Alice and I developed episode outlines for Decoded a year ago, and the show is very different from what we worked on. That's fine. That's show biz. I worked in TV for a long time, and never got a thin skin when what went on the air was not what was envisioned. I'd like to keep writing for TV, and I know I'm supposed to "dance with the one who brung me." But I was especially concerned by the superficial aspects of the Decoded episode tonight, which actually culminated in two of the show's regulars being arrested and charged with trespassing at the Grove compound.
I was especially dismayed to see that History™ put Alex Jones on the air for this show. Jones is a prime example of a professional conspiracist, as a term, and a breed. His entire livelihood depends on there really being a plot for a New World Order. But it goes beyond just inflamed rhetoric. (Anybody else notice that in one 24 hour period this week eleven police officers have been shot in the United States? Somebody out there is declaring war on authority figures in this country.) On his radio show Jones regularly froths that the government is never to be trusted, that government agencies are made up of nothing but criminals engaging in “raiding and looting,” and that there is a vast, unidentified, controlling elite composed of the “most vicious, black, stinking, massive evil” that can be imagined. Jones is not just another Barnum barking peeks at the Gator Woman. Daily, he shrieks that the New World Order needs to be (to use his various suggestions) punched, kicked, pole-axed, torn apart, and have its collective neck broken like a Sunday pot chicken. His longstanding advice is to keep all of your guns loaded and ready for the final showdown when the black helicopters land on your lawn to haul you off to an underground government prison camp. He's a one-man 9/11 Truther industry, who has fomented the most insane theories of 9/11 as an inside job, while standing at Ground Zero screaming through bullhorns that it was all perpetrated by the New World Order.
Anybody else recall him at the Democratic convention in Denver in 2008, surrounded by supporters screaming, "Kill Michelle Malkin"? This is the guy History™ put on their show tonight.
And if the New World Order turns out to not really exist, but merely to be a figment of his demented imagination (or calculated guile), he is out of a lucrative job. But here's why tonight really bothered me on a whole lot of levels. In January of 2002, devoted Alex Jones fan and self-proclaimed “Phantom Patriot,” Richard McCaslin, snuck onto the property of the Bohemian Grove, armed with a knife, a sword, a crossbow, a .45 caliber handgun, a modified MK-1 semi-automatic rifle/shotgun hybrid loaded with 70mm shotgun shells, 30 rounds of .223-caliber bullets, a homemade rocket launcher, and a Bible covered in camouflage. McCaslin admitted to authorities that he was there to “kill child molesters” and Bohemians, whom he believed were practicing human sacrifices. He’d read all about it on the Internet, and he’d heard conspiracy peddlers like Alex Jones talk about it on the radio. It just had to be true. Jones told his audience to fight the evil forces of the New World Order with violence. So, the Phantom Patriot was going to do just that.
According to a San Francisco Chronicle article from 2002,
(T)he well-spoken and seemingly lucid McCaslin is convinced that there are hidden torture chambers and other horrors at the club. He told how he was inspired by Austin, Texas, radio personality Alex Jones. Jones says he has seen "bizarre, Luciferian ceremonies" at the idyllic 2,000-acre redwood grove during the club's annual two-week summer encampment, which draws U.S. presidents and other luminaries.
McCaslin was not some unintelligent, inarticulate, drug-addled boob, acting out a fantasy as some Earth-saving commando. His actions were carefully planned, and he truly believed that what he was doing would ultimately make him a hero. Shooting some Bohemian Grovers might put a dent in their plans for world domination, and save those children from a pagan sacrifice. Thankfully, the Grovers meet in the summer, or he might very well have killed a whole lot of people.
Of course, Jones and the team in tonight's show didn't mention McCaslin when they made the heavy security on the property seem like a bunch of spooky and unwarranted silliness. They didn't mention Jones' influence on the "Phantom Patriot." Why, Jones just looked like a calm, concerned citizen, who wasn't really advising the team to trespass on Grove property. He'd just show them how to do it, if they really wanted to. He ran to the boat when the cops came, and two regular cast members of the program got thrown in the slammer for nine hours, to make "compelling" television.
Fantasies are fun. Selling fantasies can be lucrative, as the Walt Disney Corporation or any prostitute could attest. But when conspiracists don’t just post their theories on the Internet anymore, and instead actually start acting upon their fears and plugging their perceived boogeymen with .45 dumdum rounds, it crosses a very big point of no return.
We live in what may be the most cynical period of time in all history, and the world is rampant with plenty of perennially panicky pundits. College kids who blithely tell you they believe in nothing and no one, suddenly start spouting the “real truth” they’ve discovered, that God is an alien from the planet Zyra, their parents are tools of the KGB, and that the Illuminati are secretly running everything. Some polls show 20% of college students think the Moon landings were a hoax. In 2006, a Scripps-Howard poll showed that 36% of the American public – around 100 million people – believed that the U.S. government had something to do with the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks, either ignoring intelligence intentionally to start a Middle East war, or actually carrying out the attacks themselves.
100 million people.
That’s not just some isolated lunatic fringe. That’s one out of every three of your neighbors. Or maybe you.
Decoded had, and still has, the potential of being a fun show. But having the "team" driving around, trying to sneak into Bohemian Grove to see...what?...and coming up with barely enough real information to fill a teacup is an incredible waste of what was a great idea. (And that "secret" list of Bohemian members? It's been on Wikipedia for years.) There are legitimate issues to discuss about the Grove, and very real history about the summer gatherings and participants, along with the Bohemian Club in San Francisco that was never even mentioned in the course of the hour. Unfortunately, a lot of talented people and their months of hard work have resulted in that most terrible sin of all in broadcasting: a dull show that makes the viewer feel like his time was wasted.
If you know nothing about the Bohemian Grove, here is an exerpt from Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies:
In 2007, former president Bill Clinton was making a speech and was interrupted by a “9/11 Truther” who shouted allegations about the 9/11 attacks being a hoax, followed by a reference to Clinton and Bohemian Grove. As the guy was dragged out of the auditorium, Clinton quipped, “That's where all those rich Republicans go up and stand naked against redwood trees right? I've never been to the Bohemian Club but you oughta go. It'd be good for you. You'd get some fresh air.”
Word on the street is that the boyish fun at the campouts of the Bohemian Grove, the world’s most star-studded Scout troop, includes Satanic rituals, rapes, outdoor S&M, public urination “swordfights” and setting fire to a great big owl. We’ll tell you right from the start. The owl stuff is true. So is the public urination.
San Francisco’s Bohemian Club at 624 Taylor Street was started in 1872 by a group of journalists who were looking for a little culture, along with attracting avant garde artists, musicians, actors and writers, known in those days by the label “Bohemians.” The trouble with trying to form an exclusive club with a bunch of starving, off-kilter, and unusual, arty types is that most of them were broke. So, the club had to also admit a few rich patrons in, just to keep the lights on. The result was that the rich patrons stayed and quickly crowded out most of the starving artists. The membership quickly became dominated by financial titans, famous politicians and other powerful figures (overwhelmingly Republicans). Yet, the by-laws required that a certain number of members still be writers and other artists. Authors like Mark Twain, Jack London and Ambrose Bierce were early members.
In the late 1800’s, the Bohemian Club held regular summer camp outs in several locations in the forests outside of San Francisco. The feeling was that the club had become too socially conscious, to clubby, too cushy, and had lost the Bohemian spirit of unconventional living. So, in 1899 they established a permanent campground, an isolated, 2,700 acre, redwood-filled property known as Bohemian Grove, near the tiny town of Monte Rio. Every July since then, the Grove has been the location of an annual outdoor, two-week celebration of Bohemian life. And because of the many influential members and guests of the club, along with rumors of certain activities, a growing suspicion has developed over their carryings on.
The Cremation of Care
For over 100 years, the opening of the Grove’s annual outdoor session has been a dramatic, over-produced and slightly bizarre ceremony called the “Cremation of Care.” The centerpiece of the Grove’s central gathering area is an outdoor amphitheater, with a pond and a 45 foot tall concrete owl – symbol of wisdom, and the Bohemian Club’s mascot and logo. It is around this owl that the ceremony is enacted.
The point of the ceremony is that the majority of attendees at the Grove may be the movers and shakers of the financial and political world, but while they are in the Grove, they are to put the cares and worries of the outside world aside. And they do this by burning them. Well, not literally, even though conspiracist Alex Jones thinks otherwise. The ceremony begins with a boat slowly crossing the pond carrying an effigy that represents Dull Care. This dreaded reminder of the outside world mocks the attendees, and shouts at them over the booming PA system, “Fools! Fools! Fools!” The Bohemians have the last laugh, as hooded, vaguely Druidic-looking Grovers take Dull Care out of the boat, put it on an altar, and set it on fire, to the happy cheers of the crowd, which are accompanied by triumphant music and fireworks. And the voice of the Owl during the ceremony? Former CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite. Of course, Alex Jones has alleged in the past that this is a live body they burn every year. His clandestine video of the event is all over the Internet.
The point being made goes along with the Bohemian Club’s motto: “Weaving spiders come not here,” a line taken from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Don’t come and make plots or transact business or bring the evil cares of the outside world in here.
Retreat for the Ruling Class
The Grove itself is a massive compound made up of different themed camps, sort of like a rural Disneyland. These days, some 1,500 members and guests attend. Each area has its own cabins and dining area, and the more than 100 campsites all have their own names like Valhalla, Mandalay, Cave man, Pink Onion, Woof, Jungle and Dragons. William F. Buckley Jr., George H.W. Bush and Astronaut Frank Borman hang out at the Hillbilly Camp. Throughout the 16 days of the Grove, there are lectures, plays, music, along with great food, cigars, and endlessly flowing booze. The Lakeside Speakers are an amazing lineup of the world’s most powerful elite. But if an attendee wants to go swim nude in the Russian River, that’s his business.
Remember that the Bohemian Club has a mandated group of members who are actors, writers, musicians and artists, so the entertainment is non-stop –annual events are the Lo-Jinx musical comedy show and a more serious Grove Play. The Clubhouse back in San Francisco has a 600 seat auditorium in the basement for putting on plays throughout the year, and for rehearsing shows headed for the Grove. The “Men of Talent” are often given reduced membership fees, in return for their work on Club shows, which are presented in the Clubhouse every Thursday night from October to May. Mark Twain would work all year on phony Elizabethan poems and suggestive fishing songs involving the size of a man’s cod, to be presented at the Grove.
Member Herman Wouk, author of The Winds Of War said of the Grove, "Men can decently love each other; they always have, but women never quite understand.” Still, not everyone thinks highly of the Grove and its antics. Member Richard Nixon once called it, “the most faggy goddamn thing that you would ever imagine.” Interestingly, even though past presidents and presidential hopefuls are regular attendees, the Grove has a rule that sitting presidents may not give speeches during the event. Nevertheless, members and guests are a stunning array of business and political leaders, which is what makes the decidedly lowbrow, high-schoolish level of pranks, name calling, theatrical drag acts and fart jokes seem so out of place for these otherwise dour men of power. And then there’s all of that public urinating.
Yes, it’s a freewheeling place where guys like George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Newt Gingrich can pee up against an old-growth tree and not have some idiot from People Magazine plaster it on the cover. The Grove is not necessarily a place where world domination is planned, it’s where the men who already dominate the world go to relax. They aren’t worshiping Satan, they aren’t sacrificing orphaned children to the ancient god Moloch. They are doing what the rest of us can do privately without having cameras and microphones thrust at us while we’re sitting in a boat, baiting a hook and drinking a beer. They drink nonstop, joke with each other, and act like big kids for a couple of weeks a year. The Grove’s meetings have been infiltrated many times by legitimate reporters, and the overwhelming conclusion is that there’s nothing sinister going on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell books and DVD exposés to a breathless public who believes otherwise.
(Portions adapted from Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies by Christopher L. Hodapp and Alice VonKannon)