Protests have waned at Bohemian Grove, but suspicion lingers
Back in 1984, some 300 demonstrators descended upon Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio, blockading the entrance to an annual summer conclave legendary for its woodsy, all-male bacchanal. They wove giant spiderwebs of yarn and string. Someone dressed as Flo the Whale. At least 50 people were arrested.
The main agitator was Mary Moore, who turned 87 this month and still lives in Camp Meeker. For Moore, the effort was rooted in the No Nukes movement. Only when a Bohemian Grove employee leaked guest lists sometime in the early 1980s had she realized how many of the men crafting global arms policy at the time were regular campers among the redwoods each July.
“We made the point that it’s all connected, in the sense that someone is profiting from doing these things that are not good for humanity,” Moore said.
But the protests have become smaller and more sporadic over the years. Lately, they haven’t been more than a couple guys showing up here and there to yell at arriving guests on video.
Thursday morning, with the Bohemian Club of San Francisco (which organizes the summer camp) celebrating its 150th anniversary and members trickling in for the Grove’s final weekend of 2022, there was no opposition at all on Bohemian Avenue. As a steady stream of cars approached the checkpoint — from appearances, a mix of employees, trade workers and well-heeled attendees in Range Rovers — the only uninvited guests were a couple of wild turkeys crossing the road.
With the world in literal and metaphorical flames, it seems folks here have simply lost interest in Bohemian Grove.
But the Grove endures, as mysterious and exclusive as ever. Its guest list remains a guarded secret, but almost certainly includes current and former heads of states, CEOs of multinational corporations and old-money trust funders.
And there is no denying the summer camp’s impact on the surrounding area. The local roads were especially clogged for a Thursday morning, and workers at a couple of Monte Rio businesses said sales pick up in July, when the Grove is occupied for three weekends.
The effect on regional air traffic is demonstrable. Over the eight-year period between 2014 and 2021, July was the busiest month at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport seven times, according to tower aircraft counts, with an average of about 8,100 planes. Pilots of small planes can generally land at any regional airport by radioing air traffic control as they approach. Over three consecutive four-day weekends in July, that option is off the table at Schulz Sonoma County.
The Federal Aviation Administration left no doubt about the reason in a notice it sent out July 19.
“The (prior permission required) program is being utilized to accommodate the increased demand for airport parking and services ahead of the 2022 Bohemian Grove event,” it read. The FAA said to expect “an increase of High Performance and Business Jet traffic” at Napa County and Schulz-Sonoma County airports.
From Hoover to George W
The Bohos, as they’re called, have their supporters.
“It’s collaborative. They’re good neighbors to us,” said Michele McDonell, a fourth-generation Monte Rio native who was helping to set up for Thursday night’s 111th Annual Monte Rio Variety Show at the town’s outdoor amphitheater. “And the fact that they steward 2,700 acres of pristine forest.”
The variety show features big-name musical acts that wander down the hill from Bohemian Grove. The 2022 edition, the first live show since before the pandemic, included late-night TV host Conan O’Brien and rock star Jimmy Buffett. Reached Friday, McDonell said it looked like the fundraiser pulled in “north of $100,000” for its three beneficiaries — St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, the Monte Rio Fire Services Foundation and the Monte Rio School Foundation.
There are unofficial winners, too. Sophie’s Cellars in nearby Duncans Mills is famously reputed to have filled a $20,000 wine order from a Boho years ago.
Why would anyone protest that? Because the Grove’s membership rolls and guest lists — each of the 2,600 men on the former is allowed to put one man on the latter — have included pretty much everyone a peacenik might have blamed for the state of the world over the past 100 years or more.
That would include every Republican president from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, hawkish U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, Gulf War architects Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, right-wing donors Charles and James Koch, Rockefellers and Bechtels.
The Manhattan Project team even used the Grove clubhouse for a meeting in 1942, a step toward development of the first atomic bombs.