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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 Sequoia sempervirens:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2001 Alexander Cockburn