Inside Bohemian Grove: The place where powerful men go to misbehave
As anyone who has ever perused the internet before will tell you, it is awash with conspiracy theories about pretty much anything and everything. Whether it's the debate surrounding Donald Trump being a lizard man, Nicolas Cage being a vampire or 9/11 being an inside job; there are some conspiracy theories that carry a lot more weight than others.
But, while conspiracy theorists sit back in their chairs, eating a bowl of instant noodles in their horrifyingly crusty t-shirts and slicking back their naturally brill-creamed hair, there is one place that they will always be fascinated with: Bohemian Grove.
Deep within the redwood grove of Sonoma County, California, lies a campsite that carries an air of mystique and intrigue. From the outside looking in, the site looks like an average gated community. However, for three weeks of the summer, the wealthiest and most powerful men in America flock to the Bohemian Grove to let loose and misbehave.
The Bohemian Club was created back in 1872 in San Francisco, and they began renting the campsite before purchasing it outright in 1899. The club was originally a cluster of journalists who had decided to adopt a "bohemian lifestyle" but grew exponentially to include powerful artists, businessman, military leaders and politicians - including presidents.
Upon arrival at the Grove, members are told that “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here,” meaning business deals must be left outside the iron gates. What follows is two weeks of heavy drinking, top-secret talks and purported druid worship that is befitting of the most extreme conspiracy theories.
The first night of the camp sees members indulge in the Cremation of Care. During the ceremony, members wear dark, hooded costumes, partake in chanting and cremate a coffin effigy called “Care” in front of a 40-foot-owl. According to the group, the purpose of this ceremony is to banish the "dull cares" of conscience. While this may sound cult-like, a Bohemian Grove spokesperson calls the ceremony "a traditional musical drama celebrating nature and summertime."
Despite the club claiming that business does not take place inside the grove, it's believed that there was one infamous exception. During the 1942 meet, the planning of the Manhattan Project apparently took place at the grove, leading to the creation of the atom bomb.
It was also allegedly here, in 1967, that Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Regan agreed on who would run for the presidency. And, in 1981, Caspar Weinberger apparently gave a "lakeside talk" that hinted at the military buildup that was to come during the depths of the Cold War.
But, more than anything, Bohemian Grove serves as a safe haven for the elite to let loose and behave in a way unbefitting of their stature and class. Grove members have been known to drink from dawn to dusk, perform in drag and have a certain fondness of urinating absolutely everywhere.
Philip Weiss, a writer for Spy magazine, managed to infiltrate the club for seven days back in 1989. Upon arriving at the club, Weiss noted that members had a penchant for peeing on trees, writing: “You know you are inside the Bohemian Grove when you come down a trail in the woods and hear piano music from amid a group of tents and then round a bend to see a man with a beer in one hand ... urinating into the bushes. This is the most gloried-in ritual of the encampment, the freedom of powerful men to pee wherever they like."
But, while friendships may be made over the sound of slapping bra-straps against broad shoulders and attaching wigs to receding hairlines, the club still operates a strict no-females policy. A 1978 lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ordered the club to hire female members of staff, but the club still prevents women from joining.
Membership at the Bohemian comes at a cost and is extremely hard to come by. The waiting list currently stands at around 17 years and once you are through, you've got to cough up £25,000 in order to be accepted.
It's easy to see why people are against the idea of Bohemian Grove existing; the concept of a community of wealthy and powerful men meeting up, burning effigies and having top-secret conversations is more befitting of Reddit thread conspiracies than real life. But, if staff accounts of the camp are anything to go by, Bohemian Grove is a load of old men peeing on trees and drinking from dawn till dusk. Although, they might be told to say that... who knows?