Once a year, the world's top power brokers gather behind closed doors for several days in a plush luxury hotel. The Bilderberg Group is an annual meeting of approximately 125 heads of state and leaders from business, politics, military, and economics from Western Europe and the United States. They discuss all the headlining topics: political, environmental, economic, and strategic issues facing the West. And when the meeting breaks up and everyone returns to his home nation — according to the conspiracy theorists — the "Bilderbergers" are armed with fresh orders, and each does his part in their master plan of World Domination. For the story goes that the Bilderberg Group is not a gathering of leaders for the purpose of discussion and the exchange of ideas, as it claims to be; but is in fact the secret world government. Sounds like a fine place to point our skeptical eye.
The Bilderberg Group was formed in 1954, and is named after the Bilderberg Hotel in Holland where the first meeting took place. The world had just come out of World War II and was entering into a new war of a much different character, the cold war. Malevolence was rising in the East, and many noted that anti-American sentiment in Europe was counterproductive to the shared goal of defending against the Communist Bloc. Polish politician Józef Retinger rallied support from Prince Bernard of the Netherlands and Belgian Prime Minister Paul Van Zeeland, who in turn contacted other leaders from Europe and the United States. The idea was to get one conservative and one liberal representative from each nation to get as broad a perspective as possible. Since the meeting was strictly unofficial, it was felt that discussion could be far more efficient and productive without the concern of binding resolutions or any sort of red tape. Fifty delegates attended the first meeting at the Bilderberg and discussed ways to improve cultural, economic, and strategic relations between the United States and Western Europe. The meeting was considered successful enough that a steering committee was formed to turn it into an annual event, with Prince Bernard as its first chairman.
Since then they've met about once a year, usually in May or June, at some 5-star hotel, usually in Europe but sometimes in the United States, and always in a different place. That first meeting was the only time they actually met at the Bilderberg Hotel.
There is nothing secret about the attendees. Part of the deal is that if you go to a conference, your name, title, and country are published on their web site and included in a press release. Every year, they've sent out a complete list of everyone who attended. Generally, if you're going to wield power from behind the scenes, you have to be behind the scenes. The Bilderbergers are not.
However, the content of their talks is a bit murky. Their meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule, which is a principle under which records can be kept of meetings without noting the identity or affiliation of any speaker. Each attendee is thus guaranteed anonymity. They have their own reason for doing this: By assuring their attendees some privacy, they encourage free, uninhibited discussion. However the use of the Chatham House Rule, quite obviously, appeals to the conspiracy theorists, as it could be seen as being consistent with secrecy.
Following this rule, the minutes are said to be taken down, but as they are the private property of the group they are not made public (see Wikileaks for leaked copies of their actual private minutes). This also throws fuel onto the fire of the conspiracy theorists. All that's made public are the general topics. For example, here is the information provided by the Bilderberg Group about the subject of their 2009 meeting in Greece:
Governments and Markets
After the G-20: Role of Institutions
Protectionism: How Serious
Cyberterrorism: Policy and Strategy
Sustainability: Post Kyoto Challenges
Iraq: Role and Responsibilities in the Region
Pakistan and Afghanistan
A New Order: US and the World
Lessons from a Crisis
Challenge to Market Economies and Democracies
New Imperialisms: Russia - China
Current Affairs: How does Industry see the Future
In short, basically the usual politicial/economic stuff that you'd expect such a group to discuss. But conspiracy theory radio host Alex Jones and other believers consider the information provided by Bilderberg to be just a front, and that they're actually there to plan the conquest of the world. They have two primary pieces of evidence to support this idea. The first is an article written by Fidel Castro, and the second is a radio interview given by a gentleman named Willy Claes. Let's look at these one at a time.
Castro, of course, was the President of Cuba for most of his career, and anytime a world leader speaks, one assumes he knows what he's talking about. On August 18, 2010, Castro devoted nearly 3 of the 8 pages of the Communist newsletter Granma to an article quoting the claims made in the 2006 book The True Story of the Bilderberg Group by conspiracy theory author Daniel Estulin. So in fact, Castro did not reveal any personal knowledge, he merely quoted from a book he'd read. As Cuba is not among the nations represented in the Bilderberg Group and Castro has never attended a meeting, there's little reason to suspect that he would have any particular insight, beyond having read that book. I don't see that Castro's article is evidence of anything.
The Willy Claes radio interview is more interesting. At the time he attended the 1994 Bilderberg meeting, Claes was the secretary general of NATO. A transcript of his radio interview, in Dutch, was reported on the conspiracy theory blog website Zonnewind. It was a very short, informal interview, taken during the 2010 meeting in Spain which Claes did not attend, and described by listeners as being in a humorous and jovial tone. Claes explained that each session consists of a rapporteur, who is usually either Henry Kissinger or current Bilderberg chairman Étienne Davignon, who speaks on a topic for exactly ten minutes, with each topic being an important problem faced by the West. Following this is group discussion, during which the rapporteur takes notes and attempts to form a consensus opinion, or "synthesis", among the group. The conspiracy theorists latched onto the following statement made by Claes, and have widely trumpeted it as proof that Bilderberg does indeed set world policy and that attendees are required to follow its orders:
"...And everybody is supposed to use those conclusions in his circle of influence."
Sound suspicious? I had five different Dutch speakers translate that, to be sure it was accurate, and that's the consensus translation. But it's still ambiguous. Claes certainly did not say they're required to carry out orders, in fact it could mean nothing more than the attendees hope to gain some useful insight that they'll be able to put into practice. It could also mean anything between the two. I'm leaning more toward the latter, because Alex Jones and the others give the quote without context and omit the rest of what Claes said. When asked if decisions are made at the meetings, Claes said:
"No, no voting, no resolutions put to paper."
And regarding the way attendees are asked to sit next to different people at each meal, Claes explained:
"I think it is really meant to accomodate the exchange of different and even contradictory opinions."
An exchange of ideas, with no decisions made. This from the interview that the conspiracy theorists put forth as the strongest evidence that the Bilderberg Group forces its members to carry out its plans of World Domination. Class, this is what we call "quote mining".
One reason it would be difficult for the Bilderberg Group attendees to control the world is that it's a different group of people each year. The core group, the steering committee, only changes gradually over the years, but the majority of attendees are invited only once or a few times. Bill Gates attended the 2010 meeting. What would be the point of inviting Bill Gates to just one of your secret World Domination planning meetings? Do you threaten him into secrecy? Are all attendees threatened into secrecy every year? It would probably not be a very popular event if this were the case. If I were Bill Gates and received a threat as soon as I walked in the door, I'd tell them where they could kiss me and turn around and walk out. Most of these people probably have better things to do than attend someone else's World Domination meeting where their own opinions are ignored and they have to enter into some kind of bizarre obedience pact to attend.
It's also important to note that Alex Jones thinks that virtually every congregation of powerful people is gathered for the purpose of planning World Domination. Not only is the Bilderberg Group setting world policy, but so are the Bohemian Club, the Freemasons, and the alleged Illuminati. What if these groups come to different decisions? Do they fight it out? Is this the true cause of world wars? I've double checked my history book, but I don't see any wars between the Bohemians and the Bilderbergers.
All things considered, I wouldn't say that the charge that the Bilderberg Group "runs the world" is an entirely unfair one. I think it's overstated, and I think the conspiracy theorists' version suggests paranoia far more than it represents reality, but the Bilderbergers are influential people coming together to discuss mutual problems in an open forum. They don't do it for their health or for grins; they're hoping to find solutions and opportunities for cooperation. I don't see any rational reason for such people to voluntarily enter into a threat-driven obedience pact or to plan World Domination. I do see good reason why a person in a position of responsibility would want the opportunity to have open, unfettered, off-the-record discussion with others facing similar issues. Any leader should consider his or herself lucky to have access to such a resource.
The Bilderberg Group tells us who they are, when and where they meet, what their purpose is, and in broad strokes what they discuss. Referring to it as some sort of secret society strains credibility. Their stated purpose obviously makes very good sense for people in their position. Which is more likely: They are what they say they are and what we'd expect them to be, or everything we see about them is an illusion and they're actually running our lives and planning our destruction? Beware any conspiracy theory that claims to predict future events. Not one has ever been right.
Estulin, D. The True Story of the Bilderberg Group. Walterville: TrineDay, 2009.
Huntelaar, W. "Bilderbergers decide indeed the policy for the coming year." Zonnewind. Willem Huntelaar, 4 Jun. 2010. Web. 22 Sep. 2010. <http://www.zonnewind.be/bilderberg/2010/media-schade-beperken-2-interview-transcript.shtml>
Marshall, A. "Barack O’Bilderberg: Picking the President." Global Research. GlobalResearch.ca, 9 Jun. 2008. Web. 27 Sep. 2010. <http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9270>
Radford, B. "Fidel Castro's Conspiracy Theories: Worth Considering?" LiveScience. TechMediaNetwork.com, 19 Aug. 2010. Web. 21 Sep. 2010. <http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/fidel-castro-conspiracy-theories-bilderberg-group-100819.html>