Every July, the other Boys of Summer—rich and powerful movers and shakers from around the world—gather in the woods at Bohemian Grove in California for two weeks of fun, frolic and social networking.
Members of the all-male, mostly white San Francisco-based Bohemian Club and their guests fly into Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport on private jets to partake in the festivities, which include music, plays, pageantry and networking with other global elites at elaborate campsites in Monte Rio along the Russian River in Northern California. This year’s party has just begun with featured speakers Conan O’Brien and retired Army General Stanley McChrystal.
The private social club, which was started in 1872 by journalists, originally included artists and musicians as honorary members, but quickly branched out to include a less eclectic mix of the rich and famous. By the time Oscar Wilde visited the club in 1882, he was reportedly struck by its exclusive membership: “I never saw so many well-dressed, well-fed, business-looking Bohemians in my life.”
The club has around 2,700 members and a waiting list of 3,000, although the list itself is private. The wait to join is said to take 15 to 20 years. While those in the club with a distinct American political membership tend to be Republicans, Democrats are represented among the happy campers. (But not President Bill Clinton, who told a heckler, “Did you say Bohemian club? That’s where all those rich Republicans go up and stand naked against redwood trees right? I’ve never been to the Bohemian club but you oughta go. It’d be good for you.”)
Every Republican president since 1923 has reportedly showed up at the Grove; the last two failed GOP nominees Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney did not. Early members included Mark Twain, Jack London and President William Howard Taft. More recent luminaries including President George H.W. Bush, Henry Kissinger and Charlton Heston.
Some observers worry that the participants are indulging in “Idol Worship and Occult Practices” that include “mock human sacrifices to the God Molech.” Conspiracy theorist and radio personality Alex Jones snuck into the camp in 2000 and filmed “Dark Secrets,” confirming all their worst fears. He observed the opening ceremony before a 40-foot stone owl—the owl, symbolizing knowledge, has been the club’s mascot from the beginning—where Care is banished from the premises. Alexander Cockburn described it thusly in 2001:
“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.”
President Richard Nixon didn’t like it either, but for different reasons. He can be heard on White House tapes disparaging the event. “The Bohemian Grove—which I attend from time to time—is the most faggy goddamned thing you could even imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can’t shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”
For others, it’s more simply a “right-wing, laisse-faire and quintessentially western” crowd of power brokers networking as they would at the Republican National Convention or the world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland. They aren’t so much put off by mock “Cremation of Care” ceremonies attended by aging, costumed CEOs and political leaders as they are by the secrecy and exclusiveness of the proceedings, and the narrowness of their focus.
“If corporations would simply stop creating some of the world’s largest social and ecological problems the rest of us would not have to try to solve them,” Michael Baumgartner, head of corporate accountability at Greenpeace Switzerland, said about Davos. “Solutions can only come via a bottom up approach, with people raising their voices.”
Although, to be fair, Baumgartner had not seen the care-free elites at work in the woods.