We were talking about the imminence of global tyranny. Kathy Brafford, a middle-aged woman from Olivia, N.C., fought back tears. All afternoon she'd been holding a spray-painted placard that read "Bilderberg Evil Cult EXPOSED." I asked her to elaborate. "Devil worship, for one. Certainly pedophilia," she said, gesturing toward the Westfields Marriott Hotel. "Must be at least a couple pedophiles in there. Read the Book of Revelation and see what God does to ‘em." Her voice quivered. "There's a special place in Hell for these people."
Kathy was first made aware of the Bilderberg Group by multi-platform media personality Alex Jones, whose three-hour radio broadcast she listened to each weekday. ("He's been right about everything," Kathy said.) Last June, intent on heeding Jones’ call to protest, she recruited an adult daughter and set out for the Group’s 60th annual meeting, in Chantilly, V.A. The drive took six hours. "We thought we'd make a mother-daughter weekend out of it!" she said and chuckled, tepidly.
Did friends or loved ones ever question her sanity? Yes, Kathy said—that has happened. "But I'm not a lunatic. I'm a grandmother."
There was plenty one might mock about last year's anti-Bilderberg crowd: their endless far-flung confabulations, overwhelmingly male composition, epistemically-suspect systems of belief. For starters. Over the four frantic days of the Bilderberg 2012 meetings, though, I saw that settling for mockery would’ve been unfair to Kathy, with her arresting sincerity, and also unfair to the hundreds of other folks who journeyed great distances to fulfil what they perceived as a sacred duty—to confront geopolitical evil at its very core. This worldview arises out of more broad-based cynicism toward knowledge-affirming institutions, particularly in media, religion, and government. (2011: "Majority in U.S. Continues to Distrust the Media." 2012: "U.S. Distrust in Media Hits New High.")
Nowadays, self-identified proponents of "conspiracy truth" enjoy clout at the conservative(-ish) grassroots. Dozens of honest-to-goodness GOP activists attended the Bilderberg 2012 protests, representing a burgeoning constituency situated somewhere at the nexus of secret-society-based scattershot conspiracism, the Ron Paul Liberty Movement (est. 2007), and establishment "Tea Party" Republicanism. If Ron Paul was their savior, Alex Jones was their shepherd.
"Every person here has listened to Alex Jones, and probably 95% of the people who are here are here because of him," said Max Dickstein, a college-aged protester from Manhattan who had worked on Paul’s presidential campaign in Iowa the previous winter. "I recognize that he has faults. His style brings ridicule to the Liberty Movement and he is deliberately dishonest a lot of the time. But not everything he says is a lie. You can at least get consistent intel from him; you can't get consistent intel from the New York Times."
When hollering over his trademark bullhorn, Jones has the capacity to reach truly thunderous, bordering-on-disturbing volumes. This is his Apocalyptic Roar. "Get ready for the judgement!" Jones trumpeted one afternoon, over bullhorn, at Fairfax County police stationed along the Westfields Marriott property line. As leader, Jones kept close track of all law enforcement activity, overseeing police-protester relations. He charged officers with complicity in whatever wicked deeds the Bilderbergers were cooking up inside, and demanded they stand down. He threatened to bring legal action against their department for inconsistent enforcement of pedestrian traffic ordinances.
"Bilderberg is literally our Superbowl here at Infowars," said John Bowne, a crewmember filling in for Jones on-air that weekend back at the Austin, T.X. radio command-center.
Jones' shirt was constantly drenched in sweat. "The Devil is trying to create an artificial, omnipresent system," he proclaimed one night during a special after-hours broadcast, live from his improvised hotel room studio. "If you don't believe in the Devil, folks, you haven't studied. Everything these people do is to try to become God."
The protest had a manic pace about it. When traversing the grounds—a modest patch of grass adjacent to some unremarkable roadway—Jones was flanked by a three-person production crew who livestreamed his every move from multiple angles. Flocks of Infowars faithful clustered around Jones at all times, jostling to offer bombshell news tips, request a photo, or simply bask in his aura. Abundant bullhorns and other voice-projecting devices meant spasmodic outbreaks of cacophonous noise were common at "Occupy Bilderberg," as Jones formally dubbed the affair. When he really wanted to send a message, it was time for the "double-bullhorn.” This technique entailed situating one bullhorn in front of the other, for maximum amplification effect. Junior bullhorners, hopeful the Master would take notice, rigged their configurations to blast out snippet-length recordings of Ron Paul economics lectures and Jones radio tirades, even when Jones himself was near.
It may have once been excusable to dismiss Jones as a fringey distraction, but no longer. Even before his 2013 PR blitz, The Drudge Report—eternally an almighty deliverer of web traffic and, accordingly, shaper of daily American political "discourse"—offered him a huge platform. Jones told me his flagship site, Infowars, received its first link from the powerhouse aggregator "seven or eight years ago." By 2008 and 2009, he estimated, Drudge had really started culling heavily from Infowars content. This has continued apace ever since; there were 184 links from mid-2011 to mid-2012, according to one tally.
"Drudge has helped break through the electronic Berlin Wall," Jones said, explaining the recent surge of interest in Bilderberg lore. "I think Drudge has been, after my show, the number one force of coverage."
These two trailblazers of alternative media are known to sing each other's praises. Last year, Drudge sent a rare appreciative (and since deleted) tweet: "I love Noon ET in America! Limbaugh, Alex Jones, the others. Airwaves fill with vibrant, provocative alternative views. It feels fearless…" I asked Jones what he knew about Drudge's personal take on the Bilderberg Group.
"No, I can't speak for Matt Drudge," he said.
I told him I'd settle for an educated guess. "I mean, he just links to all different sorts of kinds of news. Across the board. He links to everything."
On the Monday after Bilderberg weekend, Drudge Report visitors were greeted by Jones' husky visage with the caption "Bilderberg 2012: Protesters hail their hero, Alex Jones…"
Drudge also happened to be the outfit with which Mitt Romney's presidential campaign openly collaborated all throughout the 2012 presidential election. During Republican primary season, after merciless "Drudge-bombs" all-but destroyed rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, a GOP consultant said that "Matt Drudge has done more for Romney than Romney's super PAC." In mid-July, after the presumptive nominee had endured several days' worth of "bad" news-cycles, Drudge floated a "Vice Presidential Rumor" about Condoleezza Rice that was immediately discounted as bogus by virtually everyone, but which succeeded in temporarily reclaiming "the narrative" back for Mitt.
Notwithstanding their appearance of ironic distance-keeping, nonpartisan political journalists are known to glorify Drudge—even if they are not always fully cognizant of having done so. This helps explain why his power to unilaterally generate "narratives" has persisted. Jones can boast a direct channel to "the single most powerful force in the media today," as the Romney campaign's "Digital Director" described the Drudge Report.
June, 2012 was an industrious time for the Infowars juggernaut, with recent additions of a social networking component, a nightly news program, and more. But YouTube remained key. Seemingly innocuous searches like "Fast and Furious Holder," "fluoride fun facts," and "Rep. Marsha Blackburn interview" all yield clips of his high-octane radio broadcasts. This is not a trivial thing, as I learned from Jarrod Brown, one of the very few nonwhite "Occupy Bilderberg" protesters. (His dreadlocks prompted tongue-in-cheek inquiries about whether he was "Bob Marley's son.") At 20, Bilderberg 2012 was Jarrod's first political demonstration of any sort—he’d flown in from Torrance, CA. I asked what originally piqued his interest in "conspiracy truth" activism.
"I was looking on YouTube for aliens," he said, "and ran into the New World Order."
Jarrod happened upon the Alex Jones sector of YouTube, spiraling down the digital rabbit hole, deeper and deeper, till he was totally immersed in the self-justifying "conspiracy truth" internal belief system. Even if he someday sheds this mode of thinking, his political coming-of-age will always have been animated by Alex Jones.
Were an "Occupy Bilderberg" attendee to read this article, he'd probably be indignant that by now I've spent zero time documenting the Bilderberg Group meeting itself—exactly the sort of snooty East Coast mindset, the thinking goes, that enables the dastardly globalists to evade scrutiny and carry out their wicked agenda.
"Scum" was protesters' adjective of choice to describe the 2012 meeting's participants, which included Sen. John Kerry, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, Gary Kasparov, Bill Gates (whose name was not listed on the official press release, but whose presence was reported by the Washington Post), Peggy Noonan, former Rep. Dick Gephardt, World Bank president Robert Zoelick, Peter Orszag, Charlie Rose, and approximately 120 others: financiers, government ministers, European royalty, business moguls, and so forth. Mitt Romney was said to have attended on Friday, June 1, according to Charlie Skelton of The Guardian, who sourced that information to four hotel workers.
They arrived in jet-black SUVs, scuttling to and from the Westfields Marriott. Protesters howled disapprovingly. This went on for four days. The hotel, by the way, was surrounded in every direction by massive defense contractor headquarters.
Countless events of momentous geostrategic importance, the protesters believe—everything from the advent of the Euro, to the triumph of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, to a theoretical worldwide eugenics regime—were conceived at past Bilderberg Group meetings.
They were convinced that U.S. media willfully ignored the meeting, but as I attempted to advise protesters repeatedly: the confab is very, very private, evidenced by the heavy presence of guards brandishing high-powered weaponry, round-the-clock surveillance, and God knows what else. There is no way uninvited journalists can get anywhere near either a Bilderberg meeting nor any of its super-rich participants. All visiting press who endeavored to "cover Bilderberg" were quickly consigned to hanging out with the "New World Order" counteroffensive-wagers outside. (I was perfectly happy to do so, but being an election year, those of national renown had campaign gaffes to monitor.)
Another reason for the "media blackout" may have been the fact that the official and self-designated media pointman for Bilderberg was Alex Jones. He was responsible for dispensing New World Order background info and other materials to reporters, as well as fielding their queries. (Now and then, Jones' credibility has been called into question.)
At first I found that conversing with Jones was not so pleasant. He seemed to presuppose that any journalist who had in fact shown up, like myself, must be on some haughty quest to portray Occupy Bilderberg as a bunch of fools and dupes. "The arrogance!" he said. When the folks' guns are confiscated, their homes surveilled by drones, and their children forcibly injected with mind-control vaccines, a share of the blame will fall squarely on my wretched shoulders. (Eventually, we managed to develop some semblance of a rapport. It was weird.)
Jones' simmering antagonism toward media came to a head one day when in the midst of his afternoon radio broadcast, Daily Caller video reporter Jamie Weinstein interjected to ask how much profit Jones foresaw earning by "stirring up people's emotions." Ignoring the question itself, Jones was worked into a lather, firing back with not-terribly-clever ripostes about the site's founder, noted gadfly Tucker Carlson. "The Daily Caller is the worst, because they act like they're this cutting-edge libertarian operation," Jones later said, after Weinstein backed off. "The highest levels of the Republican Party that I've talked to believe Tucker Carlson is a Democratic agent. I mean, he's that big of a joke."
So by the time Michelle Fields, another Daily Caller reporter (and rookie Fox News contributor), arrived on the scene, protesters' mood toward her employers had long since soured. Soon after she was spotted, a small pack of inquisitors, led by Illuminati-chronicling author Mark Dice, rushed over and approached the young journalist, rattling off questions about the alleged "media blackout" and such. Fields initially said little, stalling for a moment. Then she elected to just pack up and leave.
There seemed to be a small window of opportunity in which Fields probably could have humored Dice and avoided controversy, but that window slammed shut when she started to retreat. "Is it too much to ask you to cook me dinner next weekend, Michelle?" Dice asked, trailing her.
"Or make a sandwich?" another man added.
Fields was on a beeline for the parking lot. "If you don't want me to cover it, I won't cover it," she said, very softly, as protesters escalated their hisses and jeers. "All beauty, no brains, Michelle!" Dice hollered.
That evening, Fields went on Twitter to denounce the protest as "not all that different than #OWS: A lot of misogyny and crazy." Dice called her a coward for running, and said he was a "tea partier." When he heard the story, Jones roared that the Daily Caller was "siding against this country with glee!" His PrisonPlanet.com site ran a short item on the altercation. In it, he referred to Fields as an "Info-Babe."
And so it would be that various media, led by the reliably prudential Daily Caller, branded the anti-Bilderberg protest as straightforwardly affiliated with the "Occupy" movement—notwithstanding the crowd's overwhelmingly right-wing tilt. If nothing else, this seemed to validate the thesis that "Occupy" had by then most definitely outlived its usefulness as a political label. Jones was an original disseminator of the popular Breitbart-esque meme which held that the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in Manhattan had been a plot masterminded by George Soros to, by some ill-explained means, bolster Barack Obama's reelection prospects. Jones did later soften his view, lauding the involvement of select libertarians and Constitutionalists in various Occupy actions and condemning authorities' crackdown on free assembly rights. Even so, I asked Jones: What accounted for his going from viciously demonizing the movement to appropriating its iconography and nomenclature?
"Well, that's a complex question from the media, but not complex enough," he said. "I criticized the fact that the system tried to co-opt it. And I myself tried to say, 'Hey, let's go after the private Federal Reserve, let's go after the globalists, let's go after Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, the real top of the pyramid—not just, ‘We want socialism'"—which, he qualified, "isn't what all the people were saying."
"This is another attempt to use the word 'Occupy,'" Jones said. His shirt was again completely drenched with sweat. "Like, how about 'Occupy America'? How about 'Occupy Freedom Again'? How about everywhere be a free speech zone, you know? So yes, I did use the term, because I thought it would it capture people's imagination—'Hey, let's Occupy Bilderberg!'"
Jarrod Brown, the dreadlocked young protester mentioned earlier, told me his accommodations for the weekend were at a nearby family farm known as "Camperberg." It was there that he met Justin Wallis. Shortly after Jones issued the call to protest, Wallis, a longtime activist in the Ron Paul and "9/11 truth" movements, took it upon himself to coordinate logistics. "A lot of times I'm pretty much the best at friendly guerilla information warfare on the internet," he said. Wallis identified himself as one of the guys who helped circulate massive quantities of Ron Paul signage and stickers throughout the U.S., to be plastered on any possible surface.
So he created the "Occupy Bilderberg" website and Facebook page, helped protesters coming from afar with lodging, and sold homemade "Occupy Bilderberg" t-shirts for $18 apiece. "What we're trying to do is blend Occupy with this, Bilderberg," Wallis told me. He had no prior involvement with anything Occupy-related. "We're coming in to educate Occupiers about the real root of the cancer, which is Bilderberg, the Federal Reserve, and other things. We know the top families, the different dynasties and everything. We pretty much found out who they are, and we're going to expose the real 'One Percent'—which is really closer to One Tenth of a Percent, if you do the math."
Ron Paul-themed fare festooned the premises; his 2012 presidential campaign was still technically ongoing. Chants of "Ron Paul" broke out with a frequency comparable only to chants of "Alex Jones," "End the Fed," and, my personal favorite, "You are Scum!" A number of protesters were still legitimately jazzed about the possibility of an epic delegate coup at the Republican National Convention, which would miraculously award Paul the GOP nomination and save America from collapse. (This did not come to pass.)
"In good conscience, I cannot vote for anybody else," said Kimberly Moll, a protester in her mid-30s, who reported spending much of her free time volunteering at a "Ron Paul information center" in the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, area. "I've been a conspiracy truther for many years," Moll said. "The core Bilderberg members, they have no conscience. They're void of conscience. You can't have a conscience to want to wipe out the world's population. That's not of God." A Seventh-day Adventist, Moll was dressed in the sort of "plain" garb most often associated with the Amish; she had carpooled to Chantilly with a friend from the information center. She remained steadfast in her conviction that Paul would indeed be the GOP nominee, whether by convoluted delegate-maneuvering scenario or divine intervention.
A unique function of Alex Jones—and a primary reason why his leverage at the grassroots level ought not to be underestimated—is that he has demonstrated the capacity to activate individuals like Moll into political engagement. Without that focus, she would likely have been floating out somewhere in the vast "conspiracy truth" ether, lacking any worldview relatable to electoral politics. Several years ago, Moll told me, Jones "confirmed research" she'd already conducted on her own, one thing led to another, and she found herself in his sphere of influence, soon to be canalized into the Ron Paul liberty movement.
As the summer of 2012 wore on, Moll received entreaties from D.C. "Tea Party" outfits, most notably FreedomWorks, which promoted the idea that Ron Paul supporters were "essential" to a successful Mitt Romney candidacy. So not only was Moll a GOP activist, she was a heavily-courted GOP activist. Alex Jones made this trajectory possible.
One year later, where have these people gone?
Even without the aid of go-between organizations like FreedomWorks, the "conspiracy truth" contingent has been remaking the Party in its own image—a source of distress for old guard Republican leftovers throughout the heartland. Protester Cody Rasband, of Salt Lake City, said he'd attended the Utah Republican state convention a few weeks before Bilderberg. There, he said, he chastised senior Sen. Orrin Hatch for "not holding true to the Constitution" as demonstrated by his vote in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act, the yearly appropriations bill that, in 2012, contained a since-overturned provision allowing for indefinite detention of civilians by the U.S. military.
"I'm not as extreme as some of these people, but it's all good," Rasband said. He didn't want to come off as a dogmatic Jones stalwart. He said he'd intended to become a Ron Paul delegate to the convention in Tampa, but was stymied by "establishment libertarian" characters who wrested all the Utah slots for themselves. Even so, as a result of the efforts of Rasband and company, Sen. Hatch was forced into a competitive primary for the first time in 36 years. Hatch ultimately prevailed.
All through the protest weekend, five or six gruff older men sat in lawn chairs under a tent, never lifting a finger to do any kind of protesting. They were members of Oath Keepers, an loose-knit organization, established 2009, comprised of former law enforcement and military personnel who pledge to stay vigilant in "honoring their oath" to the Constitution after leaving public service. John Oetken, of the Orange County, C.A. chapter, explained that his men were in Chantilly only to keep an eye on police activity and ensure everyone's right to peaceably assemble. The Oath Keepers' tent also served as the main pizza distribution outpost. Bountiful pies had been ordered remotely by a "9/11 truth" activist in Nova Scotia.
With one eye fixed always on the cops, Oetken divulged that he'd recently shelled out $500 to attend a breakfast function with Ron Paul. Luck would have it that they were seated close to one another. "So I asked him if he was going to run as a third party," Oetken said, "and he said, let me focus on the Republican nomination."
Oetken found this somewhat dispiriting. "Would I personally tell Ron Paul to run third party? Hell yeah I would! I mean, I could never vote for—and I'm not talking as an Oath Keeper now. Would I vote for 'Obomney'? No freaking way in hell. Even just on the NDAA," Oetken said. "Obama signed the thing into law and Romney supported it during a debate. Not a lick of difference between ‘em."
But there would be no Ron Paul third party run, Oetken correctly surmised, and he found himself in the early stages of a creeping disaffection. Though he'd previously been a committed "moneybomb" donor—"I'm not even sure what I've given in total. A whole lot"—Oetken had just days earlier decided to sever his financial ties with the Paul political operation. The final straw, he said, was Campaign for Liberty's failure to support Sheriff Richard Mack, who mounted a primary campaign against GOP incumbent Rep. Lamar Smith in Texas's 21st Congressional district. Paul made no public comment on the race. "I wasn't happy about it. Sheriff Mack wasn't happy about it," Oetken said. "Sheriff Mack was stumping for Ron Paul for years and years…"
He shook his head, looked down at the grass, and huffed a sigh.
With some justification, Alex Jones claims he provided "the original launch pad out of Texas" for both Ron and Rand Paul—likely the two most ideologically-influential men among rising generations of young libertarians and assorted others. (Ron's fairly amazing defense of WikiLeaks, for instance, endeared him to an heterogeneous cohort). Jones claimed that Infowars listenership accounted for fully half of Ron Paul's core campaign volunteers during the 2008 presidential run, that he personally convinced Rand Paul to seek the Kentucky GOP senatorial nomination in 2010, that he dines regularly with both legislators' staffers, and that he has interviewed Ron Paul over 200 times in seventeen-plus years.
But it had certainly been awhile, I noted to Jones at Occupy Bilderberg. Ron's last appearance on the program had been December of 2011, around the time Paul became an unlikely frontrunner to win the Iowa GOP caucus. Between December 2011 and June 2012, Paul made no appearances. "They've just been so busy," Jones said. "They've told me he'd come on after the campaign, but I haven't even tried in a few months."
I didn't believe him. What was the real reason for the interview drought? Was it that Paul’s people didn't want their candidate bantering with the self-proclaimed founder of "9/11 truth"?
"Ron Paul likes me," Jones insisted. "Ron Paul talks about false flag terror. Just because he doesn't specifically share my views on 9/11… when Ron Paul's on my radio show, I don't even bring up 9/11 issues with him. Because I'm talking about the private Federal Reserve, I'm talking about all the new wars, I'm talking about all the other serious issues that are going on."
"All I know is Ron Paul that has talked about false flag terror, that the CIA brings in the drugs, and that bin Laden did work for the U.S. Government," Jones said. "So it's not the issue that there's some kind of wedge there."
As it turned out, a wedge was there all along. Just one week after Bilderberg, Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney on Sean Hannity's television show, sending shockwaves of grief through the Liberty Movement. Had the Pauls betrayed their supporters? Jones said news of the endorsement devastated him in a manner "akin to a child dying in a car wreck." He wailed on-air. "You invest so much into it." Seeing Ron Paul signage suddenly felt like taking "a punch in the stomach," Jones said.
When I had pressed him at Bilderberg on the potential for this very fissure to surface, try as he might, Jones did a lousy job concealing his frustration. "Just because they have some staff members who are 25-years-old and want to go work for some old Republican establishment person, so they've tried to keep Ron Paul away from his real constituents…" he'd told me. "I'm not even worried about that. That's not even on my radar screen."
With time, the hysteria subsided. Alex Jones rejoined Team Paul, even if he's still got quibbles on strategic matters. The Infowars empire returned to equilibrium. The Drudge relationship proves continually prosperous. And Bilderberg is upon us once more, beginning today in Watford, England, just north of London. The list of attendees is typical: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Peter Thiel, H.R.H. Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands, Henry Kissinger. Alex Jones is there.
In 2012, we also spotted Kissinger. He was slinking out the Westfields Marriott service exit in a black towncar. Hecklers sprang into position. Jones led the hordes in unleashing a flurry of insults over bullhorn: traitor, war criminal, slug, scum. When vehicles entered and exited the hotel, dimmed windows usually made it impossible to identify any dignitaries. Not so for Kissinger. His unmistakable mug caused a minor furor. Infowars crewmember Richard Reeves appeared spellbound, fumbling a mobile livestreaming device. There is virtue in physically confronting evil, Jones always said. On that narrow point, at least, I had no objection.
Michael Tracey is a journalist.