Social Cohesion & the Bohemian Grove The Power Elite at Summer Camp
by G. William Domhoff, U.C. Santa Cruz April 2005
The Bohemian Grove is a 2,700-acre virgin redwood grove in Northern California, 75 miles north of San Francisco (map), where the rich, the powerful, and their entourage visit with each other during the last two weeks of July while camping out in cabins and tents.
It's an Elks Club for the rich; a fraternity party in the woods; a boy scout camp for old guys, complete with an initiation ceremony and a totem animal, the owl. It's owned by the Bohemian Club, which was founded in San Francisco in 1872. The Bohemians started going on their little retreat shortly after the club was founded; it became big-time by the 1880s, and it continues today.
However, it is not a place of power. It's a place where the powerful relax, enjoy each other's company, and get to know some of the artists, entertainers, and professors who are included to give the occasion a thin veneer of cultural and intellectual pretension. Despite the suspicions of many on the Right, and a few on the Left, it is not a secret meeting place to plot, plan, or conspire. The most important decisions typically happen just where we might expect: in the boardrooms of corporations and foundations, at the White House, and in the backrooms of Congress. Yes, as I show later, some wanna-be and has-been Republican politicians sometimes visit the Bohemian Grove, including future and former presidents of the United States, but they are there to demonstrate what wonderful human beings they are, to cultivate potential financial backers, or to brag about their past exploits.
Readers who suspect that every gathering of the rich and the powerful has some deeper purpose may doubt this claim, at least until they see my evidence. For those who still might question my conclusions after reading this article, I recommend reading an excellent first-hand account of the Bohemian Grove by a journalist from Spy magazine who snuck into the encampment in 1989; the author had every incentive to tell it exactly as he saw it.
In fact, every person who has written seriously on the Bohemian Grove agrees: even though they provide evidence that there is a socially cohesive upper class in the United States, the activities at the Grove are harmless. The Grove encampment is a bunch of guys kidding around, drinking with their buddies, and trying to relive their youth, and often acting very silly. These activities do contribute to social cohesion as an unintended consequence -- which is why I decided to study the Bohemians in the first place -- but the Grove is merely a playground for the powerful and their entertainers that gives us a window into a lifestyle that is far removed from that of average Americans.