San Francisco Bohemian Club members and guests from around the world recently completed two weeks of celebration, self entertainment and partying at their private 2,700 acre redwood retreat on the Russian River in Sonoma County, California. Described as the “Greatest Men’s Party on Earth,” the members of the Club and international elites have been gathering in their redwoods for over 100 years.
Private men’s clubs have existed in the U.S. for over two and half centuries. U.S. clubs were modeled after British gentlemen’s clubs, which date back 400 years. Gentlemen’s clubs followed the English around the world and were a sanctum of racial, sexual and class homogeneity for English aristocrats throughout the British Empire.
American men’s clubs have served a similar function as did their British models. In most major American cities there are one or two distinguished metropolitan men’s clubs whose members dominate the social and economic life of the community. Club activities are a blending of arts, business, and socio-political discussions. Men’s clubs are private places where elites can mingle in an atmosphere of gentlemanly civility away from the common everyday world.
The San Francisco Bohemian Club is unique among private men’s clubs in that it holds an annual 16-day summer encampment where the 2,400 members are free to invite several hundred distinguished business associates and guests from around the world. Long days of glad-handing, off-the-record political discussions, government policy reviews, and the building of business friendships serve to facilitate consensus and ease of interaction among some of the top governmental and business leaders in the world. The collective corporate stock ownership by members and guests conservatively exceeds $100 billion.
The Bohemian Grove summer gathering brings together the top business elite of California along with hundreds of men from leadership positions in government, education, business, military, and the arts from throughout the United States and the world. Foremost among attendees are former Republican presidents, numerous current and past U.S. cabinet members; military generals, famous actors; members of national policy councils, and CEOs and directors of hundreds of the largest corporations in the world. It is safe to say that the Bohemian Grove is one of the few locations in the world where such a large high level gathering of elites occurs without press coverage or public scrutiny.
During the summer of 2003 the men at the Bohemian Grove heard off-the-record presentations -no media is allowed – from William F. Buckley Jr., William Safire, Charles Murray, George Shultz, Michael York and Charlie Rose. Additionally, there were daily lectures from world-class experts on global warming, war policy, school vouchers, mad deer disease, horse racing, stem cell research, terrorism, American-Russian relations, and marine ecosystem. Concerts, plays, and daily parties rounded out the two-week session for 2003.
On June 4, 1994 a presentation at the Grove from a University of California Berkeley professor stressed that, elites are important and must set the values for society that are translated into “standards of authority,” and that elites cannot allow the “unqualified masses” to carry out policy. The speech was given an enthusiastic standing ovation by the over 1,000 men present and seemed to represent the feelings of many club members.
Like the British Empire’s gentlemen’s clubs, the American Empire elite gather annually in Sonoma County for an all-male 99%-white private party to find homogeneous comradeship and celebrate themselves through poetry, music, discussions and plays. And like the British before them they employ a cadre of servants, waiters, waitresses, grounds people, on-site medical personnel, and security officers to meet their every need, -women are prohibited from 90% of the Grove and can only work in the main dining area, the skeet range, and the parking lots.
The Bohemian Club’s summer encampment is the institutionalized embodiment of elite class privilege, a de facto celebration of race and gender exclusiveness, and a slap in the face to democratic process in the United States. Institutions of elite privilege like the San Francisco Bohemian Club run counter to the core American values of equality, due process and political openness. Americans deserve a public apology from the Bohemian
Club for their celebration of eliteness, ongoing full disclosures of their lectures and presentations, and the transformation of the club to one of public service and gender and racial inclusiveness.
PETER PHILLIPS is a Professor of Sociology and Department Chair at Sonoma State University: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
His 1994 dissertation on the San Francisco Bohemian Club is available at: http://libweb.sonoma.edu/