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The Bohemian Club, started mostly by San Francisco Examiner journalists as a cultural retreat, also has included beloved figures like Mark Twain, Jack London and Walter Cronkite. Clint Eastwood and former 49ers general manager Carmen Policy were on a guest list posted by WikiLeaks in 2008.

Still, many object to Bohemian Grove’s exclusion of women, and to what they perceive as campfire collaboration on important financial and political matters the average citizen could never get a whiff of.

That perception is real, said Peter Phillips, who taught his last sociology class in June after nearly 30 years at Sonoma State University. Phillips’ next book, tentatively called Titans, will focus on investment management companies like BlackRock. He estimates that around 200 people who attend the Grove festivities are on the boards of directors or are managers of these huge firms.

The idea of the camps is to leave business behind. That doesn’t happen, Phillips said. He knows. He sneaked in once, in 1994, when he “just put on khakis and a Hawaiian shirt and walked on in.”

“If a guy was soliciting investments directly, he could be reprimanded, or even kicked out of the club,” said Phillips, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Bohemian Grove. “But the intimacy of these men who are seeing each other for eight or nine days in July — talking about everything from their prostates to their most recent divorce, it gets to be pretty intimate. So business is done quite openly.”

That’s why Mary Moore still hangs a banner from her deck that reads: “Expose Bohemian Grove.”

Bohemian Club executives rarely grant interviews. The club’s general manager did not return a phone call from The Press Democrat.

Lately, protests from the left have largely been replaced by conspiracy-prone opposition from the right. That trend began in earnest in 2000, when Alex Jones — whose paranoid “investigative” website, InfoWars, was in its infancy then — filmed the Grove’s secretive Cremation of Care initiation and released the video.

Eventually, Bohemian Grove’s elite clientele and faux druidic rituals would fit neatly into the emerging QAnon movement’s concept of shadow rulers who prey on children and seek world dominion through vaccines and microchips.

It isn’t surprising that Bohemian Grove would spawn far-out rumors. Its members cloak the gathering in secrecy, and some of the photo evidence we do have is strange. The Bohemian Club motto is “Weaving spiders come not here,” a Shakespearean plea to focus on revelry, not networking. And of course there is the Cremation of Care.

“They build a Care skeleton,” Phillips said, recalling his eyes-on experience. “They row it across the lake in a gondola. They set it afire. There are guys in monk robes, marching with torches. They used to have a horse-drawn hearse. And then there’s a high priest.”

Finally, the priest sets Care ablaze, sort of a Burning Man for investment bankers. The men cheer and hoot, and fireworks explode above the scene.

“They started a fire with the fireworks when I was there,” Phillips said.

Some of what we know about what happens in the Grove comes from disillusioned former employees such as Emily Chavez.

Chavez worked Bohemian Grove for one summer in 1996 or 1997, when she was a student at El Molino High School in Forestville. Pretty much all her El Mo friends worked there.

Chavez failed to make it through one summer term, quitting after 8-10 shifts. Maybe she should have known what was coming. She is Mary Moore’s granddaughter.

“That place was so creepy,” reflected Chavez, who now lives in Petaluma and consults with cannabis companies on compliance issues. “It was like being a little kid, and you’re exploring, going into the forest — and then suddenly, ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be here. This is really strange energy.’”

Chavez was a server at the outdoor cafeteria.

“It was literally a sea of white bald heads and a cloud of cigar smoke,” she said, recalling quarter-century-old memories. “That was pretty gross. You’re this young woman, serving food, and they’re blowing smoke in your face.”

To the more suspicious among us, Bohemian Grove is where diabolical men gather to hatch plans for control. In reality, most of the guests are there to drink cocktails and listen to live piano music without having to deal with traffic, ringing phones or, you know, their wives.

Even Phillips, who made a career of speaking truth to power as director of Project Censored, has some sympathy.

“There’s nothing really sinister going on there,” he said. “It’s men genuinely feeling connections with one another. There’s an intimacy there for many men that isn’t really available elsewhere else.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.Barber@pressdemocrat.Com. On Twitter

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Walter White Hawaiian Shirt
Walter White Hawaiian Shirt

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