Bohemian Grove gathering begins Friday

The Bohemian Grove, a redwood-spired sanctuary to powerful men for 120 years, today opens its gates near Monte Rio for its annual, two-week encampment.

The gathering of the all-male Bohemian Club is expected to draw a small group of protesters this weekend when the bulk of the guests are expected to arrive. The encampment lasts through July 26.

The small demonstration contrasts with some of the larger-scale protests of earlier years, usually coinciding with Republican presidential administrations over the past three decades. Every Republican president since Herbert Hoover reportedly has belonged to the 2,500-member club.

Mary Moore, who helped found the Bohemian Grove Action Network in the 1980s, said she is happy that new activists are still trying to draw attention to leaders of government, banking, business and the military who gather in the grove.

“I’m just glad to see anybody out there,” Moore said of this year’s demonstrators.

The encampment makes an economic impact on Sonoma County, partly by hiring about 600 mostly younger workers, believed to be the second-biggest provider of summer jobs behind the county fair. The club members and guest also will perform at their annual variety show July 23 at the Monte Rio Amphitheater. The show, which typically sells out, last year raised more than $20,000 for local charities.

This summer’s encampment comes as environmentalists continue their fight against a proposed timber plan for the 2,650-acre grove property near the Russian River.

The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is preparing to respond to what a spokeswoman characterized as a “rather large” number of comments on the timber plan, a step before officials can deny the plan or issue a permit.

Environmentalists contend the plan would allow the cutting of too many old-growth trees on a property said to contain the biggest stand of ancient redwoods along the Russian River. Critics also maintain that the property is too big for the club to qualify for a special permit that would remain valid virtually in perpetuity.

John Hooper, a former Bohemian Club member who is spearheading the fight against the timber plan, said environmental groups are holding fund-raising events this summer.

“If we do have to litigate,” Hooper said, “we need to raise some money.”

Club spokesman Sam Singer said the property should qualify for the nonindustrial timber permit. And he disputed a Sierra Club letter that the club’s past plans show it has been targeting old-growth trees.

“We’re certainly in agreement with the Sierra Club in protecting old growth,” Singer said. “And that is the aim of our plan.”

This summer’s demonstration is scheduled Friday and Saturday by 9/11 Truth, part of a national group that wants a new investigation of the events surrounding Sept. 11, 2001.

Brian Romanoff, a spokesman who operates the Web site, said the aim of the demonstrations is to increase “awareness of these private gatherings of the elite.” He said participants also hope to speak with those attending the encampment.

Singer disputed the characterization of the club’s membership, saying it included men of “modest means as well as the well to do.”

“It is anything but an elite group,” he said. “It is representative of the broad spectrum of society.” (Press Democrat, 7.08.2009, ROBERT DIGITALE)  

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