FUSION MAGAZINE EXCLUSIVE: The Truth Behind the Trees - Infiltrating the Grove

By Jon Ronson


 


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Them: Adventures with Extremists

For years conspiracy theorists have spoken of a network of secret clubs from which evil, shadowy cabals rule the world. Sometimes these cabals are known as The Illuminati, sometimes the New World Order

Some conspiracy theorists say these wicked elitists attend a secret summer camp called Bohemian Grove in the forests of Northern California, where they dress up in robes and hoods and perform a bizarre ritual that culminates in a human effigy being thrown into the fiery belly of a 50-foot stone owl. They say the Bushes regularly attend, as does Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger.

“That can’t be true,” I thought.  But yet the rumors persisted, so I decided to see for myself.  I snuck into Bohemian Grove. 

An Inside Job

I had no idea how to accomplish this. My original plan had been to enter the forest alone, perhaps climb up some hills, and basically just scout around until I found it. Recognizing that this was an ill- conceived strategy, I telephoned Alex Jones, a famous conspiracy talk-show host from Austin, Texas. He instantly invited himself along.

“That place is sick,” he yelled. “You’ve got presidents and corporate chieftains running around naked. They have orgies. They worship their devil owl. I’ll smuggle a camera in and get right up in their faces.”

“I think stealth might be a better approach if we want to witness the owl burning ceremony,” I said.

“You’re right,” said Alex. “Stealth.”

I rendezvoused with Alex and his friend Mike at the Occidental Motel, near Monte Rio. A local lawyer named Rick – who had infiltrated the Grove himself – agreed to give us advice on how to get in.

I told Rick my vague river/terrain plan.

“Going in that way,” he replied, “will get you killed. We are talking about a sheer rocky canyon.”

“So what’s the secret?” I asked.

“Just walk up the drive,” he said. “That’s what I did. There’ll be one or two security guys sitting on the side of the road looking bored.  What you don’t do is stand out. Dress preppy. Hell, I’ll come in with you.”

The next morning we drove into town to buy preppy clothes at Eddie Bauer. The visual transformation was astonishing. Alex and Mike no longer looked like highly-strung Texans. They were now the very picture of East Coast elite, dressed in sport shirts and khaki.  They honed their newfound preppiness back at the hotel by wandering up and down the corridor in an effeminate fashion and discussing nanotechnology.

In the end Alex and Mike went in separately from me. They couldn’t be completely sure that I wasn’t part of some complex trap to capture them and offer them up as a sacrifice to the owl god.

Rick stayed with me and we walked up the drive together. We were immediately approached by a security guard.

“Hey there,” said Rick.

“You guys should have driven up here,” smiled the guard.

“Oh, we wanted to enjoy the air,” said Rick.

“No problem,” the guard replied. “Have a good time.”

And that was that; we were in Bohemian Grove. I couldn’t believe it was that easy.

Cremation of Care

The first thing we noticed were clusters of canvas tents everywhere. Red lanterns hung in the trees like little devil eyes. The Grove’s ambience seemed deliberately spooky, as if a designer had been instructed to give it some kind of chic druid-Satanic milieu.

“Look,” Rick said. He was standing by a notice board of snapshot photographs of elderly preppy-looking gentlemen drinking and laughing. Some were dressed in full drag, with fishnet stockings and hideously applied make-up, humorously oversized fake breasts protruding from their nylon blouses. There was also something else on the board: a guest list. I quickly scanned the names.  Bohemians were wandering past me and I didn’t want to appear too nosey. Under C was the name Cheney, Richard.  Under B was Bush, George.

I turned around to find myself face to face with a giant stone owl, nestled between two huge redwoods.

“The shrine,” whispered Rick. “Hey. There’s your friends.”

Sure enough, Alex and Mike were heading down the path towards us.

“Hi, you two!” I said.

“Don’t go that way!” hissed Alex. “There are cameras in the trees!”

“There are owls everywhere!” Mike exclaimed, his eyes wide in terror.

Before I could say another word, they were gone.

9pm. There was no formal announcement, but the Bohemians instinctively knew that the time had come for them to head down to the lagoon. Rick and I found a prime spot, directly opposite the owl.

The grassy bank was soon packed. A thousand men had drifted down and were crowded together, sitting cross-legged on the grass. A few scrutinized me. I was probably the youngest person there.

I looked behind me and spotted Alex and Mike. We briefly made eye contact.

Suddenly we were plunged into darkness. The drums thundered. Boom! Boom!  As each boom rang out a robed man carrying a flaming torch appeared amid the trees.

“Hail, Bohemians!” said the High Priest, wearing a robe of silver and gold.

After much pomp and circumstance, the High Priest informed the crowd, these men of wealth and power, that “Dull Care,” arch-enemy of “Beauty,” must be slain!

“Bring fire!” he roared.

A startling thunder crack rang out through the trees, followed by a scary, cackly voice. It was the voice of Dull Care.

“FOOLS!” he roared. “FOOLS! When will ye learn that me ye cannot slay? When ye turn your feet to the marketplace am I not waiting for you as of old?”

“Nay, thou mocking spirit,” spluttered the High Priest. “We know thou waitest for us when this our sylvan holiday shall end. But this too we know: year after year, within this happy Grove, our fellowship has banned thee for a space. So shall we burn thee once again!”

At this moment, a papier-mâché effigy was thrown into a bonfire in front of the owl.

“AAAARGH,” said Dull Care, his grotesque death-rattle filling the forest.

“Hooray!” The crowd erupted with celebration.

Fireworks went off, we all clapped, and the Grove descended once again into silence, broken only by the sound of elderly men murmuring to their neighbors: “Could you possibly help me get up?”

Seeing is Not Always Believing

I met up with Alex back at the motel.

At one o’clock in the morning Alex hooked his hidden camera up to the TV set. He’d managed to capture the whole thing.

“Nobody has ever lived to get this footage out before,” Mike said. 

“I’m not going to lie, I was scared to death in there.”

It was clear that the Texans’ interpretation of the ceremony differed from my own. My lasting impression was of an all-pervading sense of immaturity: the men in drag, the odd spooky rituals. Alex and Mike, on the other hand, saw it as proof that the ruling elite are evil and satanically worship owl gods.

“It was much worse than I expected,” Alex said.  “I was hearing little bits of conversation. Old men were saying, ‘Yes! That’s the key! We must burn him again! I do want to burn him again.’ These people were in a fever.”

“Even so,” I replied, “it isn’t as if you overheard any of them secretly discussing global control or anything like that.”

There was a short silence.

“Yes I did,”Alex exclaimed. “I heard old men going around bragging about how they manipulate the world. I heard two guys saying to each other, ‘Yes, we’re going to get him elected.’”

“These people are sick,” Mike added.

Reflecting on the Grove

In the weeks that followed, Alex streamed his footage of the ritual onto Google video, where you can still watch it for yourself. His voice-over inferred that it might have been actual human sacrifice that we witnessed. Soon after, Richard McCaslin, a fan of Alex’s who believed his warped interpretation of the events, was caught trying to break into the Grove.

He was heavily armed.

Jon Ronson is an author and documentary film maker from London. His books include Them: Adventures with Extremists (in which you can read more of his Bohemian Grove adventure) and The Men Who Stare At Goats.

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It's never too early to start your Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa shopping. Or even birthday gift shopping. Especially if that special someone in your life is a Democrat. Because at last count, pretty much all the Democrats are now running for president. And that means there has never been a wider selection of official candidate merchandise to choose from. Whether you're into environmentalism, feminism, classism, socialism, or just plain love, there is a smorgasbord of classy items that you and yours will treasure forever... or at least until the next presidential election.

We have browsed each of the candidates' online stores, so you don't have to (it only took us three months). We have curated only the finest items from each of the Democrats running for president of the United States of America. Without further ado, here is your handy progressive gift guide – or maybe your what-not-to-gift guide.

First, the bargain basement options. Hurry! Time is running out to grab your Beto bandana, or your Delaney pack of golf balls, because at this point Stu has as much of a chance as these guys of getting the nomination.

Tom Steyer, for example – is he still in the race?


https://shop.tomsteyer.com/collections/frontpage/products/tom-2020-pattern-tee


There's way too much Tom here. That shirt's got more Toms than a Caucasian dentists' convention.

For the slightly more moderate Democrat in your life, perhaps they'd like to join the "Yang Gang"…

https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/bumper-stickers/products/yanggang-decal


Andrew Yang is a lock for Math Club president…


https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/apparel/products/math-hat


But for actual president? Well, I wouldn't make plans for how you're going to spend your $1,000-per-month Yang allowance just yet.

If you happen to be shopping for your dog, may I suggest this lovely "Dogs for Delaney" dog collar…


https://store.johndelaney.com/products/dogs-for-delaney-collar


John Delaney's definitely going to secure the canine vote with this kind of outreach. As for any human votes, that's another question entirely.

How 'bout this tastefully understated "Natural Canvas" Michael Bennet tote to remind you he's also still here?...


https://store.michaelbennet.com/michael-bennet-for-america-natural-canvas-tote/


Then again, it's a tote. So, it'll end up on the floor of your closet and you won't have it with you until that one random moment when you're out somewhere and you really need a tote bag. Just like Democrats will really wish they had a moderate when we're in the middle of the socialist nightmare of their creation.

Captain Planet himself, Jay Inslee recently dropped out of the race, but don't let that stop you from picking up what may be the greatest single item sold by anyone in this race…


https://store.jayinslee.com/elvis-the-elves-the-mystery-of-the-melting-snow-by-jay-inslee/


A children's book called Elvis & the Elves: the Mystery of the Melting Snow. Written and illustrated by Governor Jay Inslee. Talk about a whodunnit – how could that snow possibly be melting? Spoiler alert: it's because of evil, white, patriarchal capitalism. And Donald Trump.

Then there's the candidate who thinks you're a moron that can't pronounce his last name: Steve Bullock...


https://shop.stevebullock.com/collections/apparel/products/emoji-t-shirt


Get it? Bull. Lock. Oh, so that's how you say the name that sounds exactly how it's spelled.

There's another candidate who also thinks you need help pronouncing his last name…


https://store.peteforamerica.com/collections/apparel/products/boot-edge-edge-t-shirt


And he is definitely right about that. So, thank you, Pete "Boot Edge Edge." That helps.

Just outside the bargain bin section, but just barely, are candidates like Julian Castro and his "El Presidente" t-shirt…


https://store.julianforthefuture.com/julian-castro-loteria-card-white-tee/


When your last name's Castro, do you really want to go with a weird drawing of yourself as if you're a classic Latin American dictator on a postage stamp?

If you prefer a little "dark psychic forces" battling in your candidates, you'll love Marianne Williamson's "Turn Love Into a Political Force" rally sign…


https://store.marianne2020.com/collections/signs/products/love-rally-sign


"Turn Love Into a Political Force" would be an even better title for a Marianne Williamson album of 80s cover songs. And if you think I'm joking, then you haven't heard Bernie Sanders' classic 1987 folk album, We Shall Overcome. That's not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but it's also a very real thing.

Now, just a quick pause to consider the peculiar baby-wear that way too many candidates are selling…

…including Elizabeth Warren's trans-pride flag onesie. Let me get this straight – we can't force any gender on a child, because that's just cruel. But we can force a political advertisement on a baby? How do we know that baby is actually a Biden or Warren fan? The child may not even be a Democrat or a Socialist at all. That baby might self-identify as a Libertarian, or Republican, or even worse – a moderate Democrat.

Now to the premium items from the premium candidates. Elizabeth Warren – the candidate with the most honesty in her advertising…


https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/apparel/products/impolite-arrogant-women-make-history-unisex-t-shirt

-AND-

https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/drinkware/products/strong-american-unions-mug


Warren's merchandise reflects the woman herself – cold and humorless (watch her "This isn't funny" clip from the last debate here at the 4:27 mark). I'm sure she's really fun once you get to know her. Then again, maybe not.

Speaking of serious women, Kamala Harris wants to be president very badly for you, the people, as you can tell from her "For the People" poster…


https://store.kamalaharris.org/poster-for-the-people/


At $29.99 though, she's sure not charging "people's" prices. Of course, she might be having to pay royalties to a certain someone for riffing on their poster. Just saying.

For the race's number one socialist, there's a whole lot of capitalism going on in Bernie Sanders' campaign. He sells so many delightful items that it's hard to choose. But we did anyway. The most random item is this hundred-dollar, black, "Art of a Political Revolution – Artists for Bernie Sanders Coaches Jacket"…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/artists-for-bernie-coaches-jacket


Coaches across the land will be clamoring for this one. You know, since coaches are such a strong Bernie-socialist demographic.

If that's a little over your budget you might consider a "Feel the Bern" fanny pack, to help store all those government freebies you'll get from Bernie…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/feel-the-bern-fanny-pack


This is the only context in which you'll ever want to hear "feel the burn" and "fanny" in the same sentence.

And finally, from front-runner Joe Biden, we have this fine "Women's Fitted Biden Polo." Which is just about the best polo description ever…


https://store.joebiden.com/collections/apparel/products/biden-polo-womens-fit


It promises the kind of snug approach that Biden loves to provide women. Even when they don't ask.

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.

The Hong Kong protesters flocking to the streets in opposition to the Chinese government have a new symbol to display their defiance: the Stars and Stripes. Upset over the looming threat to their freedom, the American flag symbolizes everything they cherish and are fighting to preserve.

But it seems our president isn't returning the love.

Trump recently doubled down on the United States' indifference to the conflict, after initially commenting that whatever happens is between Hong Kong and China alone. But he's wrong — what happens is crucial in spreading the liberal values that America wants to accompany us on the world stage. After all, "America First" doesn't mean merely focusing on our own domestic problems. It means supporting liberal democracy everywhere.

The protests have been raging on the streets since April, when the government of Hong Kong proposed an extradition bill that would have allowed them to send accused criminals to be tried in mainland China. Of course, when dealing with a communist regime, that's a terrifying prospect — and one that threatens the judicial independence of the city. Thankfully, the protesters succeeded in getting Hong Kong's leaders to suspend the bill from consideration. But everyone knew that the bill was a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to encroach on Hong Kong's autonomy. And now Hong Kong's people are demanding full-on democratic reforms to halt any similar moves in the future.

After a generation under the "one country, two systems" policy, the people of Hong Kong are accustomed to much greater political and economic freedom relative to the rest of China. For the protesters, it's about more than a single bill. Resisting Xi Jinping and the Communist Party means the survival of a liberal democracy within distance of China's totalitarian grasp — a goal that should be shared by the United States. Instead, President Trump has retreated to his administration's flawed "America First" mindset.

This is an ideal opportunity for the United States to assert our strength by supporting democratic values abroad. In his inaugural address, Trump said he wanted "friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world" while "understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their interests first." But at what point is respecting sovereignty enabling dictatorships? American interests are shaped by the principles of our founding: political freedom, free markets, and human rights. Conversely, the interests of China's Communist Party are the exact opposite. When these values come into conflict, as they have in Hong Kong, it's our responsibility to take a stand for freedom — even if those who need it aren't within our country's borders.

Of course, that's not a call for military action. Putting pressure on Hong Kong is a matter of rhetoric and positioning — vital tenets of effective diplomacy. When it comes to heavy-handed world powers, it's an approach that can really work. When the Solidarity movement began organizing against communism in Poland, President Reagan openly condemned the Soviet military's imposition of martial law. His administration's support for the pro-democracy movement helped the Polish people gain liberal reforms from the Soviet regime. Similarly, President Trump doesn't need to be overly cautious about retribution from Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. Open, strong support for democracy in Hong Kong not only advances America's governing principles, but also weakens China's brand of authoritarianism.

After creating a commission to study the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote last month that the principles of our Constitution are central "not only to Americans," but to the rest of the world. He was right — putting "America First" means being the first advocate for freedom across the globe. Nothing shows the strength of our country more than when, in crucial moments of their own history, other nations find inspiration in our flag.

Let's join the people of Hong Kong in their defiance of tyranny.

Matt Liles is a writer and Young Voices contributor from Austin, Texas.