June 16, 2001
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
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
The avenging posses may find some puzzling elements within the
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
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
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
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
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
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 a waiter.
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."
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
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.
the wheeling and dealing was over, the club owned 2,700 acres of
redwoods, a grove of the mightiest of thousand-year-old Sequoia sempervirens:
"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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 George Bush Sr. (former
Treasury Secretary Nick Brady, former Secretary of State
souvenirs of industrial might (Leonard
K. Firestone, Edgar F. Kaiser)
1970s retro (Gerald Ford,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 Boy Net.
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
For the Rally and Line of Shame, be at the Monte Rio
parking lot across from the Rio theater at 2pm, July 14.