Who pulls the strings? (part 3)
Bilderberg members continued to ignore my enquiries through the end of 1999 and into 2000. I continued dutifully to write to Bilderbergers, although I held out no hope of a breakthrough. And then, one Tuesday morning, the phone rang. It was the instantly recognisable voice of a Bilderberg founder member, for 30 years one of their inner circle, their steering committee, a Bilderberg agenda setter, a head-hunter - a secret ruler of the world himself, should you choose to believe the assorted militants I had spent the past five years with. It was Denis Healey.
"How can I help you?" he said.
"Well," I said, "would you tell me what happens inside Bilderberg meetings?"
"Okay," he said, cheerfully.
There was a silence.
"Why?" I said. "Nobody else will."
"Because you asked me," he said. Then he added, "I'm an old fart. Come on over."
Once Lord Healey had agreed to talk to me - and I had circulated this information far and wide - other Bilderberg members became amenable, too (albeit on the condition of anonymity). These interviews enabled me to piece together the backstage mechanics of this most secret society.
So this is how it works. A tiny, shoe-string central office in Holland decides each year which country will host the next meeting. Each country has two steering committee members. (The British ones have included Lord Carrington, Denis Healey, Andrew Knight, the one-time editor of The Economist magazine, and Martin Taylor, the ex-CEO of Barclays Bank.)
They say that each country dreads their turn coming around, for they have to raise enough money to book an entire five-star hotel for four days (plus meals and transport and vast security - every packet of peas is opened and scrutinised, and so on). They call up Bilderberg-friendly global corporations, such as Xerox or Heinz or Fiat or Barclays or Nokia, which donate the hundreds of thousands of pounds needed. They do not accept unsolicited donations from non-Bilderberg corporations.
Nobody can buy their way into a Bilderberg meeting, although many corporations have tried. Then they decide who to invite - who seems to be a "Bilderberg person". The notion of a Bilderberg person hasn't changed since the earliest days, back in 1954, when the group was created by Denis Healey, Joseph Retinger, David Rockefeller and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (a former SS officer while he was a student - ironic that a former Nazi, albeit a low-ranking and half-hearted one, would help give birth to an organisation that so many would consider to be evidence of a Jewish conspiracy).
"First off," said a steering committee member to me, "the invited guests must sing for their supper. They can't just sit there like church mice. They are there to speak. I remember when I invited Margaret Thatcher back in '75. She wasn't worldly. Well, she sat there for the first two days and didn't say a thing. People started grumbling. A senator came up to me on the Friday night, Senator Mathias of Maryland. He said, 'This lady you invited, she hasn't said a word. You really ought to say something to her.' So I had a quiet word with her at dinner. She was embarrassed. Well, she obviously thought about it overnight, because the next day she suddenly stood up and launched into a three-minute Thatcher special. I can't remember the topic, but you can imagine. The room was stunned. Here's something for your conspiracy theorists. As a result of that speech, David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger and the other Americans fell in love with her. They brought her over to America, took her around in limousines, and introduced her to everyone.
"I remember when Clinton came in '91," he added. "Vernon Jordan invited him along. He used it as a one-stop-shop. He went around glad-handing everyone. Nobody thought they were meeting the next president." (Of course, Jim Tucker would contend that they all knew they were meeting the next president - for they huddled together that weekend and decided he would be the next president.) At times, I become nostalgic for when I knew nothing. There are so few mysteries left, and here I am, I presume, relegating Bilderberg to the dingy world of the known. The invited guests are not allowed to bring their wives, girlfriends or - on rarer occasions - their husbands or boyfriends. Their security officers cannot attend the conference and must have dinner in a separate hall. The guests are expressly asked not to give interviews to journalists. Rooms, refreshments, wine and cocktails before dinner are paid for by Bilderberg. Telephone, room service and laundry bills are paid for by the participants. There are two morning sessions and two afternoon sessions, except on the Saturday, when the sessions take place only in the evening so that the Bilderbergers can play golf. The seating plan is in alphabetical order. It is reversed each year. One year Umberto Agnelli, the chairman of Fiat, will sit at the front. The next year, Norbert Zimmermann, chairman of Berndorf, the Austrian cutlery and metalware manufacturer, will take his place. While furiously denying that they secretly ruled the world, my Bilderberg interviewees did admit to me that international affairs had, from time to time, been influenced by these sessions.
I asked for examples, and I was given one: "During the Falklands war, the British government's request for international sanctions against Argentina fell on stony ground. But at a Bilderberg meeting in, I think, Denmark, David Owen stood up and gave the most fiery speech in favour of imposing them. Well, the speech changed a lot of minds. I'm sure that various foreign ministers went back to their respective countries and told their leaders what David Owen had said. And you know what? Sanctions were imposed."
The man who told me this story added,
"I hope that gives you a flavour of what really does go on in Bilderberg meetings."
This is how Denis Healey described a Bilderberg person to me: "To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."
He said, "Bilderberg is a way of bringing together politicians, industrialists, financiers and journalists. Politics should involve people who aren't politicians. We make a point of getting along younger politicians who are obviously rising, to bring them together with financiers and industrialists who offer them wise words. It increases the chance of having a sensible global policy."
"Does going help your career?" I asked.
"Oh yes," he said. Then he added, "Your new understanding of the world will certainly help your career."
"Which sounds like a conspiracy," I said.
"Crap!" said Denis Healey. "Idiocy! Crap! I've never heard such crap! That isn't a conspiracy! That is the world. It is the way things are done. And quite rightly so."
He added, "But I will tell you this. If extremists and leaders of militant groups believe that Bilderberg is out to do them down, then they're right. We are. We are against Islamic fundamentalism, for instance, because it's against democracy."
"Isn't Bilderberg's secrecy against democracy, too?" I asked.
"We aren't secret," he snapped. "We're private. Nobody is going to speak freely if they're going to be quoted by ambitious and prurient journalists like you who think it'll help your career to attack something that you have no knowledge of." I noticed a collection of photo albums on his mantelpiece. Denis Healey has always been a keen amateur photographer, so I asked him if he'd ever taken any pictures inside Bilderberg. "Oh yes," he said. "Lots and lots of photographs." I eyed the albums. Actually seeing the pictures, seeing the set-up, the faces, the mood - that would be something.
"Could I have a look at them?" I asked him. Lord Healey looked down at his lap. He thought about my request. He looked up again. "No," he said. "Fuck off."
© Jon Ronson, 2001. This is an edited extract from Them: Adventures With Extremists, by Jon Ronson, which will be published on April 6 by Picador, priced £16. Jon Ronson's four-part television series, The Secret Rulers Of The World, begins on Channel 4 in May. Next week in Weekend: In the second extract from Jon Ronson's new book, our reporter goes on the trail of David Icke, the former goalkeeper who became obsessed with lizards. (guardian, 3.10.2001) http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2001/mar/10/extract1