A lodge gone black

When it comes to tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories, all roads lead to Sonoma County. Specifically, to Bohemian Grove, where a giant owl awaits the faithful.

Sonoma County’s finest hold the line: “We’re sorry, but we’re under explicit orders to prevent you from watching Republican Party reptiles dropping their drinkie-winkies while they go pee-pee on Mr. Tree.”

Sonoma County’s finest hold the line: “We’re sorry, but we’re under explicit orders to prevent you from watching Republican Party reptiles dropping their drinkie-winkies while they go pee-pee on Mr. Tree.”

“Deep in the woods there’s a funeral that’s swinging …”
—Nick Cave, back in his Birthday Party days

For the past two weeks, some of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world have been holed up in the dusky redwoods 30 miles west of Santa Rosa, consuming copious amount of alcohol, dressing up in women’s clothing for amateur theatrical productions and generally making total idiots out of themselves during the 125th annual midsummer gathering of the San Francisco-based Bohemian Club.

The club insists that the retreat, held on a 2,700-acre, privately held spread called the Bohemian Grove, which is situated on the south bank of the Russian River just outside the small town of Monte Rio, is simply a means for its 2,500 or so members, culled from the uppermost reaches of society, to blow off the vast quantities of steam that come with the territory.

But others aren’t so certain.

It’s an intensely secretive affair, and no media are allowed in. While no one outside the grove knows for sure who is attending this year’s affair, past participants have included both George Bushes, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Caspar Weinberger, James Baker, Dick Cheney, Malcolm Forbes, Stephen Bechtel and a host of prominent CEOs and business leaders, most of them conservative, many of them from California, 99 percent of them white men.

The presence of so many powerful men meeting in secret has led some critics of the Bohos, as they are known, to speculate that more is going on here than a simple two-week romp in the woods. Some of the critics claim that important public-policy decisions are being made here in secret. Others point to the gathering’s bizarre opening ceremony, in which a mock human sacrifice occurs, as evidence of occult activity. Still others say that the two-week sojourn merely provides cover for the rich and powerful to change back into their original form, a shape-shifting reptilian species that came from another planet thousands of years ago.

Snarling Dick Cheney, in stripes, flashing a nice smile. “Um, who mixed up the reference photos of Cheney and Mr. Whipple?”

But while the charges of these various critics differ wildly, they have one thing in common. They all seem to agree that the men who meet here deep in the woods are involved in a vast conspiracy that has but one aim: global domination.

Mary Moore, a longtime Sonoma County activist who founded the Bohemian Grove Action Network, which has helped organize demonstrations outside the grove since 1980, has been one of the Bohos’ more rational critics. The network’s Web site, at www.sonomacountyfreepress.com, contains a complete listing of all the public-policy speeches that have been given by major figures over the years, including Dick Cheney’s 1991 speech, “Defense Problems of the 21st Century.” Moore, a staunch leftist, is adamant that the annual retreat has to do with more than just fun and games.

“When powerful people work together, they become even more powerful,” she states on the Web site. “The Grove membership is wealthy, and becoming more so, while the middle class is steadily becoming poorer. This close-knit group determines whether prices rise or fall (by their control of the banking system, money supply, and markets), and they make money whichever way markets fluctuate.”

True enough, although it’s a safe bet that more than a few attendees at this year’s gathering have watched their stock portfolios go down in flames during recent months. But what is interesting about Moore’s claims is how nicely they dovetail with those from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Which is where we find Austin, Texas-based talk radio host Alex Jones.

Jones’ original claim to fame was spearheading the volunteer effort to rebuild the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. He has since become an ardent critic of black helicopters, the U.S. government and the New World Order, in much the same vein as Randy Weaver. Two summers ago, Jones and a British documentary filmmaker crashed the Bohemian’s party, sneaking in with a video camera and filming the infamous Cremation of Care ceremony that opens each year’s gathering. The video, Dark Secrets of the Bohemian Grove, can be purchased through Jones’ Web site, www.infowars.com.

The video depicts a group of hooded figures gathered around a 40-foot-tall stone statue of an owl surrounded by water. Think of the orgy scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut as it might be produced by McClatchy High School drama students, and you’ve got a pretty good picture. A small boat rows up to the hooded men and deposits a package, supposedly a human child in effigy, which the Bohos have dubbed “Dull Care.” The effigy is place on the altar before the owl and set ablaze, thereby symbolically relieving the Bohos of all their cares and worries for the next two weeks. On his Web site, Jones notes:

“This is like something out of a Hollywood movie, where teenagers are out camping in the wilderness and come over a hill and witness some devil cult in black and red garb sacrificing some poor soul on a bloody altar.”

Look! It’s “Mr. Fatcat,” a failed papier-mâché attempt at getting Sid and Marty Krofft’s attention: “Dude, I told you you shoulda made it a big lizard … ”

According to leftist journalist Alexander Cockburn, the Cremation of Care ceremony was cooked up by a real estate speculator and club member George Sterling in the early 20th century; it was a response to a revival of ritual that was occurring across the nation at the time. But Jones sees something far more sinister in the ceremony, comparing it to the ancient Canaanite worship of the owl idol Molech, in which humans were sacrificed in a similar manner.

“Whether it was an effigy or real, we do not know,” Jones says. The element of doubt adds sort of a Blair Witch quality to the video. It won’t fool most people, but it will fool some, like former Austin resident Richard McCaslin, who, after watching the tape and listening to a steady diet of Jones’ conspiracy-laden radio program, decided to break into the grove last January in order to prevent any more children from being sacrificed. Calling himself the Phantom Patriot, the former Marine broke in at night and managed to set fire to one of the buildings on the premises before being arrested by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department deputies the next morning. He was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison, a sentence that was dramatically enhanced because he had donned a bulletproof vest and armed himself with automatic weaponry and explosives for the assault.

Jones told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that he was stunned by the incident, saying that it “sounds insane.” Yet at the same time, he defended his claim that there might be real human sacrifices going on in the grove. “If my neighbor was worshipping a 40-foot stone owl and burned children on a fire, I wouldn’t let that neighbor walk my dog or baby-sit my children. Instead these people are baby-sitting the big red button,” he said. “This is some sick stuff.”

It may be sicker than even Jones realizes. According to David Icke, a British conspiracy theorist who bills himself as “the most controversial author and speaker in the world,” the members of the Bohemian Club are actually a reptilian species from another planet who came to earth thousands of years ago and covertly began taking over the planet, using their shape-shifting abilities to hide their true identities. Conjoining this idea with the more established theory that the secret society known as the Illuminati has been controlling world events since at least the 18th century, Icke postulates that both candidates from the 2000 U.S. presidential election, Al Gore and George W. Bush, belong to the Illuminati/reptilian bloodline.

A former journalist, Icke has written several books on the subject, and a good sampling of his material can be found at www.davidicke.com, where he advises those who find all of this hard to believe to watch movies like They Live, The Arrival and the television series V (you remember, the one with the lizard people from outer space who take over the earth), which “tell the story of what is REALLY going on.” If it all still sounds a little crazy, Icke reminds us that “today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”

What’s really going on in the Bohemian Grove? Outsiders may never know for certain. Mary Moore is quick to debunk conspiracy theorists like Jones and Icke. It was at the Bohemian Grove, after all, where scientists first conceived of the Manhattan Project in 1942, and Richard Nixon talked Ronald Reagan out of running for president in 1968. Important decisions that affect all of us are made at the grove, and people like Moore worry that tinfoil-hat theorists will detract from that fact.

But in the final analysis, the claims of the Bohemian Grove Action Network aren’t that much different. Everyone seems to be in agreement that a group of rich and powerful men are conspiring to control the world. Whether they’re just your average run-of-the-mill corrupt politicians and business leaders, a bloodthirsty cult of baby killers, or a reptilian species from another planet, the end result is the same.

The rest of us are totally screwed.