Wilson said an FBI agent interviewed him for five hours, but he won't say what about.

Silvertooth produced an FBI business card indicating he, too, had been contacted but declined to elaborate.

The FBI refuses to say what its agents were up to in Antelope. Some of the locals have set up a "vigilance committee" to keep an eye on the newcomers.

"We're all still trying to figure out who they are, what they're after," said Brian Sheer, Antelope's mayor. "We ask, what's their plan, what's their intent, and nobody comes up with an answer."

Yow and his wife moved to Antelope in October and had previously lived in Montana. His father and mother are relatively new residents, as are two acquaintances of the Yows -- Dan and Peggy Adams.

Yow and his father, David, say they would like to see Antelope run by Wasco County.

"We have no intent of taking over," said 35-year-old Allen Yow, who earns a living maintaining campsites for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

"But if the government isn't honest and fair, let it go back to the county. We don't need any government." He insists it is basically a case of an unresponsive city council.

His father said: "I'd like to see the place go back to the county. There's not enough people to run it as a town. That way we can all be friends." The Yows and the city council locked horns early.

Allen Yow said the council wanted to bring in a garbage service "and charge us whether we used it or not." Yow said he objected "and ever since then I became a target because I stood up for what was right."

The Yows and others gathered signatures for the recall of four of the five council members.

The fifth -- Lisa Shockley -- hasn't been in office long enough to be subject to recall. Sheer said the petitioners want to spend money that isn't budgeted and have no clue how a town has to be run.

Some worry bad blood could continue even if the recall fails. "Just because they can't win doesn't mean they'll stop bugging us," said Silvertooth, whose family has been in Antelope since the 1880s. Mistrust is deep.

Some locals report late-night phone calls with no messages -- the caller just hangs up. Yow reports similar calls. Caller ID boxes, once unheard-of in Antelope, now are commonplace. After the Rajneeshees, suspicions come easily.

Rajneesh, a self-styled "rich man's guru," and thousands of his followers moved into a former ranch on Antelope's outskirts in the early 1980s. They took over the city council in a 1984 election and set up their own Rajneesh Peace Force to patrol Antelope.

Cult members once sickened 700 residents of The Dalles after lacing restaurant salad bars with salmonella. Cult members were also accused of plotting to kill a U.S. attorney.

The cult moved out of Antelope in 1985 and fell apart.

Alice Hensley, the city recorder and at $50 a month, the only paid employee, worries Antelope is in for the same kind of trouble. "We're just a little tiny country town with little tiny country town ideas," said Hensley, 75.

"I can close my eyes and hear the Rajneesh. I've been there, I've done that and I don't want to do it again. "This is my town. I was here first and I want to be here after they've gone."

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