Bohemian Club's friends, foes dismiss dark tales

Texas talk show host shocked by fan's arrest but sticks to claims

January 23, 2002

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For months, Richard McCaslin fixated on the Bohemian Club and its secret ceremonies, which some critics claim involve pagan rituals and human sacrifices.

The former Marine was a regular listener to a Texas radio talk show host who says the annual retreat near Monte Rio is part of a conspiracy of rich and powerful men.

McCaslin said he broke into the Bohemian Grove, armed with a small arsenal, to do something, possibly violent, to bring attention to the rituals.

Only security guards were inside, however, and he was arrested Sunday after a brief standoff with sheriff's deputies and CHP officers.

Bohemian Club officials and Sonoma County residents familiar with the summer encampment, where men have gathered for more than a century for parties and discussions of weighty issues, dismissed claims of human sacrifices and other bizarre rituals.

The annual encampment in a 2,700-acre grove has long been a target for protesters who say public policy is being formed in secret.

It also has attracted more and more attention from people like McCaslin who are convinced there's a conspiracy of silence hiding a darker side of the club.

The encampments have become the subject of discussions on the Internet and talk radio, including an Austin, Texas, program by Alex Jones that is heard on 100 stations around the country.

McCaslin said he listened to Jones while living in Austin before moving last month to Carson City, Nev., to plan his attack. McCaslin said he also watched an hourlong film Jones produced.

On Tuesday, Jones said he was stunned by the incident. "I think it's horrible ... sounds completely insane."

But Jones defended his claims about human sacrifices. He managed to get inside the grove on one day of the 2000 encampment and filmed a ceremony with a tiny camera.

"If my neighbor was worshipping a 40-foot stone owl and burned children on a fire, I wouldn't let that neighbor walk my dog or baby-sit my children. Instead these people are baby-sitting the big red button," Jones said. "This is some sick stuff."

Officials for the Bohemian Club, based in San Francisco, said they have watched Jones' film and are aware of the conspiracy theories but deny claims of human sacrifice.

"They see what they want to see. It's not true," said Matt Oggero, the club's general manager. "These are misguided people who are manufacturing things about the grove, unfortunately."

Mary Moore of the Bohemian Grove Action Network, a group that has organized protests for more than 20 years, has heard the claims of human sacrifices. She also has watched both the Jones film and another produced by an independent British TV station.

"I've looked into these things over the years, but I've never taken them seriously because it detracts from what we're trying to accomplish," Moore said.

"We've had different inside people over the years," she said. "It's bizarre, but not criminal."

The claims of human sacrifices, nevertheless, persist, joining a catalog of conspiracy theories involving such subjects as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Kennedy assassination and, most recently, whether the U.S. government had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Jones said he is not a conspiracy theorist and relies on government reports, interviews and other sources. "All we do is report the news here."

Jones, also a documentary filmmaker, managed to get inside the grove, which is divided into dozens of camps. He said he relied on his Texas accent to claim he was a member of Hillbillies Camp, whose members include President Bush and his father.

"It's just called bravado. I was just calm and when they would ask me weird stuff ... I just basically went 'ooh, yes,'" Jones said in an interview during a live broadcast of his talk show Tuesday.

He filmed the Bohemian Club ritual that is the source of the human sacrifice claims.

Part of the opening ceremony of the two-week encampment, it features members wearing red-hooded robes who burn an elaborate effigy at the base of the 40-foot owl altar. The effigy symbolizes the cares of the world that these men carry.

Hooded priests praise the owl and a black-hooded boatman crosses the lake with the bound effigy.

In his film, Jones said he can make out a bound child begging for its life and that he heard screams. "Those aren't rumors anymore," he said.

British writer and filmmaker Jon Ronson also used the film in a documentary on Jones' effort to get inside the grove and view the opening ceremony.

Moore countered that what Jones watched was a simulated sacrifice and that his film trivializes years of work by protesters.

Moore went on Jones' radio talk show to explain that the protesters' goal is to raise awareness about what club members do with their power and influence and not the seemingly silly things members do inside the grove.

"They're floating policy ideas up there," she said. "That message is getting lost in the general craziness of child sacrifice and the owl worship and the rest of it. It could become a distraction from what we're trying to accomplish."

Discussions at the grove often deal with government, military, economic, and science and technology topics. Other activities include plays and comedy -- some with men in drag -- drinking, dining and dominoes.

Members and guests have included former presidents and Cabinet secretaries including Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Caspar Weinberger.

Others who have attended include the late CIA Director William Casey, Secretary of State Colin Powell, nuclear physicist Edward Teller, leaders of IBM, Dupont, Bank of America and the World Bank.

Secret meetings of such an elite, powerful group also worry Jones, a frequent critic of U.S. government conduct and domestic and foreign policy.

Jones gained a measure of notoriety for leading the effort to build a memorial church at the site of the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas. The church complex burned during the 1993 standoff between federal authorities and David Koresh and his followers, killing 76 Davidians.

"A spotlight deserves and needs to be shown on what's happening there," he said of the Bohemian Club encampments.

McCaslin's break-in, however, could make access even more difficult if the already tight security during the encampment is bolstered.

"Now they'll be able to militarize it even further," Jones said.

McCaslin, a clean-cut man with a slight Southern accent, managed to set a small fire that caused minimal damage during his foray into the camp. He also left Bible pamphlets at the foot of the owl statue.

He said a security official for the club interviewed him for more than an hour at the jail on Monday.

"We are reviewing our security procedures and will take those steps necessary to provide adequate security at the grove both during upcoming summer events and during the rest of the season," Oggero said.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or [email protected]