The Bilderberg Group: fact and fantasy
(A general view of the meeting place for the conference of the Bilderberg Group in Sitges, Spain Photo: ALBERT GEA)
The Bilderberg Group: fact and fantasy
The Bilderberg Group is meeting in Spain this weekend. Iain Hollingshead tries to sort out fact from conspiracy theory.
I have just discovered that a shadowy cabal of global luminaries, including Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, Prince Charles, Peter Mandelson, Lord Carrington, David Cameron, Queen Beatrix of Holland and the chairman of Barclays Bank, have been plotting to overthrow national governments and form a fascist one-world empire.
Going by the name of the Bilderberg Group, these puppet-masters made and broke the career of Margaret Thatcher, triggered the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic and, this year, are planning to bomb Iran. Quite a big story, don’t you think? And yet no one here will take me seriously. Perhaps, as representatives of the capitalist media, they’re too busy planning world domination at Bilderberg’s annual conference, which is taking place this weekend at Hotel Dolce in Sitges, one of Spain’s most exclusive (and, incidentally, gayest) resorts. Watch our cryptic crossword for clues; the swallows are flying south for winter.
Dan Brown aside, conspiracy theories don’t come much bigger than this. Here are some “facts” the establishment would have you believe. The Bilderberg Group (named after the Dutch hotel where they first met) was founded in 1954 by Denis Healey, Joseph Retinger, David Rockefeller and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, with the aim of bringing together financiers, industrialists, politicians and opinion formers. Every year around 120 of them meet, by invitation of the steering committee, away from the intrusive eyes of the press. They network, eat, drink, play golf and go home again.
“Bilderberg does not try to reach conclusions,” Viscount Davignon, the chairman, told the BBC in 2005. “It’s not that business contests the right of democratically elected leaders to lead.”
But he would say that, wouldn’t he? And where’s the fun in believing something perfectly logical when you can instead invent lurid theories that this covert liberal / Zionist / fascist (delete as appropriate) empire can trace its string-pulling roots back 800 years to the Venetian Black Nobility?
Part of the lure to conspiracy theorists is that the group wasn’t properly reported in the mainstream media until very recently. This was like a red rag to the bullish Jim Tucker, a former sports journalist on a Washington newspaper, who left his job in 1975 to investigate the Bilderberg Group.
He was able, he claimed, to write an “advance story” of Mrs Thatcher’s downfall. “She had attended one meeting of the Bilderbergs,” he recalled, “but she had nothing to say and she didn’t like it. The Bilderberg boys said they had to get rid of her and they replaced her with a trapeze artist [John Major’s father worked in a circus] from the same party.”
Jon Ronson, an investigative journalist whose books include The Men Who Stare At Goats and Them: Adventures with Extremists, spent a hilarious week with Tucker in 1999 in Portugal attempting to infiltrate a Bilderberg meeting. Tucker, who called a friend in the States every day to announce that he hadn’t been assassinated yet, led Ronson to an English expat journalist, also hot on the trail, who declared: “Maybe my head’s gone, but the Book of Revelation speaks of a one-world order, one financial order, a one-world religion. There’ll be a sense of disorder, of children not respecting their parents, and then a very powerful group will form. So it does all fit together.”
The reality, Ronson discovered, was a little less apocalyptic. After he’d returned home, Healey invited him round for a chat. “Bilderberg is the most useful international group I ever attended,” he told him. “The confidentiality enabled people to speak honestly without fear of repercussions.”
Other members of the group spoke to Ronson on condition of anonymity, furiously denying that they secretly ruled the world. In 2005 Viscount Davignon, a former European Commssioner, gave his interview to the BBC, pointing out that it was entirely natural for people of influence to speak to like-minded people. When George Osborne, now the Chancellor, went last year he registered it in the parliamentary register of members’ interests.
None of this has stopped the loons, though. “Bilderberg has all the ingredients for the kind of shadowy conspiracy people like,” Ronson tells me.
This weekend around a hundred protesters and investigators have gathered in Sitges, creating something of a carnival atmosphere. Tucker is believed to be there. He has written a book, Jim Tucker’s Bilderberg Diary: One Reporter’s 25-year Battle to Shine the Light on the World Shadow Government, the proceeds of which go towards his travel costs.
I can’t get hold of Tucker, but I do get through to Daniel Estulin, author of The True Story of the Bilderberg Group, which has sold 3.5 million copies worldwide (but wasn’t touched by a British publisher).
“How can you call me a conspiracy theorist?” he says. “I was invited to speak to the European Parliament earlier this week.”
I find a YouTube clip of his speech to that other shadowy organisation. Bilderberg’s goal, he claims, is “the creation of a global network of giant cartels, more powerful than any nation on Earth, destined to control the necessities of life of the rest of humanity, obviously from their vantage point, for our own good and in our benefit – the great unwashed as they call us.”
Other activists in Sitges this weekend include Trilever, a group calling for greater transparency, who are staking out positions in the surrounding hills, “avoiding the snipers”, while they try to spot this year’s attendees – thought to include Angela Merkel, Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank, Richard Holbrooke, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan, and Gustavo A Cisneros Rendiles, a Venezuelan media mogul.
An activist with another organisation, EcoXarxa Montseny, told a reporter: “It’s so frightening that people can’t even believe that it’s real. Some people theorise that they want to kill off half the world; others believe they’re directing the world’s finances. But we’re here to say it is real, it is happening.”
It is difficult to think of anything less real – or indeed less happening. The reality of these conferences appears to boil down to a group of willy-waggling old men comparing their security details and dreaming of past glories. Admittedly, they are efficient talent-spotters, inviting Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton before they were household names (and thereby fuelling further conspiracies). Bilderberg is also credited with helping to influence world opinion during the Falklands War when David Owen gave a barnstorming speech in favour of sanctions.
But surely it is beginning to lose some of its allure now that it is so widely known – a smaller, summer version of Davos. Can an organisation that invited Ed Balls in 2007 seriously be pulling the strings of world power? Last year the Finnish Prime Minister was so pleased to be invited that he put a press release on his website. It’s hardly Smersh, James Bond’s evil nemesis. Last summer’s conference was in Athens, and look what happened to Greece shortly afterwards.
As Viscount Davignon put it: “When people say this is a secret government of the world I say that if we were a secret government of the world, we should be bloody ashamed of ourselves.”