Editor’s Warning: PR, Propaganda, Disinformation and Spin. Read at your own risk.
by Eamonn Fingleton
The news this morning is that John Kerry is in line to become America’s next Secretary of State. If so, it is another piece of red meat for Bilderberg conspiracy theorists.
Operating from a tiny office in a Dutch university, the Bilderberg organization is hardly known outside the highest reaches of power. Yet as networking organizations go, it is so rarefied it makes Davos look about as exclusive as Facebook. Adding spice to the story is the fact that the Bilderberg organization has embarrassing links with Nazi-era Germany.
Bilderberg is not well known because – highly controversially – it doesn’t want to be. But its annual get-togethers in five-star hotels in Europe and North America are noted for their apparent clairvoyance in identifying future top leaders.
Bill Clinton was one such pick. A relatively obscure governor of a poor southern state, he was invited to his first Bilderberg meeting in 1991. The following year he was elected president of the United States.
Now, John Kerry may figure in a similar sequence. He participated in the latest Bilderberg gathering in Northern Virginia this summer and as of this morning is being touted as Secretary of State in President Obama’s second administration.
This follows hard on the heels of the appointment of another Bilderberger, the Canadian investment banker Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. Having attended his first Bilderberg meeting in 2011, Carney was invited back in 2012. As I have pointed out in a previous note, it may be significant that the British finance minister George Osborne, who announced Carney’s appointment last month, also attended both get-togethers.
Conspiracy theorists have long argued that Bilderberg is a uniquely powerful organization that constitutes a sort of shadow world government whose approval can prove decisive for aspirants to a host of top jobs.
Of course this is a classic case of “post hoc, propter hoc” — just because phenomenon A is followed by phenomenon B does not mean that A caused B. And in the Bilderberg group’s case, there is rarely, if ever, any evidence of a causal link between its gatherings and subsequent developments. To the extent that the group may sometimes invite fast-rising future leaders to its gatherings, this may merely reflect the fact that it is reacting to fundamental forces beyond its power to influence. This applies in spades to the Kerry episode in that, as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, he was hardly a rank unknown when he got the Bilderberg invitation.
One thing is clear: as a supposed ultimate pinnacle of world power Bilderberg comes up short. Although some Bilderbergers probably privately enjoy all the masters-of-the-universe chatter, the reality is that they are still bogged down trying to secure their original, rather limited, and more or less openly stated, objective of establishing European unity.
This is not to say that there are not axes grinding. On closer examination, the Bilderbergers break down into two camps:
1. A tightly focused hard core representing the national interests of Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. One of their top objectives seems to be to get Britain and the United States to continue to facilitate central European trade policies.
2. A ragbag of British and American notables who have led their nations’ push towards unconditional, and often unreciprocated, free trade. Some of these are showboaters (Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger come to mind) and some are idealists (Financial Times commentator Martin Wolf might be among them). But irrespective of whether or not they believe the radical free market dogma they spout, they rank high on any list of people the export-minded governments of central Europe might want to encourage.
The Bilderberg group is notably secretive, which catches the lunatic fringe’s imagination. But it has also attracted reasoned criticism from quite sane observers over the years. An early example was Phyllis Schafly, a conservative American Catholic who tackled the group in a book as far back as the mid-1960s. A decade later the British journalist C. Gordon Tether, a then prominent columnist for the Financial Times, tried to focus attention on the group. For his pains he was fired by FT editor Fredy Fisher.
What is undeniable is that the group’s genesis is highly controversial. In a previous note, I wrote that the group was founded by Prince Bernhard, a one-time Nazi who went on to marry the future queen of the Netherlands. My facts have been challenged by a commentator who uses the pen-name Hegemony.
As Hegemony is not prepared to use his or her real name, I would normally shrug off the challenge. But let’s give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Take Hegemony’s suggestion that Bernhard somehow had little to do with Bilderberg’s genesis. The fact is that Bernhard owned the Bilderberg hotel in the Netherlands where the group held its first meeting in 1954. He not only served as president of the organization at that first gathering but continued in this capacity into the mid-1970s – and even then had to be bundled off the stage only because he suddenly emerged at the center of the Lockheed bribery scandal.
As for Bernhard’s Nazi past, again there is little room for debate. It is a matter of historical record that he was a member of the notorious Sturmabteilungen (SA) until late in 1934. My edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica describes SA members as “the select exponents of the Nazi doctrine” and adds, “force was the keystone of their existence.” The Dutch author Annejet van der Zijl has published evidence that Bernhard joined the SA well before the Nazis seized power – and thus his action was voluntary and cannot be excused by any suggestion of coercion.
It is true that soon after he married the future Dutch queen, he switched sides. What is clear is that truthfulness was not his strong suit and he persisted to the end in denying he was ever a Nazi.
If Mr. or Ms. Hegemony is to be believed, the Bilderberg’s principal founder was the Polish political leader Joseph Retinger. Perhaps. What seems to be true is that he was the originator of the idea which he then took to Bernhard. But Retinger was also a notably controversial figure. Born in the Austro-Hungarian empire, he was not necessarily the unalloyed Polish nationalist he has been portrayed. It is a matter of historical record that the Polish resistance were sufficiently convinced that he was a Nazi secret agent that they tried to have him assassinated.
Of the early Bilderbergers the third most important was Paul Rijkens, chairman of Unilever. Rijkens too had a record that was less than ideal. While it would be going too far to suggest he was a Nazi collaborator, he knew Hitler quite well and, up until the outbreak of war, the two did much mutually satisfactory business together.
Is the Bilderberg organization some sort of shadow world government? Disappointingly for the conspiracy theories, this does not withstand examination. For one thing, Bilderberg boasts almost no East Asian participation. For those who follow the money, any get-together of putative masters of the universe that does not include heavy representation from East Asia is Hamlet without the prince. After all East Asia now accounts for close to 75 percent of the world’s capital exports. To be sure, Bilderberg meetings recently have included one or two participants from China but these are obvious lightweights. What is remarkable is the almost total absence of other East Asians, most notably the Japanese but also the Koreans, Taiwanese, and Singaporeans. The Japanese absence is particularly significant given that Japan – that alleged basket case of global economics – has somehow increased its net overseas assets from less than $200 billion at the end of 1989 to nearly $3.5 trillion on the latest count.