…a “secret society with ritual sacrifices” that is “shrouded in mystery.

A man with a shaved head and wire rimmed glasses peers calmly at you from your TV screen. He is wearing a simple grey crew neck jersey, and sits in the dimmed light of a plain studio.

Brad Meltzer, Author.

In calm, measured tones, he describes a “secret society with ritual sacrifices” that is “shrouded in mystery.” He tells us that this society — which comprises the most powerful and influential men in America — is a dark and dangerous threat to our liberties, our democracy and our way of life. And they have a giant statue of an owl.

The monkish man is Brad Meltzer. According to his online bio, Mr. Meltzer is “author of the critically acclaimed comic books Identity Crisis and Justice League of America and is the first author to ever reach the #1 spot on both the New York Times and the Diamond comic book bestseller lists simultaneously.”

The show is called “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” and it’s on the History Channel. According to History Channel’s website:

“From the dollar bill to the first Presidential Codes, the hidden messages of the Statue of Liberty and the ciphers protecting the location of lost Confederate gold, the [Decoded] team uncovers the truth behind history’s most provocative secrets.”

Well, it appears that after unraveling the mystery of the dollar bill (ever wonder about that weird pyramid with the eye at the top?), Mr. Meltzer and his “expert team” were mightily chuffed, and decided they were ready to tackle The Big One:

What is the Bohemian Club?

To penetrate the Club’s veil of secrecy, Meltzer sent his expert team to California, site of the Bohemian Grove, a rustic retreat in a pine forest outside San Francisco, where the Club’s members gather once each year over a two-week period. Strangely, he sent them when no one was there.

Meltzer’s “expert team,” which includes a trial attorney/major in the United States Army Reserve, an English professor and a mechanical engineer — okay, stop. These people are expert investigators into conspiracy theories and secret societies? It sounds fine for a panel on “Jeopardy,” but — what do they expect to find? Faulty construction? A lost manuscript of Melville’s Bartleby? Army deserters who need a lawyer? If you were trying to sniff out a global conspiracy, are there the folks you would send?

This might explain a lot. Because the footage of the investigators’ activities in California is is closer to a Keystone Kops episode than 60 Minutes.

Wolverine Woman

It begins with the expert team driving up to the gate of the Bohemian Grove. Nothing sinister here. The gate is open. There is, however, a “No Trespassing” sign, which gives them pause. The mechanical engineer — a woman with the affability of a wolverine — suddenly blurts:

“We can go in. We’re just doing research! We’re not going to take anything.”

One wonders how she would respond should this situation be reversed — that is, if she walked into her own home to find The Daily Cannibal looking through her lingerie drawer.

“Hi!  Just dropped in to look around and take a few pictures — maybe some video.  Not taking anything.  May we have a glass of Chardonnay?”

The situation grows more grim. A car rolls up from inside the camp, and out steps — a genial gent in khakis who greets the “visitors” politely. They ask if they can enter. He smiles:

“No — it’s private property.”

They persist — “we just want to look around…can’t we just come in and take a peek…” and so on. He again demurs. This goes on awhile — our expert team is nothing if not persistent — but each appeal is rebuffed with the same pleasant smile and good humor. Just then, a police car drives by. It does not stop. It just rolls on.

Our intrepid team gets the willies — “We’d better get out of here.”

Cut back to the grim-faced Mr. Meltzer in his studio. “Clearly, the security guard was not the friendly fellow he pretended to be. Obviously, he had called the police even before he came to the gate. That’s when we saw the iron fist inside the velvet glove.”

Mr. Meltzer’s alchemy is impressive. One police car drives by, and immediately the friendly security guard is transformed as if by the hand of Circe into a jack-booted blackshirt lackey pig of the corporate Gestapo.

Disappointed, the team retires to the neighboring town, where they attempt to elicit comments on the sinister goings-on nearby. They meet with no success. The townsfolk either smile and shake their heads, or readily admit that they have no idea what may or may not happen at the Grove. Finally, they happen upon one grim-looking woman who opines:

“Well, you know, they say that it’s no good having the whole world if you lose your soul.”

The wolverine pounces:

“Are you saying these people have lost their souls?”

The woman nods with a smug smile. Cut.

Well, there you have it. The case is pretty much closed — Goebbels at the gate, and Cassandra in the town, and it’s clear that the denizens of the Grove are in fact the legions of Beelzebub.

Thus encouraged, the expert team launches a full-scale invasion of the deserted camp. Denied entrance through the main gate, they discover that the Russian River (!) runs right through the camp, that it is a public waterway, and no one can keep them off it.

They therefore determine to launch an amphibious assault on the camp, and, rigged out with two canoes and a couple of waterproof ponchos, they hit the beaches. In a dampening mist, they poke around for a few yards. The camera shows — shrubbery! A voice remarks: “It’s so foggy!” [Oooooh — that would be the “shrouded in mystery” part] Then another voice exclaims:

“There are motion sensors all over the place!”  [Yes — if you have motion sensors to detect intruders, they kind of have to be “all over the place.”  Putting in just a few won;t really do much, will it?]  We see nothing but fog, scrub vegetation, dirt paths. Then — cut to Meltzer again.

“When your phone rings at midnight, it’s always bad news. I wondered what had happened [dire fantasies about deaths in the family, the “expert team” perhaps eaten by bears, or chewed to ribbons by withering scythes of automatic gunfire….].”

What actually happened?

They were arrested for trespassing — finally. The call to Meltzer was to ask him to make their bail. (Didn’t any of these three bozos have a credit card? Bail was a couple of hundred dollars each.)

Video resumes as the three “experts” emerge from the police station, telling harrowing stories of their confinement. Says the previously-dauntless wolverine, no badly shaken by her brush with the underworld:

“They put us in with common criminals!”

What did she expect? “Excuse me — but how do I get a cell in the spa section?”

Finally, they close with an interview with a bearded academic who informs us that he wrote his doctortal disertation on the Bhemiam Grove. They invited him in. He spent a few days there. Chatted with a few folks. What did he find? Ritual sacrifice? No. Dark conspiracies? No. Anything, really? No.  So:  “You think it’s all — like — okay, then?”

No.  “Anytime you have a lot of powerful people meeting in secrecy, that can’t be a good thing.”

At last, something we can agree with.  Keep them powerful people isolated.  Hell, who knows what they might get up to if we let them talk to each other in really big groups!  Of course, this observation applies also to cabinet meetings, the College of Cardinals, congressional caucuses, the USOC, and quite a few other regular confabs we can think of, but —

What is actually going on at the Bohemian Grove?

In fact, the Bohemian Club is a roughly 2000-member association of high-level businessmen and prominent folks from other walks of life. Each summer for about two weeks, they gather, usually for a few days each, often with a guest, at their own compound — the Bohemian Grove — a collection of wooden cabins and meeting facilities .

We do know a few people who have attended these sessions, and we are glad to report that Meltzer has one thing right — the secret ritual thingie.   Each year those present gather for a ceremony known as the Cremation of Care. Some sort of dummy, representing worry, woe, and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” is burned in a bonfire, as a reaffirmation that the Grove is a summer camp for grown-ups, where those attending can put aside for a brief time the burdens of their offices, their cell phones, their suits and ties — and put on a bathing suit and a tee shirt, talk about things that interest them, and relax.  And no — they really don’t want to be bothered by reporters.  Would you?

The Grove is a simple place — none of the glitter of Davos, or the elegance of Augusta National, or the splendor of most private enclaves of the powerful. The agenda is also spare — there are seminars and meetings, and lunches and dinners, but the main purpose of the whole shebang is to provide a place where people can relax, schmooze and get away from their daily grind in peace and privacy. Oh — if they want to, they can also piss in the woods, and no one will complain.

Pretty nasty stuff, isn’t it? Especially that owl.

Don’t tell this to Mr. Meltzer, however. At the end of his program, somewhat disheartened by the abject failure of his “expert team” to accomplish much more than incarceration, he sullenly complains that “if they have nothing to hide, why all the secrecy? Why all the security? Why do they shroud themselves in mystery?”

It’s not “secrecy,” Mr. Meltzer. It’s called “privacy,” a concept we know is alien to the lower echelons of the press. Security? Well, when you get a few hundred wealthy people with a great deal of power together in one place, are you surprised that they take steps to ensure that they are safe?

Can you walk into any stranger’s back yard with impunity just because you’re curious? Your “expert team” seems to think so.

Oh — and the owl? The avatar of Minerva, the Greek goddess of Wisdom, the owl symbolizes — uh — wisdom. No Druid ceremonies, no warlock covens, no Satanic rituals — just a big bird. A little silly? Maybe. Pompous? Perhaps. Threatening? Only if the owl is real, and you’re a field mouse.

The Cremation of Care. And the Owl. Scary.

As for “shrouding themselves in mystery,” — well, Meltzer and his cronies seem to be the only ones who are either shrouded or mystified.  Actually, watching these hapless sleuths bumble around was kind of entertaining, but if I want to see inept amateurs bungling and bluffing their way through the day, I can turn on C-Span, can’t I?

In spite of his impressive credentials in the world of comic books and comic-book mystery novels, we consign him to the coterie of conspiracy cranks and black helicopter wingnuts who see flouride as an affront to individual liberty and the Trilateral Commission behind every Third World default.

One interesting side note:

Meltzer and his “expert team” of investigators spent a pretty good chunk of someone’s money trying to infiltrate this “secret society,” and produced — nothing. Can you imagine the reaction of his producers?

“What???!!!! You spent two weeks and and and a million bucks and all you get is a shot of a gate, a riverbank, and some local crank waving a Bible? Have you lost your farking mind?”

Stick to the funny pages, Mr. Meltzer. Sounds more like your metier. But if you really want to expose a conspiracy, we have one for you:

There is an ungodly cabal that seeks to take advantage of the dim and gullible by knitting together the most improbable fantasies into a garbled web of misdirection, innuendo and outright lies masked as investigative journalism. These devious churls then sell these bags of shit to advertisers just to make money. And they make it by the millions. You can find them every day eating lunch in Beverly Hills. Go to it!