Protesters challenge the powerful at exclusive California retreat
Associated Press | July 24, 2006
By JUSTIN M. NORTON
MONTE RIO, Calif. - Hundreds of protesters gathered outside an exclusive California retreat for government and business leaders Saturday to challenge the right of a "ruling elite" to make policy decisions without public scrutiny.
The annual Bohemian Grove retreat has attracted powerful men such as Ronald Reagan, George Bush, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, philanthropist David Rockefeller, former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
It's also become a magnet for all types of activists who increasingly use the event to network and organize their campaigns. Saturday's triple-digit heat didn't stop them from making the trek to Monte Rio, a resort town about 70 miles north of San Francisco.
"I want to take a stand against war and many of the people gathering here are the people pulling the strings," said Maria Potter, 38, of Occidental, Calif. "I don't feel it's fair for them to take refuge when others can't."
Protesters listened to an Indian drum ensemble and speakers and planned to march to the front of the retreat before an afternoon get-together.
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For more than a quarter century, summer protests under the towering redwoods here have been a magnet for committed activists. Protesters say the event is quickly becoming a networking spot for leaders from the peace, environmental and immigrant rights movements.
The protests peaked at about 1,000 in 2001 before attendance dropped off. Protesters say interest has picked up in the past two years as activists realized they needed to work together on the waning anti-war movement and immigrants rights.
"Because they are up there networking and getting stronger, we need to network, too," said Mary Moore, 71, who's helped organize the event since 1980. "The idea is for people to get together and realize we have a common antagonist."
Protesters turned to anti-war march organizer Act Now to Stop War and End Racism for help with this year's protest, hoping the group could beef up the anti-war movement.
"What we're trying to do is build a broad grassroots action," said Bill Hackwell, an ANSWER organizer based in San Francisco.
The men who attend the Bohemian Grove retreat spend two weeks performing plays, eating gourmet camp grub, listening to speakers and power-bonding at the 2,700-acre compound near the Russian River in Sonoma County.
The retreat is organized by the exclusive San Francisco-based Bohemian Club. The club and event are shrouded in mystery, much like Yale University's most-famous secret society, Skull and Bones, whose members include President George W. Bush and his presidential rival Sen. John Kerry.
A Nevada man who called himself "the Phantom Patriot" was found guilty of five felonies in recent years after he broke into the grove to stop what he thought were human sacrifices and child abuse.
Matt Oggero, the Bohemian Club's general manager, said a guest list would not be released to protect visitors' privacy, but the organization "respects the right of the protesters to protest."
Bill Strubbe, 51, drove several hours to the protest from Oakland in a 1980 red Volvo covered with painted slogans like "those who would give up their liberties for security deserve neither." Strubbe said he uses his car as "a political weapon."
"I go to practically every demonstration within 100 miles," Strubbe said. "This is probably the highest concentration except for the G-8 of the 'lizard people' as I like to call them."
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