Ritual: This 1906 image gives a whiff of creep.
A looming, 40-foot-high statue of an owl. Men prancing naked in the woods. Bonfires. Pagan rituals. Child sacrifice. Secret underground caverns. Sex slaves. Satan's bid to rule the world, with national and international leaders as his leering, eager pawns.
Sound like the convoluted plot devices of a bad horror movie? Nope, just a few of the deliciously outrageous rumors swirling around San Francisco's high-powered Bohemian Club and its Bohemian Grove, 2,700 acres of forested beauty nestled along the Russian River near Monte Rio.
The Grove is home to the club's annual summertime encampment of rich and influential men who gather each July to drink and act goofy in the woods with likeminded males. Presidents, former presidents and future presidents mingle with multinational CEOs and CFOs; military contractors get cozily drunk with admirals and generals; corporate executives share dirty jokes with government pooh-bahs and Supreme Court justices--and they all come together for the afternoon Lakeside Talks about such party-hearty themes as nuclear power and global economics.
It's an odd blend of summer camp and cigar-filled back room. The Bohemian Club insists on complete privacy, which creates an air of mystery that adds spice to the juicy rumors. The club says the annual event is simply high-stress movers and shakers relaxing together with corny rituals and silly skits--just guys having fun.
But conspiracy theorists have a field day with the tidbits that leak out: the annual Cremation of Care ceremony at the foot of the 40-foot owl; comic skits performed by men in drag; drunken campers peeing copiously at the base of 1,000-year-old redwood trees; and claims that prostitutes do brisk business just outside the camp boundaries. From such details rise charges of debauchery, collusion with evil, and Satanism.
Some less sensational critics warn that these outrageous accusations deflect attention from genuine concerns about how the club is managing its property and how connections crafted during the boozy goings-on shape this nation's future.
A fourth-generation Bohemian Club member, John Hooper resigned from the club in 2004 in opposition to plans to cut down more than a million board-feet of timber on the property each year. As explained before in these pages (July 4, 2007), the Bohemian Club is asking the state to allow it to log more than a million board-feet of timber on its property in perpetuity by filing only routine paperwork.
Hooper says the Grove contains the largest stretch of old-growth redwoods left on the lower Russian River, twice the amount of ancient trees located just upstream in the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve.
"It's ecologically a very important area along the river," Hooper says.
While many focus on what happens inside the Grove, it's important to understand the impacts on the outside world, asserts Mary Moore, who cofounded the Bohemian Grove Action Network and organized protests outside the Grove from 1980 to 2006.
The Bohemian encampments, Moore asserts, bring together the cream of this nation's military, government, corporate and financial circles. In the Lakeside Talks, they're shaping the future of this country. "It's like your ultimate back room on steroids. It's ruling-class bonding, where they cut deals."
Moore doesn't care if the campers dress in drag or if hookers are available. "What I care about is the Lakeside Talks and what they're doing to the outside world as opposed to all this alleged stuff about their cavorting."
A quick Google of "Bohemian Grove" returns a potpourri of facts and conjectures.
Fact: the Bohemian Club is a private, all-male club founded in 1872. It's evolved into an association of rich and powerful men. They admit few outsiders into their camp, only carefully selected guests.
Highly questionable conjecture: Alex Jones, who created the film Dark Secrets: Inside the Bohemian Grove and its sequel The Order of Death, calls the Grove campers "the most powerful cabal on the planet." Another website proclaims, "Your presidents perform annual child sacrifice to Molech Lucifer Satan at Jewish Bohemian Grove homosexual nudist compound in Monte Rio."
These charges are scandalous, delightfully scary--and entirely irrelevant, Moore says.
"All you have to do is read those Lakeside Talks and you get scared enough," she says. "Why do we need to invent stuff?"
To learn more about proposed Grove logging, go to [ http:-/www.savebohemiangrove.org- ]www.savebohemiangrove.org.