The woods of Sonoma County, Northern California, are super-quiet and tranquil for nearly the whole year, apart from one small chunk of the summer when the world's elite congregate to camp out in a fort, paddle kayaks and burn great, wooden owls.
The annual gathering of the 'Bohemian Club' is called 'Bohemian Grove', and is kind of like WOMAD, except women aren't allowed and countries from the developing world are heavily underrepresented. A good way to get on the guest list is if you're a white, Republican male who also happens to be the President of America. Both George Bushes have attended in the past, as did Nixon and Reagan, so naturally the gathering requires a high level of security.
The subsequent lack of public access has helped to convince many that BoHoGro is a place where the leaders of the Western world go to burn babies and promise Satan they'll drop poison on us all from the sky. Protesters show up every year. This year's summit has attracted the attention of Anonymous, who are trying to persuade legions of 14-year-olds to stop fapping off to 4chan and travel to a remote outpost in northern California to hang around in their Guy Fawkes masks.
One person who won't be there is 77-year-old local resident Mary Moore, even though she was a founding member of the Bohemian Grove Action Network who've been shouting at the event for the last 31 years.
VICE: Hi Mary! So, what’s going to be happening at Bohemian Grove this year?
Mary Moore: Well, forget what other people might tell you. They don’t have underground sex tunnels, they’re not burning babies… It’s all bullshit. The elite of the world are indeed there. The thing we should be concerned about is the lakeside talks. They are public policy talks, where these powerful people discuss and choose policy, but they do so in secrecy, with no public scrutiny. That's what people should be afraid of.
I guess 'a lack of public scrutiny' doesn't have the same fright value as 'a baby on fire'. Will you be defending your democratic rights by joining in the protests this year?
I would go in the early years, from 1980 onwards, but not now. My daughter had a house right at the gate, so we could stay on her private property. That way security couldn't move us on. We set up camp there and wouldn't leave. Fortunately, we got help from sympathetic people to help us get by – to eat, and so on.
What made you do that?
Back in the early 80s the public wasn't really aware of government collusion with large corporations. Our main point was to show how overbearing and militant the government had become. Now I feel lots of people are very aware of this. I mean, it's pretty obvious.
Did you never want to go in yourself?
I've no desire to go in myself; I'm a woman for a start, so I wouldn't be allowed. You have to be a man, wear khakis, that t-shirt with an alligator on it...
What does the alligator mean? Is it some kind of secret symbol?
No, you know, the t-shirts with the alligators on them – the brand that rich men wear to blend in.
Oh, yeah. I know the one.
The reason we were lucky with all that is we stayed there 24 hours a day for two weeks. Then, if we were lucky we might get passed a copy of the talk list, the agenda for the meeting. We’d pass that about and distribute it. That’s how we’d know what was actually going on in there. We had proof of it.
When did you give this up?
I did it for 10-15 years, then Clinton came into power. I'm not a fan of Clinton, but unlike Alex Jones claims, Clinton's not a member, so when he came to power the landscape was changing. We were there protesting right through George Bush Sr. As for the rest of the 90s, I lost interest. I'm 77, I'm tired, I've got other things to do.
Why do you think people still get so excited around Bohemian Grove?
It’s just because of the secrecy of it all. The wild rumours that it encourages, which aren’t disproven.
But the truth is, the world is bad enough without having to make stuff up. What’s really going on in there is much more boring. The head of the World Bank giving a speech, that kind of stuff… But it’s not good if they’re discussing public policy behind closed doors, with no way of us hearing about it. They’re getting away with murder, literally. There needs to be public scrutiny.