Legions of summer camp-goers spreading out around Sonoma County will be joined this weekend by some of the nation?s most powerful campers as the annual two-week encampment at the Bohemian Grove opens Friday night.
The super-secret Bohemian Club and its guests meet each summer in the 2,700-acre Monte Rio grove for what they say is fellowship and good-natured high-jinx ? a break from the grueling grind of leadership.
But critics, who until recent years mounted protests outside its gates, say the gatherings serve as strategy sessions for a New World Order operating outside democratic institutions.
While the grove?s motto ? ?Weaving Spiders Come Not Here? ? specifically targets arachnids, the club excludes all but the nation?s most powerful and well-connected individuals, according to critics.
Founded in 1872 by five San Francisco men seeking to connect ?gentlemen? with art, literature, music and drama, the all-male club is said to have included a variety of political, financial, military and industrial leaders.
Among them: Presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon and both Bushes; former cabinet members Colin Powell, George Schultz and Henry Kissinger; and industrialists Stephen David Bechtel, Leonard Firestone and David Rockefeller.
The clandestine nature of the summer retreat promotes broad speculation and endless theorizing about what goes on there.
Most critics raise the specter of national policy with global implications coming from behind the gates of an exclusive, closed-door gathering of largely conservative, wealthy white men.
This year?s encampment begins Friday night and runs through July 27. The traditional Cremation of Care ritual, in which a human effigy representing ?dull care? is burned beneath a massive form said to represent the club?s owl mascot, will be Saturday night.
Traffic already had picked up at the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport on Thursday, though just how much was uncertain, said Glenn Barrett, general manager of KaiserAir Santa Rosa Jet Center, one of two such agencies at the airport.
Thursdays are typically busy, especially in the summer, but with about 45 arrivals scheduled or completed by mid-day, the volume of incoming flights was above normal, which ranges anywhere from 10 to 40 aircraft, Barrett said.
Barrett, who is new at the company, which provides a range of concierge services, said, ?My understanding is that basically these three weeks are pretty much the busiest three weeks of the year generally speaking.?