Weirding the Grove

InfoWars host Alex Jones recently claimed he now believes parts of his notorious 2000 documentary Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove may be fake. In an interview on comedian Andrew Schulz’s Flagrant 2 podcast, Jones provides a history of the Grove, in his own unique way, before stating, “I was told by insiders how to get in, I’m not sure why they still did it, why I was given it—people say, ‘Hey, Jones was let in,’ and later I figured out I was.” He goes on to implicate his partner-in-crime, British journalist Jon Ronson, as the one who provided him with the means and opportunity. Jones accuses Ronson of giving him the Grove’s passcodes, and states Ronson’s employers, British broadcasters World of Wonder and Channel 4 forced him into silence.

The Bohemian Grove, as it’s now understood in the popular imagination, is a place of phantasmagorical evil. You can find dozens of self-published books on Amazon connecting it to the Illuminati and the Freemasons. The Grove has served as inspiration for conspiratorially-tinged works of fiction, such as the 2012 film The Conspiracy which reimagined Jones’s and Ronson’s journey to the Grove as a found-footage horror film. But most troubling, the Grove now exists at the nexus of modern conspiracy theories surrounding an elite cabal of Satanic pedophiles. Countless websites list the alleged crimes of Bohemian Club members, including the ritual abuse, torture, and murder of children. For all intents and purposes, the image of the Grove as a Satanic playground for the world’s power elite is the image of the Grove that persists in popular culture.

Jones’s interview presents new questions; how did the Grove end up as a physical representation of evil—and to what extent is Jones responsible? If Jones’s admission is accurate, it changes the public’s understanding of the Grove. Most of all, as Jones asks at one point during the interview, “Why did they let [him] in?”

Picture of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon meeting at the Bohemian Grove in 1967
Reagan and Nixon at the Bohemian Grove, 1967


The Bohemian Grove wasn’t always weird, at least not in a public way. Established formally in 1878 as a retreat for artists, musicians, and actors, the site grew into a gathering place for the rich and powerful. For the next hundred years the Grove barely registered in the press, showing up only in references to partying and politics. A July 1903 article in The San Francisco Call framed the Grove as a place where men “who can spare a few days from the strenuous business world” go to “tase in the joys of jinks,” and a1967 syndicated story from the Associated Press detailed a meeting between California Governor Ronald Reagan and aspiring Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon.

Beginning in the 1970s, however, the image of the Grove turned towards conspiracy. In 1971 then-President Nixon cancelled an “off-the-record speech” at the Grove after members of the press threatened to crash it and document the events happening at the retreat. The attention generated by the fiasco inspired independent researchers John van der Zee and G. William Domhoff to collaborate and learn more about the site, with Van der Zee sneaking into the Grove as a waiter to gather information on the events and its members for a book, The Greatest Men’s Party on Earth: Inside the Bohemian Grove. For his part, Domhoff alleged in his own book, The Bohemian Grove and Other Retreats, to have seen a telegram hanging in the Bohemian Club’s San Francisco clubhouse in which Nixon asked the Club’s president to “continue to lead people into the woods’’ while he “redouble[d] his efforts to lead people out of the woods.” The paragraph closes with Domhoff writing: “[Nixon] also noted that, while anyone could aspire to be President of the United States, only a few could aspire to be president of the Bohemian Club.”

The books generated further interest and private citizens began investigating the Grove. In American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousnessauthor Tea Krulos relates how Mary Moore, an anti-nuclear activist, picked up the mantle from Van der Zee and Domhoff and worked with journalists to infiltrate the Grove via her newly-formed Bohemian Grove Action Network. Moore’s tireless lobbying resulted in a series of stories in national publications about the Grove’s political connections—a 1981 article in Mother Jones laid out how an anti-Soviet Lakeside Talk by Dr. Edward Teller influenced Reagan policy advisors (and Bohemian Club members) Justin Dart, William French Smith, and Caspar Weinberger. The Bohemian Club launched a counter-offensive, and as Krulos notes in his book, both Time magazine and National Public Radio killed stories on the Grove the following year. By the end of the 1980s, activist and journalist infiltrations presented an ongoing problem to the Bohemian Club and its secretive retreat, the Bohemian Grove.

Picture of former Nebraska state senator John DeCamp
John DeCamp speaking before the Nebraska Legislature, 1978


In the Flagrant 2 interview, Jones says that he was a different person at the time of his Grove expedition, in 2000. “This is me like, 21 years ago,” he argues, adding, “I wasn’t into the whole Satanism thing or pedophile thing, I thought it was B.S. I was more like a mainline Libertarian, kind of a mainline Republican, pro-gun guy.” As with most things Jones says—or has said, for that matter—this is not true.

Jones had addressed the subject of Satanism at least as early as the 1990s. He aired the documentary Conspiracy of Silence, produced by British broadcaster Yorkshire Television, about the 1988 Franklin Credit Union child prostitution scandal, at least once on his Austin-based public access channel. Although the documentary itself omits references to Satanism, its central figure, a former Republican state senator from Nebraska named John DeCamp, had written a book on the subject. Published in 1992, The Franklin Cover-Up: Child Abuse, Satanism, and Murder in Nebraska was a melange of wild accusations and conjecture connecting head of the Franklin Credit Union Lawrence E. King, Jr. and President George H. W. Bush to a Satanic sex trafficking ring operating out of Omaha-based youth charity Boys Town.

The Jones-DeCamp connection is important because the two would shape the image of the Bohemian Grove by latching onto what were then recent accusations about its members. In 1999, the National Archives released 445 hours of Richard Nixon’s private conversations, recorded as part of “The Nixon Tapes.” One conversation, on May 13, 1971—two months before what would have been his off-the-record speech—revealed Nixon’s personal feelings about the Bohemian Club; in a conversation with his White House Counsel John Ehrlichman, he used a homophobic slur to address club members and joked, “I can’t shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.” Jones, both then and now, draws a direct connection between homosexuality and the Grove’s alleged pedophilia.

Jones introduces his documentary Dark Secrets by theorizing why Bohemian Club members might gather every year: “Could it be that when you have all the power and all the women and all the money … you have to get off in a sick way?” He then attacks mainstream coverage of the Grove, stating a 1989 article in Spy magazine was running cover for the real activities happening there. “And there’s even a photo, released by the Grove, of the [Cremation of Care] being engaged in,” he exclaims angrily, referencing a picture taken from the article. The documentary focuses on the cremation, a burning of an effigy of a child, and over the course of its two-hour runtime Jones makes repeated references to orgies and Satanic ritual abuse as he builds up to a reveal of the ceremony. The documentary closes with Jones witnessing the cremation, though he finds no evidence of trafficked children or abuse.

Jones developed his theory after the documentary’s release through his relationship with DeCamp, who appeared regularly on The Alex Jones Show. In the second edition of The Franklin Cover-up, first released in 1996 (with updates in 2001, 2005, and 2006), DeCamp added a reference to the Grove in a new chapter titled “Drugs and the Monarch Project,” where he stated Grove attendees assaulted one of the Franklin victims, Paul Bonacci, and forced him to eat other children. It is unclear which version of the second edition added the Bohemian reference, as the only available copy of the book is a “2004/2005 edition” that purports to add the Columbine shooting and Catholic Church’s child molestation scandal. But DeCamp elaborated on this connection on Jones’s radio show in a July 2004 interview, stating,“[Bonacci] was taken out there for a ceremony in which they committed some pretty horrible things on another boy, and three boys, and they filmed it.” DeCamp doesn’t reference the Cremation of Care by name but given Jones’s focus on the ritual it’s clear this is what DeCamp is referring to when he talks about a “ceremony.”

A picture taken of the Cremation of Care ceremony
The Cremation of Care, unspecified date


Before Dark Secrets the Cremation of Care was but one piece of Grove lore. Van der Zee and Domhoff’s books reference the ceremony, as do 1980s magazine articles in Mother Jones, Parade, and Spy, but as the author of the Spy magazine article, Philip Weiss, observed in an interview with American Madness writer Krulos, news coverage downplayed the event because “[i]t’s just too fucking goofy.” This changed after the release of the Jones documentary. Newspapers and magazines covering the Grove shifted focus from the political nature of the retreat to one of mystery and conspiracy. For example, two profiles written by The Washington Post thirty years apart offer wildly different perspectives. A 1981 piecereferenced the cremation in passing, playing up its mundane nature: “It took them five tries to light the thing, after pouring kerosene all over it, but it was a spectacular sight.” But another article, in 2011, argued “much of what we know today [about the Bohemian Grove] is from those who have infiltrated the camp, including Texas-based filmmaker Alex Jones.” The article then linked to a YouTube clip of the “controversial” cremation taken from Dark Secrets.

Jones’s documentary damaged the public image of anti-Grove activists. Groups like the Bohemian Grove Action Network became entangled with Jones, and their legacies smeared as conspiracy theorists. There are no references to protests of the Grove or individual protest groups on Wikipedia beyond infiltrations in the 1980s, by Jones in 2000, and one Jones inspired, that of Richard McCaslin, an Illuminati-obsessed “real-life superhero,” in 2002. A review of discussion on Wikipedia’s edits of its Bohemian Club page reveals this is because Wiki editors—a shadowy group in their own right—believed the BGAN to be a “conspiracy theorist site.”

Even Grove activism was, in BGAN founder Moore’s words, hijacked by right-wing organizers thanks to Jones. In a 2013 interview with California alt-weekly The North Bay Bohemian, Moore revealed that a rival group had co-opted the BGAN name. The organization referenced in the article, The Bohemian Grove Action and Resistance Network, formed out of the BGAN after a Jones supporter stole the BGAN’s Facebook page and renamed it. Moore sued. The two groups now maintain rival Facebook accounts, though Moore’s rival often comments on the BGAN’s Facebook posts about George Soros and the Cremation of Care. His own group page, which has developed a higher follower count, shares content on figures like Lawrence E. King, Jr.

Was Alex Jones allowed to sneak into the Bohemian Grove? Does it matter?News coverage about the Grove now focuses on conspiracy theories created by Jones. By weirding the Grove Jones destroyed decades of activism. Whether he was or was not is a distinction without a difference. Even Jones himself is not unaware of this irony. At 17 minutes into the Flagrant 2interview one of the hosts suggests to Jones that he is a disinformation specialist, a pejorative foisted upon those in conspiracy circles believed to spread false information to discredit researchers and truth seekers. Jones responds, playfully, that he may have spread such information in the past, but denies ever knowingly doing so. Of the Grove, in particular, he says, “I’m being honest about this.”

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