The Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country tells an amazing story: how followers of an Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, managed by his ruthless consigliere, Ma Anand Sheela, tried in the early 1980s to forge a fully independent polity for themselves in a thinly populated part of central Oregon.
Religious and political minorities, including libertarians, have long fantasized about gathering in one place to run their communities by their own rules. In theory, the powers for forming city governments via "home rule" allow for a great deal of leeway (at least in certain states, including Oregon).
Libertarians contemplating the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram, Oregon, might be envious at how religious passion can mobilize dedicated activists, or at least how millions of dollars collected from religious fervor can bus in the homeless from around the country to try to win over an entire county via the ballot box. But anyone seeking to use or bend the rules of civic authority in the face of a hostile establishment will see from this story that the powers-that-be can usually just bend the rules their own way. Wasco County refused to let Rajneesh's homeless army register to vote even though they technically lived there.
Another lesson from the Rajneeshees' failure: It will not help your cause to be reasonably suspected of trying to poison or murder your political rivals (even if you were the victims of the first use of potentially lethal force, in this case a bombing of a Rajneesh hotel). As far as the government is concerned, potentially lethal force is for it alone.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Wild Wild Country".