Every July, air traffic at the Sonoma County Airport jumps 10 percent. While private jets line the tarmac, caravans of limousines follow narrow roads along the Russian River as Sonoma County hosts 2,000 of the world's richest and most powerful men at the Bohemian Club's summer encampment.
This July 14, in the largest planned protests of the club's gathering in a decade, Occupy Bohemian Grove will be there to greet them.
Reinvigorated by the Occupy movement, protesters from as far away as Japan will head to Monte Rio this Saturday to take part in the mission to "expose the 1%." Though various sensationalized reports and conspiracy theorist groups have piggybacked the protests, demonstrators gather this year for the same reason they always have: to draw attention to the Bohemian Grove as a place where self-identified elites network and participate in off-the-record talks that affect the public.
As evidenced by leaked camp programs, university research and testimonials of famous Bohemians, the protesters' allegations aren't far from the truth. Though the camp's secrecy makes it hard to determine exactly how much backroom dealing takes place, it's safe to say that there's more going on than gin fizzes with breakfast and piddling on redwoods in stop-and-go bursts.
A few miles down the Bohemian Highway from the Grove, in the spindly network of single-lane roads of Camp Meeker, lives Mary Moore, face of the 33-year-old Bohemian Grove Action Network (BGAN).
Moore, who stopped organizing the protest early in the last decade, decided to help resume it this year because of its relevance to the Occupy movement; the Bohemian Club's summer encampment perfectly personifies Occupy's concept of the 1%, she says. Though BGAN has long used terms like "movers and shakers" and "fat cats" to describe the Bohemian Club, Occupy's rhetoric took the words off the tip of Moore's tongue.
"Now, 'the 1%,' if we'd invented that back in 1980—I slap myself—it could've been so much clearer over the years," Moore says, who turns 77 the day of the protest. "After 33 years of us shouting from the rooftops, these young folks came up with this all on their own."
Occupy complements BGAN not only in message, but by strengthening the local activist community. Lois Pearlman, another organizer of Occupy Bohemian Grove, says that the Occupy movement has "brought new blood and new ideas" to the Bohemian Grove protest. With 23 sponsoring groups ranging in scope from police accountability to Palestinian solidarity, Occupy Bohemian Grove seems less of an independently organized event as much as a product of a network of loosely connected groups.
That's just fine with Moore.
"The coalition-building is really the most important piece because it helps us get the bigger picture, and we understand how connected all these issues are," she explains.
Still, one thing the protesters make clear is that they are not out to evict the elite campers, only to call attention to their presence. "We're not trying to get them to close down. We're not trying to get them to stop peeing on redwoods or whatever. The goal has always been to focus on the public, to get them to understand that the way the system works is not the way you learned it in civics class, that a lot of it goes on behind closed doors," she says.
"I could care less if they're running around in pink tutus," Moore adds, joking about the 99 percent white, 100 percent male club's legendary onstage entertainment.
Moore's claims appear sound. Studies by UCSC and SSU professors confirm that there exists a class of socioeconomic elites in the club, and that networking at the Grove offers its male members tangible professional advantages.
Despite the club's motto, "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here"—discouraging members from doing business—the camp's daily Lakeside Talks are directly related to members' professions. Past speeches—all off-limits to the public—have included Justice Antonin Scalia's "Church, State, and the Constitution," Rupert Murdoch's "The Future of News," Colin Powell's "From Battlefields to Playing Fields: Economics, Energy, and Education," and an untitled speech by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger while he was still in office.
Richard Nixon, though once caught on tape calling the encampment "the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine," credits his own Lakeside Talk with marking "the first stone of [his] path to the presidency." Additionally, at the same encampment, he described in his memoirs striking a deal with Reagan that the former California governor would run for president only if Nixon faltered. Further back, Eisenhower's Lakeside Talk also helped his candidacy, and even one of the club's own leaked publications states that the Manhattan Project was conceived at the Grove's clubhouse.
Of course, there are those who believe far more serious offenses take place in the redwoods, and Moore and Occupy Bohemian Grove want nothing to do with them.
"To my everlasting shame, in 2001 I helped Alex Jones get in. He's a shock-jock on a national radio program; he comes out of Texas. He's a libertarian. It made us all look silly," Moore says, lamenting she had to follow Jones "with a pooper-scooper" explaining to the media that BGAN isn't in on his conspiracies.
Jones' hours in the grove yielded key footage for his documentaries Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove and its follow-up, The Order of Death, in which he claims members are part of a new world order who worship Moloch, ancient Ammonite deity of child sacrifice. Jones is hardly alone. In the last decade, the entrance to the Bohemian Grove has become a soapbox for 9-11 conspiracy theorists, protesters of fluoridated water and SmartMeters, and those claiming club members are Illuminati or practice satanic worship.
Despite the difficulty to disassociate themselves from fringe activists, Occupy Bohemian Grove's protest this week features the Fukushima Mothers Delegation in an event that harks back to BGAN's roots as an anti-nuke group. The event is named "Creation of Care," in opposition to the Bohemians' fire-and-hooded-figures opening ritual called the "Cremation of Care." Standing up to a club containing directors of a quarter of America's top corporations and every Republican president since Hoover, Moore arms herself only with information of the Grove's goings-on.
"The message is all we have," she says. "We don't have any other kind of power except to get a consistent, concise, clean message out there."