Sunday, July 10, 2011
"Weaving Spiders Come Not Here" is the motto of San Francisco's Bohemian Club. The motto is supposed to represent the club's edict against doing business during its annual Bohemian Grove retreat, which commences on Thursday on 2,700 acres, 75 miles north of the city. As club spokesman and member Sam Singer explained, "It's a group of gentlemen who are really genuinely interested in arts, theater, jazz and rock 'n' roll." The retreat gives members a chance to "get away from work. It's forbidden to talk about or solicit business at the club or grove."
The "weaving spiders" motto also provides cover for a club that discriminates against women.
Thus, in the Bay Area, good liberals and civil libertarians, who would not dream of joining a club that refuses to admit blacks or Jews, raise their glasses in a club that discriminates against women.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, is a member. Vaughn Walker, the former federal judge who overturned California's same-sex marriage law, is a member. MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews is a member.
Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is a member. Ditto band member Bob Weir. There are more big names on the right, starting with former President George H.W. Bush, former Gov. Pete Wilson and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Business titans have long bankrolled the retreats. A roster of 2010 members released by norcaltruth.org -- the club does not release its membership -- includes a couple of Rockefellers and the ubiquitous Koch brothers. Hence conspiracy theories about sinister deals cut amid the redwoods.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is a member. William R. Hearst III, trustee of the Hearst Corp., which writes my paycheck, has been a member. I have friends who are members.
John McCain has addressed the group. Ditto Francis Ford Coppola. Like good Democrats, Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have avoided Bohemia. "When I first started and they acquired my services, it was to help handle protests at the grove and the City Club," Singer noted. "Over the years, it's gone from a thousand people to literally one person."
That one person is Brian Romanoff of norcaltruth.org, and he told me he doesn't go there to "protest" so much as to "reach out and inform the members" as to why they should make retreat policy seminars -- on Afghanistan or nuclear power -- public.
He thinks some members are "probably guilty" of war crimes. He doesn't reach out to them. "I don't really want to get to know Henry Kissinger."
Sonoma State sociology professor Peter Phillips attended the retreat in 1994. The club was the subject of his doctoral dissertation. He told me that he met a lot of "ordinary rich guys" and "some very important people." Some men kept coming back to the same camps every year to discuss intimate issues -- their prostates, wives -- in an atmosphere analogous to a men's group.
Phillips also saw and heard a lot of networking. "They're very clearly talking politics and business constantly." No weaving spiders? "I proved the opposite, quite clearly. I heard conversations about business. 'If GE comes in on the deal, we can get the Japanese to join' -- three men walking down a trail together."
Note to Mr. Hearst: I believe in the right to free association. I do not want the government to encroach on men's right to socialize among themselves, or force men to share gyms, bathrooms and poker games with women and shutter fraternities.
The Bohemian Club has a right to exist. California courts have upheld the club's right to exclude female members, but ordered it to hire female staff at the club and at the grove's food facilities.
I also believe in free speech, but that doesn't mean I would say things I believe others have the right to say. I do not believe the Bohemian Club is a social/theater/music club -- although I believe the former member who told me that's what the club's emphasis used to be.
Now I buy Phillips' summation -- that the retreat presents powerful "men celebrating their male eliteness, which is kind of how the world works."
The male-only bastion's discriminatory polices hurt women trying to compete in business and politics -- and everyone in politics knows it.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
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