- Where's the fashionable rendezvous for the World's Secret
Government? In the good old days when the Illuminati had a firm grip on
things, it was wherever the Bilderbergers decided to pitch their tents.
Then Nelson and David Rockefeller horned their way in, and the spotlight
moved to the Trilateral Commission. Was there one secret government or
two? Some said all the big decisions were taken in England, at Ditchley,
not so far from the Appeasers' former haunts at Cliveden and only an hour
by Learjet from Davos, which is where jumped up finance ministers and self-inflating
tycoons merely pretend they rule the world.
- Secret World rulers spend a good deal of time in the
air, whisking from Davos to APEC meetings somewhere in Asia, to Ditchley,
to Sun Valley, Idaho, tho' mercifully no longer to the Clinton-favored
Renaissance Weekend in Hilton Head, South Carolina. But comes next July
14 and every self-respecting member of the Secret World Government will
be in a gloomy grove of redwoods alongside the Russian river in northern
California, preparing to Banish Care for the 122nd time, prelude to three
weeks drinking gin fizzes and hashing out the future of the world.
- If the avenging posses mustered by the Bohemian Grove
Action Network manage this year to burst through the security gates at
the Bohemian Grove, they will (to extrapolate from numerous eyewitness
accounts of past sessions) find proofs most convincing to them that here
indeed is the ruling crowd in executive session: hundreds of near-dead
white men sitting by a lake listening to Henry Kissinger.
- The avenging posses may find some puzzling elements within
the Grove. Why, for example, are at least 80 percent of the Bohemians in
a state of intoxication so advanced that many of them had fallen insensible
among the ferns, gin fizz glasses gripped firmly 'til the last? Why so
many games of dominoes? Why the evidence that a significant portion of
the Secret Government appear to be involved in some theatrical production,
involving the use of women's clothes and lavish application of make-up?
- Many an empire has of course been run by drunken men
wearing make-up. But a long, hard look at the Bohemian Club, its members
and appurtenances, suggests that behind the pretense of Secret Government
lies the reality of a summer camp for a bunch of San Francisco businessmen,
real estate plungers and lawyers who long ago had the cunning to recruit
some outside megawattage (e.g., Herbert Hoover, a Rockefeller, Richard
Nixon) to turn their mundane frolicking into the simulacrum of Secret Government
and make the yokels gape.
- The simulacrum isn't half bad. For Republicans the club
is an antechamber to the White House. Teddy Roosevelt was a member. So,
as noted, was Herbert Hoover. In his memoirs Hoover wrote that within one
hour of Calvin Coolidge's announcement in 1927 that he would not run again,
"a hundred men - editors, publishers, public officials and others
from all over the country who were at the Grove, came to my camp demanding
that I announce my candidacy." Hoover was at the Grove again the following
summer, as he had been with some considerable regularity since 1911, when
news came that Republicans had chosen him for their candidate.
- A speech to the industrial and financial titans clustered
for one of the Grove's famous lakeside talks could make or break a candidacy.
After a poor reception, Nelson Rockefeller abandoned his bid for the Republican
nomination in 1964. Richard Nixon, like Hoover a member of the Cave Man's
camp inside the Grove, got a rapturous reception in 1967 and pressed forward
to the nomination and the White House. It was at the Bohemian Grove that
America's nuclear weapons program was first devised by physicists such
as Grove members Ernest O. Lawrence and Edward Teller - meeting with other
members who were then in government, all confident of the security of the
redwood clubhouse built by Bernard Maybeck (my favorite of all American
architects) in 1904.
- European leaders travel discreetly to the Grove to address
the American elite. German chancellor Helmut Schmidt (not to be confused
with Club members Chauncey E. Schmidt or Jon Eugene Schmidt) strolled its
paths with club member Henry Kissinger, as did French socialist leader
Michael Rocard. Where else could such men hope to chat privately with the
head of IBM, a couple of Rockefellers, bankers galore, a Justice of the
US Supreme Court and Charlton Heston? Even the prickly Lee Kuan Yew hastened
to visit the club, only to have the mortification of being mistaken for
- The Bohemian Club began as a San Francisco institution
in 1872, founded by journalists and kindred lowly scriveners as an excuse
for late-night boozing. Its membership was dignified by Jack London, Mark
Twain, Bret Harte and other literary roustabouts who had fetched up in
the city after the Gold Rush.
- The hacks soon concluded that Bohemianism, in the sense
of real poverty, was oppressive. "It was decided," clubman Ed
Bosque wrote, "we should invite an element to join the Club which
the majority of its members held in contempt, namely men who had money
as well as brains, but who were not, strictly speaking, Bohemians."
So they pulled in a few wealthy men of commerce to pay for the champagne
and the rot soon set in. Within a very few years the lowly scriveners were
on their way out, except for a few of the more presentable among them to
lend a pretense of Boho-dom - and Mammon had seized power.
- There were laments. "The salt has been washed out
of the Club by commercialism," one writer grumbled. On his visit to
the city, Oscar Wilde gazed around at the fleshy faces and handsomely attired
members and remarked, "I have never seen so many well-dressed, well-fed,
businesslike looking bohemians in all my life."
- The final blow to the hacks came soon thereafter. Near
the end of the last century the cult of the redwood grove as Nature's cathedral
was in full swing and the Boho-businessmen yearned to give their outings
a tincture of spiritual uplift. The long-range planning committee of the
club decided to buy a grove some sixty miles north of the city near the
town of Monte Rio. When the wheeling and dealing was over, the club owned
2,700 acres of redwoods, a grove of the mightiest of thousand-year-old
- "We are grown men now," a piece of club literature
announced in the early 1920s, "but each year in the hard procession
of our days there comes, thank God, to us Bohemians, a recess time - it
is upon us. Come out, Bohemians. Come out and play!" Soon the ancient
redwoods, hated by the Pomo Indians of the area as clammy and sepulchral,
rang to the laughter of the disporting men of commerce.
- When all is said and done, the way the beleaguered American
male asserts his personhood, defies convention, hails the American dream,
is to piss against a tree. Indeed, when confronted with a sex-discrimination
suit a few years ago, the Bohemians indignantly asserted that theirs had
to be a Men Only institution precisely because any woman entering the club's
precincts would see nothing but men occupied in this crude pastime.
- Like all such institutions the club has its rituals,
its ceremonies, its hallowed rules. In June there are three long weekends
of Springjinks, mostly attended by Californians. At the opening of each
summer season proper, on July 14 this year, there is the traditional masque,
representing the banishment of Care. Amid somber music, horses carrying
caped riders gallop through the trees. Then, eerily picked out by torchlight,
robed tycoons move slowly into a clearing with a bier supporting the effigy
of Care. Amid stentorian chants, a blare of music and leaping flames, Care
is finally cremated. In its place the flame of eternal friendship is ignited
and three weeks of Boho-dom are underway.
- This amalgam of pop Druidry, Klan kitsch and Fraserian
mumbo-jumbo stems from the nineteenth-century passion for "ancient
ritual." Two thousand miles away, at the other end of the continent,
the same impulse produced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with its Mystick Krewe,
its Elves of Oberon and the tribute paid by Rex to Comus. Many of the Boho
rituals and its first play, The Triumph of Bohemia, were worked up by a
real estate speculator called George Sterling who took to poesy and Boho-dom
late in life and banished Care permanently in 1926 by taking strychnine
in the Club's city premises.
- A college kid I'll call Tom - the arm of the Secret Government
is, after all, far-reaching - worked at the Bohemian Grove each summer
for three years in the middle 1990s. At that time (and I doubt things have
changed) the basic wage for the very ample force required to assist in
the banishing of Care was not handsome - $5 to $6 an hour. But Tom worked
for an independent contractor supplying food and help and got $125 a day
plus tips (officially banned at the Grove) and ended up with $3,000 for
his three-week stint.
- Tom's day began at 5:30 a.m., preparing for breakfast.
The Bohemian Club is set up along frat house lines. Instead of Deltas and
Pi Etas there are camps, some 120 in all, stretching along River Road and
Morse Stephens canyon. Their names follow the imaginative arc of American
industrialists and financiers over the past hundred years, from Druids
to Hillbillies (George Bush, Walter Cronkite, William F. Buckley), Isle
of Aves (John E. Du Pont), Meyerling, Owl's Nest (Eddie Albert, Ronald
Reagan), Silverado Squatters, Totem Inn (which has actually boasted a writer,
Allen Drury), Woof (former Secretary of State James A. Baker III), Wayside
Log (which has boasted another writer, Herman Wouk), Ye Merrie Yowls, Zaca.
- The camp Tom lived and worked at was thick with real
estate tycoons and had a reputation for good food and comfortable appointments.
Tom fixed the early morning gin fizzes and kindred cobweb banishers. He
got the papers - San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, New York
Times. He cleaned up the mess left by the Bohos' nocturnal revels. He served
up the fruits, juices, eggs and bacon and listened to captains of commerce
start their day's chat about business affairs. The club has a famous motto,
"weaving spiders not come here," meaning No shop talk, but Tom
laughs. "They talk business here all the time. The younger members
brown-nose shamelessly, making contacts." By midmorning it's another
day in Bohemia, with Tom's hands never idle as he runs up Old Fashioneds
and Manhattans. The members prefer to mix their own martinis.
- Though he was no career man at the Grove Tom had already
taken on a caustic loyalty to his camp. He sneered at nearby Abbey, a lowly
place equipped merely with tents and believed to have a tradition of unmentionable
practices. He sneered too, though more deferentially, at lordly Mandalay
camp, inaccessible save by written invitation by a member, luxuriously
appointed and stocked with the Membership Committee's most determined stab
at the pretense of Secret Government. Here are to be found members of the
Bechtel clan, owners of the largest engineering contractorship in the world,
veterans of Republican Washington of the era of Gerorge Bush Sr. (former
Treasury Secretary Nick Brady, former Secretary of State George Shultz),
souvenirs of industrial might (Leonard K. Firestone. Edgar F. Kaiser),
1970s retro (Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger) and foreign bric-a-brac (Andrew
Knight of The Economist).
- The waiting lists for membership are so long it takes
years for the novitiate to be admitted. Lobbying is pathetically fierce.
Tom Watson, the builder of IBM, once took a long weekend off from his retirement
job as US ambassador to Moscow to fly to San Francisco to dine with a Bohemian
Grove board member and discreetly lobby for membership. A friend of mine,
big in Reagan's time, has been on the doorstep for 15 years. He says he
likes it that way. He's spared the hefty signup fee of around $10,000 and
annual membership dues and only has to pony up when he's invited, which
is every two or three years. Particularly in the more sumptuous camps even
this takes plenty of money, sharing bills for retinues of uniformed servants,
vintage cellars, master chefs and kindred accouterments of spiritual refreshment.
But what, in the end, does the member get for his pains?
- There are lakeside talks. Here, of an evening, Grovers
can hear a banker or a Treasury official wend his way through the intricacies
of Third World debt rescheduling, or listen to a European leader who will
offer himself up for inspection. There are increasingly popular science
talks at the Bohemian Grove's museum. During the day there are enviro-strolls
with some biologist from Stanford or Berkeley lecturing his retinue on
successional stages in redwood regeneration. There's skeet-shooting on
the private range. There's endless dominoes, the Grove's board-game par
excellence. There's Not Being At Home with the wife. But best of all, there
are the talent revue and the play.
- Visit some corporate suite in San Francisco in June or
early July and if you see the CEO brooding thoughtfully before his plate-glass
window overlooking the Bay Bridge, the chances are he is not thinking about
some impending takeover or merciless down-sizing. He is probably worrying
about the cut of his tutu for the drag act for which he has been rehearsing
keenly for many months.
- These plays are planned five years in advance, with no
expense spared. Tycoons vie eagerly for the privilege of shifting a stage
prop or securing the best computerized lighting system that money can provide.
Although the talent shows put on by Merv Griffin and Art Linkletter were
reckoned at least in past years to be good, the plays are pretty awful,
heavily freighted with double-entendres about swollen members and the like.
A poster for one Grove play, Pompeii, featured a mighty erection under
a toga, modeled no doubt on the redoubtable organ in the Pompeiian fresco
photographed by many a touring tycoon.
- Along with the big play there is the comedy revue - Low
Jinks - for which members again rehearse with passionate anticipation.
World affairs stood still a few seasons ago as Henry Kissinger prepared
for his big moment, which was to enter, dressed as a dumpy man wearing
a Kissinger mask which he duly pulled off, to reveal the ever-familiar
features, while announcing in his glottal accent, "I am here because
I have always been convinced that The Low Jinks is the ultimate aphrodisiac."
Puissance - this is after all a mature crowd scampering about amid the
Sequoia sempervirens - is a big theme, and the drag acts are heavily overstated.
- Boho-member Wouk once got off a sententious paragraph
about the Grove being the site of that purest of loves, the friendship
that men can nourish between each other in noble surroundings. Some years
ago a gay writer called Ron Bluestein described his stint waitering at
the Grove in a very funny pamphlet, "A Waitress in Bohemia,"
in which he evoked the below-the-stairs homosexual culture fostered by
a workforce mostly recruited from San Francisco. Some anthropologists of
Boho culture even believe that the Grove is now encircled with gay residential
suburbs that have inevitably sprung up to accommodate these migrants.
- Informed sources discount these stories somewhat. Of
course there are gay waiters and gay bohemians too, discreetly cruising
River Road, but it seems that it was back in the 1970s things got somewhat
out of hand. The Club took certain measures and things are now under control.
- Along with its most definitely closet contingent, the
club also has about 2,000 heterosexuals cooped up for the summer retreat,
with no women officially on the premises except for a daily minibus of
female cleaners - the consequence of a lawsuit brought by feminists a few
years ago - which can go no farther into the Grove than the Camp Fire circle,
400 yards from the Main Gate. Randy members break bounds and head for such
straight cruising spots as the Northwood Lodge and Country Club where vigorously
bejeweled women in their thirties are to be found
- A few years ago KGO radio, out of San Francisco, had
an interesting talk show in which callers with firsthand Grove experience
told their tales. A man from Monte Rio said he was only one of several
townspeople renting cabins every year to prostitutes traveling from as
far as Las Vegas to renew the Bohos' spiritual fibers. He said it was a
big shot in the arm for Monte Rio's ailing economy. This same caller moved
from shots in the arm to shots in another location. He said he stocked
his cabins with plenty of booze as well as syringes of a potency drug recently
approved by the Food and Drug Administration which furnishes four to six-hour
erections. Sempervirens indeed. The Monte Rio caller added that at least
this quotient of Secret Government included good tippers, doling out splendid
gratuities to their companions.
- In the 1990s the Grove's reputation as the site of Secret
Government was in eclipse. The Mandalay camp roster told the story, with
its grizzled veterans of the Reagan-Bush years. The contours of the Republican
Party had changed, in a manner not entirely suited to the Club. The young
Christian zealots of the Newt revolution were scarcely Low Jinksters, and
Newt - he did give a lakeside talk in 1995 - was a little too tacky in
style for the gin fizz set. Dole wasn't even a member and with Bill and
Hillary in office, journalists dashed off each year to the Carolina coast
to write about the Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head where the idiom was
of the 1990s - self-awareness, being in touch with your inner self, networking
- rather than the 1890s - making merrie, getting drunk and using the Old
- But here we are in the Bush II era, and the Bush Clan
is pure Secret Government, all the way from the old Rockefeller connection,
to Skull and Bones and the Knights of Malta. Dick Cheney's a Grover.
- So spare yourself the expense of traveling from Quebec
to the next session of the WTO. Voyage to Sonoma County and muster against
Secret World Government which, let's face it, isn't exactly secret. For
the Rally and Line of Shame, be at the Monte Rio parking lot across from
the Rio theater at 2pm, July 14.
- For further details, call the Bohemian Grove Action Network,
whose Mary Moore has been chivvying the Grovers for twenty years, at 707-874-2248
or check out www.sonomacountyfreepress.org.
- Copyright © 2001 Alexander Cockburn