The Long Shadows of Bohemian Grove
HD video (exert)
In July 1878 a group known as the Bohemian Club gathered in the woods of Monte Rio, California for a two week encampment. Made up of less than a hundred prominent journalists, artist and musicians, the camp became an annual occasion and soon established itself as a meeting place for not just bohemians, but the San Francisco business and political elite of the day. This confluence of the rich and powerful of North America brought in the wealth necessary to secure the land which would become Bohemian Grove.
Since its inception, these yearly meetings at Bohemian Grove have grown exponentially in size and counts amongst its attendees former and to be US presidents including Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush, as well as the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger. The Grove is particularly famous for a Manhattan Project planning meeting that took place there in September 1942, which subsequently led to the creation of the atomic bomb.
Each year, a Grove Play is performed for one night during the final weekend of the summer encampment. The play is a large-scale musical theatrical production, written and composed by club members, involving some 300 people, including chorus, cast, stage crew and orchestra. The more fanciful investigators of the Grove believe that the contents of this play determine the course of future global events, and that it represents the ritual enactment and consummation of the Grove attendees’ plan for the next year. Once the camp finishes for the year, its members go back to their positions as heads of state, culture and industry and exert the necessary influence to turn the fictions witnessed in the play into reality.
The Overton Window, named after its originator Joseph P. Overton, is the term used to describe the range of opinions and ideas which can be realistically and respectively discussed in public discourse, and thus accepted as viable. With popular opinions occupying the centre ground, sensible opinions slightly further out, acceptable ones further still but still inside the window, and then radical and unthinkable opinions and ideas lying outside the window and therefore untenable. The range of realistic options found within the Overton Window emerges out of a complex nexus of causes and interests, with media and political powers, as well as popular culture all determining what falls inside the window.
In Inventing The Future, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek point out that The Overton Window has a power of its own as it shapes which paths a society’s future goes down. The Overton Window shifts to accommodate and usher in the future, as what was once unthinkable eventually becomes commonplace, with these shifts becoming more frequent as technology and conflict accelerate societal change.
Any hegemonic project, in which a group attempts to lead a population by instilling a particular world view, a common sense often represented in a necessary or believable narrative fiction, is reliant on situating that rallying fiction inside the Overton Window in order to have the support of its people. Within hegemonic order, the Overton Window becomes the universal horizon for that society, and the future emerges largely out of the opinions, fictions and ideas which lie in the centre.
As the shifting of the Overton Window has the power to bring certain ideas into prominence, it is also has an occulting effect, and what might actually be a realistic concern can be kept outside of the Overton Window, and out of public discourse, through its association with other ideas deemed to be too radical or unrealistic. This shadow zone, where an idea or an instance becomes hard to untangle from associated fantasy, where an event can be dismissed as ‘just a fiction’, is the perfect hiding place for operations necessary to maintain hegemonic order which would not receive public support or a public would not consent to.
In 2000, fledgling Alt-Right figurehead Alex Jones, a man described at the time by New York Magazine as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist”, infiltrated the Grove in search of evidence of Satanic worship, cloaked figures and ritual sacrifice. The footage Jones captured of the Cremation of Care ritual, whilst weird, is ultimately benign in nature. However this didn’t stop him from using this footage to make a documentary entitled Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove in which he paints the meetings as a sinister Illuminati style meeting. In the same documentary, Jones points out how ex West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt mentions the Grove in his autobiography, Men and Powers: A Political Retrospective, but then fabricates lines from the autobiography detailing ‘druidic rituals’. Jones’ hyperbole, his inability or shear unwillingness to separate fact from fantasy, inadvertently pushes the real activities of the Grove into the terrain of fiction and so outside the Overton window. This reductive rhetoric around the Grove, the casting of the long shadow of the fictional New World Order over genuine testimonies of the Grove precludes it from serious public discussion. Ironically instead of inspiring greater public scrutiny and awareness, Jones’s fiction weaving has the opposite affect by relegating all public discussions around notions of veiled hegemonic power to the fictional terrain of the kook and the conspiracy nut.
By maintaining these bizarre pagan inflected rituals, the Bohemian Club play into the fictions of the conspiracy theorists, keeping their activities and importance outside the Overton Window. Perhaps they realised the best way to cover something up is to make it the subject of a conspiracy theory, as by allowing something to exist as fiction it becomes much harder to reach a consensus as to what 'the real’ actually is.
Whilst this act of deflection through elaborate counter fiction might have been the intention at one stage, at the hight of its prominence when world governments were supposedly decided on at the Grove, it now seems to have taken on a different role. As Sophie Weiner recounts in her 2011 article “My Summer Job at the Bohemian Grove, Serving Milkshakes to the Shitfaced Global Elite”, “ultimately, the reason there’s no real vetting process for Grove employees is that nothing happening there is all that damning—if you accept that the world is a capitalist hegemony controlled by old white men”. If these days no real power passes through Bohemian Grove, then the revelation of it being little more than a charade of billionaires, animal masks and immature ritual play, acts as part of a another counter fiction. When the innocuous nature of today’s Grove meetings is unmasked, this has the knock on effect of debasing the myth of the secret society, and proving that shady backdoor meetings exist only in spy novels and Hollywood films, and that fair and open democracy is alive and well.
The point here is not about whether the world is in fact ruled by the Skull and Bones, The Bilderberg Group or the Rockefellers. It is simply that a system of fictions and counter fictions exist to tactically conceal and reveal actions which could determine global trajectories, as those directing the actions dwell within the shadows creating the fictions which become future realities.
In recent years it has been rumoured that as the Grove’s global influence has decreased, the play which was previously central to the Grove’s function in determining the event of the next 12 months has been abandoned. Supposedly a succession of unexplained failures to actualise the plan set out in the performance lead to a crisis in the Grove. Wether the failure to actualise the play’s fiction into reality resulted in the Grove’s waining global influence, or whether it was the Grove’s waining global influence which lead to them failing to enact the future in the play, is hard to determine.
According to various online message boards, for the last few years a small cell of activists have camped out in the woods surrounding the grove, embedding themselves within the forest and monitoring the Grove’s processes and activities with the ultimate aim of one year pulling off a deep infiltration of the Grove play, secretly performing their own counter narrative, an insurgent fiction with the aim of redirecting the future towards other ends. Whether or not, even if this was successful, it would have any effect on the future remains to be seen. It has been suggested that the globe’s future is determined less and less by the actions of men and organisations, but in more abstract inorganic forms of intelligence outside of our control, intelligences shrouded and activated by an equally complex system of fictions.
Williams, Alex & Srnicek, Nick. Inventing The Future, Verso Books, London, 2015.
Ciscarelli, Joe. "An Interview With Alex Jones, America's Leading (and Proudest) Conspiracy Theorist". New York Magazine. Published November 17th 2013, Retrieved September 8, 2014.
ChangeDaChannel (youtube account). Dark Secrets : Inside Bohemian Grove Full Length, Youtube.com; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVtEvplXMLs, published 9th January 2011.
Schmidt, Helmut. Men and Powers: A Political Retrospective. Random House, 1989.
Sophie Weiner (2011) Gawker - http://gawker.com/my-summer-job-at-the-bohemian-grove- serving-milkshakes-1763551409