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Groovin' at the Grove

Big boys party and plot as activists besiege the gates

By Patrick Sullivan

"HOW DID you miss all those signs?" asks a peeved security guard, peering with narrowed eyes through the car window. "This is private property. You can't be here. The public is not allowed."

He's got a point. The warnings are hard to miss: "Private road," "No trespassing," and a few other variations on the theme. Finally, there's the guard station. And that is as much as most Sonoma County residents will ever see of the Bohemian Grove.

Still, it all seems relatively relaxed. A few snippy signs, a well-tanned watchman armed with a cell phone, and an open gate--surprisingly loose security for what's supposed to be the most exclusive men's club on the planet.

Of course, it's still a few days before this 2,700-acre redwood resort near Monte Rio plays host to the 122nd annual gathering of some of the world's most powerful men.


Film Bares All: 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' satirical take on Bohemian Grove.


For a two-week period starting July 14, this rich man's summer camp operated by the San Francisco Bohemian Club will bristle with an unrivaled arsenal of alpha males. Typical attendees range from high-profile big boys like former Nixon cabinet member Henry Kissinger to powerful corporate chieftains whose names wouldn't draw a twitch of recognition from most folks on the street.

Looking for power? The Bohemian Grove is where it's at. Never mind those tear gas-plagued meetings of the World Trade Organization; forget those turbulent Republican Party conventions. All those gatherings have to offer are politicians and bureaucrats--in other words, the kind of mere middle-management types who take marching orders from the bigwigs about to gather at the Bohemian Grove.

At least, that's the way the system works in the eyes of Mary Moore, 65, a Camp Meeker activist who runs the Bohemian Grove Action Network. Since 1980, Moore and as many as 400 other demonstrators have held on-and-off protests outside the grove. One measure of Moore's commitment: she will be spending her 66th birthday at the opening-day demonstration. Another measure: she occasionally refers to nonactivists as "you people."

This year, with a conservative in the White House, interest in the protest has been high, drawing attendees from as far away as Colorado. This crowd plans to gather across from the Rio Theater on July 14 at 2 p.m. to march on the Bohemian Grove. A flyer put out by one participating organization--the San Francisco-based International Action Center--features a drawing of the storming of the Bastille. Remember the Battle in Seattle? Sonoma County just might be about to host the Rumble in the Redwoods.

What are these protesters so upset about? Moore is glad you asked. Frankly, she's sick of being misunderstood. For her, the Bohemian Grove is a prime example of how America's power elite make crucial decisions about the world behind an anti-democratic veil of secrecy.

But working against Moore's serious purpose, she says, is the lurid reputation the grove has acquired.

Rumors have graduated to full-blown urban legends. The wildest allegation is that the annual gathering is a demonic ceremony in which virgins and/or children are sacrificed to dark supernatural powers. The satanic conspiracy theory is hotter than ever since a Texas radio-show host named Alex Jones snuck into the grove last year. Jones smuggled out video footage of the "Cremation of Care" ceremony, an annual ritual in which an effigy is burned to represent the death of dull responsibility. For Jones, it was irrefutable proof of Satanism; of course, he also believes secret U.N. soldiers are preparing to conquer the United States.

Officer Rumble in the redwoods: Organizers promise a return to the type of activism that marked Bohemian Grove protests during the 1980s.

Photograph by Kerry Richardson

ON THE LIGHTER side, some assume Moore and her collaborators are simply upset about being excluded from what's basically a giant frat party.

The annual gathering is usually portrayed as a retro recreational opportunity for the powerful--a chance for these mighty men to return to their carefree college days. Most informed sources agree on the popular activities: the guys get drunk, they walk around naked, they take a whiz on a redwood or two. And maybe they squeeze into a dress and participate in a burlesque show. Moronic? Maybe. But who gives a damn about such schoolboy antics?

Not Mary Moore.

"If they're just up there getting drunk and peeing on trees and all that, I don't care," Moore says. "It's what their policies are on the outside that affects you and me. That's what we're trying to bring to the public's attention."

Moore began protesting at the grove because she and some fellow activists wanted to put the heat on honchos in the nuclear power industry. But the one-time civil rights activist stuck with it because she quickly realized that most of her enemies gathered conveniently together five miles from her house every summer.

"No matter what your issue is, you can usually find some fat cat up there who represents what you're fighting against," observes Moore, who claims that the decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima was made at the grove.

To prove that the Bohemian Grove is as much about serious thinking as it is about serious drinking, Moore offers a list of topics discussed at the grove's annual lakeside chats. These lectures feature speakers like former Secretary of State James Baker and former British Prime Minister John Major addressing social and political issues.

Even Supreme Court justices make presentations.

"In 1997, [Justice Antonin] Scalia was up there speaking on church, state, and the Constitution," Moore observes. "And you and I aren't allowed to know what he had to say.

"I think that's a really big deal."

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From the July 12-18, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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