July 18th 2015 was the first day of this year’s summer camp for the world’s business and political aristocracy and their invited guests. 2,000 to 3,000 men, mostly from the wealthiest global one percent, gather at Bohemian Grove, 70 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Sonoma County—to sit around the campfire and chew the fat—off-the-record—with ex-presidents, corporate leaders and global financiers.
Speakers this year giving “Lakeside Chats” include past Secretary of
Defense and the CIA Leon Panetta, Paul Volcker Jr. former Federal
Reserve Chairman, retired Admiral Mike Mullen former Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, NYU Law Professor Bryan Stevenson, producer
Norman Lear, the founder of AOL Steve Case, and Christopher Hill former
US Ambassador to Iraq.
The Bohemian Grove summer encampments have become one of the most
famous private men's retreats in the world. Club members and several
hundred world-class guests gather annually in the last weeks of July to
recreate what has been called "the greatest men's party on earth."
Spanning three weekends, the outdoors event includes lectures, rituals,
theater, camp parties, golf, swimming, skeet shooting, politics,
sideline business meetings and feasts of food and alcohol.
One might imagine modern-day aristocrats like Henry Kissinger, the
Koch brothers, and Donald Rumsfeld amid a circle of friends sipping
cognac and discussing how the "unqualified" masses cannot be trusted to
carry out policy, and how elites must set values that can be translated
into "standards of authority."
Private men's clubs, like the San Francisco Bohemian Club, have
historically represented institutionalized race, gender and class
inequality. English gentlemen's clubs emerged during Great Britain’s
empire building period as an exclusive place free of troublesome women,
under-classes, and non-whites. Copied in the United States, elite
private men’s clubs served the same self-celebration purposes as their
The San Francisco Bohemian Club was formed in 1872 as a gathering
place for newspaper reporters and men of the arts and literature. By the
1880s local businessmen joined the Club in large numbers, quickly
making business elites the dominant group. More than 2,500 men are
members today. Most are from California, while several hundred originate
from some 35 states and a dozen foreign countries. About one-fifth of
the members are either directors of one or more of the Fortune 1000
companies, corporate CEOs, top governmental officials (current and
former) and/or members of important policy councils or major
foundations. The remaining members are mostly regional business/legal
elites with a small mix of academics, military officers, artists, or
Foremost at the Bohemian Grove is an atmosphere of social interaction
and networking. You can sit around a campfire with directors of
PG&E, or Bank of America. You can shoot skeet with the former
secretaries of state and defense, or you can enjoy a sing-along with a
Council of Foreign Relations director or a Business Roundtable
executive. All of this makes for ample time to develop personal
long-lasting connections with powerful influential men.
On the surface, the Bohemian Grove is a private place where global
and regional elites meet for fun and enjoyment. Behind the scene,
however, the Bohemian Grove is an American version of building insider
ties, consensual understandings, and lasting connections in the service
of class solidarity. Ties reinforced at the Grove manifest themselves in
global trade meetings, party politics, campaign financing, and top-down