Nefarious plots by one-world governments, bankers, politicians or, in the case of this weekend, the infamous Bilderberg Group are nothing new. The latter, a "cabal" of influential Atlantacists that first met in 1954 to solidify relations between Europe and the USA (and who have been meeting ever since), has become a catchword for those who like to see “beyond” what they are told by government or media.
Yet for the 2013 conference, hosted at the Grove Hotel in Watford, the vale of secrecy had been partially lifted; the event boasted not only a website detailing attendees and the agenda but also a fringe festival on the perimeter, allowing those who believe the group’s activities might not be in the best interests of democracy a chance to protest in front of the world’s media.
For people who don’t see plot and intrigue behind every door, "Bilderberg" is something of a buzzword attached to the conspiracy theory community, along with "truthers", "birthers" and countless other alleged "cover ups", from JFK and the moon landings to the more recent accusations thrown at the families of the Sandy Hook victims late last year.
However, with one or two notable exceptions the attendees of the Fringe were far from the kooks, crazies or harbingers of a lizard apocalypse one might be led to expect. Several people told the HuffPost UK they were there because they were worried about issues of transparency in government. Several more voiced concerns about the concentration of power embodied by the politicians and business leaders enjoying canapés in the hotel up the road. Yes – there was talk of “shadow governments”, “hundred-year agendas” and “orchestrated media blackouts” but there was also talk of Libor, the problems of the EU and the unfolding Prism scandal.
When asked how they felt about being dismissed as conspiracy theorists, many pointed to large spa hotel next door as vindication that clandestine groups not only exist, but they could be unveiled by pressure.
Russell, a middle-aged man from Tiverton in Devon, was sat alongside his wife on deck chairs in the corner of the field. Both sported David Icke t-shirts. He told the HuffPost UK they were there to voice opposition to this “small group of people that wield such power”.
“Most people unfortunately still have their head in the sand,” he said. “They [the majority] are driven by the system, they’re controlled by the system and they’ll die by the system. They’re even told what food to eat and what medication to have."
“It’s an undemocratic meeting,” said Claudio, 23, who had travelled from Germany to protest. “There are several attendees from German parties in there and a couple of CEOs. If you think this is just a conspiracy theory, why was the Bilderberg Group so secretive for so long? We’ve finally forced it into the open.”
John, in his thirties, had travelled to Watford from Aylesbury to raise public awareness about the group. “George Osborne and Ed Balls are both up there,” he told the HuffPost UK. “They work for opposing parties. Why are they discussing financial agendas behind closed doors? Also, you can’t discuss matters about Africa without African people here to represent those countries. Who are they [The Bilderberg Group] to make those decisions?”
John said that the influence of the group might be waning, particularly with the rise of the Chinese economy, but thought the group’s real focus was likely to be foreign policy rather than financial matters.
Despite the relaxed atmosphere inside the Fringe (it felt more like a picnic than a protest) security was heavy, with a strong police number backed up by guards in G4S uniforms. Everyone entering the event was given a thorough search with metal detectors, while guards in jeeps patrolled the perimeter fence.
Wearing a pink shirt, a cowboy hat and a large placard, protester Glynn Ellis, offered some flamboyance to the event, insisting he had been "groped" by police. “There are more questions than answers,” he serenaded before launching into a rant: “I don’t exist, this field doesn’t exist, I didn’t get groped on the way in here by G4S security, and there are definitely not 120 world leaders in that hotel up there… which doesn’t exist.” When asked what he thought was on the agenda, Ellis was clear: “The bombing of Iran.”
Then there was Alex Jones, the American radio host, who first came to British attention sparring with Piers Morgan on his CNN show over gun control. Jones, who along with the late Jim Tucker is seen as one of the founders of the movement against Bilderberg, was rapturously welcomed by protesters, being surrounded by cameras and peppered with questions, whilst making his own recording via an iPhone on a small tripod.
Yet in contrast to his bruising encounter with Morgan, Jones was charming, polite and measured in his criticism, his objections bouncing from corporate groups in Europe controlling policy, to manipulation of the media, to how Bilderberg “sets the agenda” for less secretive meetings, such as the G8 and G20.
Jones has been criticised in his homeland for cashing in on people’s fear and paranoia, and devotees of his radio shows will know his beliefs go way beyond Bilderberg, seeing the hand of government everywhere from the Sandy Hook killings to the Boston Marathon. However, it was ironic that the Fringe was held on the weekend that The Guardian broke the Prism surveillance scandal, perhaps giving pause for thought to even the most ardent sceptic who might just think there’s something in this after all.
(Video by Paul Vale and Stuart Keeping)