Netflix's latest documentary craze introduces a piece of little-known Charlotte history to a generation of cable-cutters.
"Wild Wild Country" tells the story of an Indian guru with nearly half-a-million spiritual followers worldwide. The end of the "docuseries" features Charlotte in a made-for-TV moment — which the film-makers say they were building toward from Day One of writing.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
"Wild Wild Country" weaves historical video footage and new interviews to explore Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's controversial utopian spiritual commune, which started in Oregon in the early 1980s.
The Rajneesh movement angered local residents, and followers were criticized for their "free love" culture. Soon, the commune began to raise the ire of law enforcement. After a few years, Rajneesh and his closest confidants ended up in Charlotte.
His surprise arrival at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in October 1985 saw police squad cars and federal agents race down the landing strip.
Authorities were ready for a violent take-down and believed Rajneesh was on the lam — running from a grand jury indictment on charges of immigration fraud and orchestrating sham marriages.
His faithful following, though, say he was relentlessly pursued by the U.S. government and was unfairly persecuted for his beliefs and teachings.
Brothers Chapman and Maclain Way are the creators behind "Wild Wild Country." The Observer caught up with them to talk about Charlotte's role in their film.
Their target audience is a generation of people who weren't even alive when Rajneesh rose to worldwide fame and then notoriety. Now, those young 20- and 30-somethings are in for a history lesson with their Netflix account.
"This was a story that seemed to be trapped within the state of Oregon. We were a little bit scared that this story would just kind of come and go," Maclain Way said in an interview.
Some of the most dramatic footage in "Wild Wild Country" comes from Rajneesh's capture in the middle the night on Charlotte's airport runway, the brothers say.
Here are three things to know about Charlotte ties to "Wild Wild Country."
1. Bhagwan Rajneesh didn’t like grits.
He was in police custody several days at a Mecklenburg County detention center and had preliminary court appearances in federal court in Charlotte. Local law enforcement agencies and airport officials told the Observer records about Rajneesh weren't available and may no longer exist.
It's believed the jail he was housed in may have since been demolished.
"Wild Wild Country" reveals Rajneesh was given a requested vegetarian diet in jail.
His diet: coffee, orange juice, toast, yogurt, applesauce, broth soup and salads, the Observer documented in its news pages in 1985.
Inside the jail's medical unit, nurses also offered Rajneesh a Southern delicacy — grits. He politely declined, according to news reports.
Local sheriff at the time, C.W. Kidd — who is included in archival footage in the documentary — told reporters Rajneesh was a "very unusual" prisoner for his jail.
"One of the biggest we ever had," Kidd said. "Bhagwan’s a very good prisoner. He’s been very patient with us. He’s been very cordial to all of our treatment and everything."
Rajneesh was not permitted to wear his traditional robe clothing in jail. Instead, he was given the same blue pants and green shirt as everyone else.
Nurses kept an eye on the 53-year-old. There were health concerns about Rajneesh's asthma, and diabetes and nurses checked his vital signs every four hours, the Observer reported. A Charlotte doctor was on standby at a nearby hospital.
The head jail nurse, Sandy Carter, told reporters Rajneesh sometimes watched TV and would bow his head and meditate.
2. One of Charlotte's most-famous lawyers was hired for emergency legal aid.
Lawyer Bill Diehl got the call in the middle of the night. It was the first time he'd heard about the man with 90 Rolls-Royces who led a huge commune in Oregon.
Diehl was called for help by a former client — a wealthy Charlotte woman who had divorced her husband and moved to the commune in the early '80s.
She told Diehl that Rajneesh was on his way out of the country when he was arrested at the Charlotte airport on federal charges. At least six others traveling with him were also arrested. Maclain Way describes the drama like a "high-speed chase."
"It sounded a little strange," Diehl recalled in an interview with the Observer this month.
Diehl met Rajneesh for the first time at the jail.
"He was at such peace. He was really laid back about all of it."
Federal prosecutors, though, were eager to kick Rajneesh out of the United States. Members of his commune were accused of attempted murder, poisoning a local town in Oregon and plotting to kill government officials.
But, Diehl says the government’s case against Rajneesh was weak.
While some people thought the spiritual leader was little more than a con man, Diehl says there was something "really different" about Rajneesh.
"I didn't think there was any pretense about him," he said.
3. Local reception was mixed
"Wild Wild Country" creators say the old news footage from Charlotte ended up being some of the most "colorful commentary" they found.
The brothers discovered a "huge media circus" followed Rajneesh to Charlotte. Diehl says he tuned that out as he argued for Rajneesh's defense.
Supporters packed the courthouse and flooded the local jail with gifts of flowers and thank you notes to the staff.
Bystanders reported seeing officers with large guns keeping watch from the courthouse roof.
On downtown streets, some sought to make a profit from the big name prisoner-turned-celebrity who landed in their backyard. People sold "We Bagged the Bhagwan" T-shirts from vans outside the courthouse. Radio DJs played satirical songs about Rajneesh.
The Way brothers, originally from California, say they were fascinated by raw TV interview footage from 1985 that shows Charlotte residents.
One man, not identified, is seen inside a restaurant, holding a cigarette and eating dinner. Chapman Way describes him as the "every day man" who was asked his opinion about Rajneesh.
His response: “Gee, it’s a free country. I don’t know if he’s breaking the law. I guess they should do something. If he’s not, I suppose they should leave him alone." Another man in the restaurant seemed more concerned about Rajneesh's wealth and his almost-royal lifestyle.
“One of the great things about America is that regular people have opinions on every day matters," Maclain Way said.
Those interviews weren't central to the "Wild Wild Country" narrative, but the brothers say they used them to show how Rajneesh was interpreted by people who lived further away from the controversy of the commune.
"Wild Wild Country" is available on Netflix. Watch the trailer on YouTube.
Maria David contributed.