The Federal Aviation Administration issued a puzzling advisory on July 20, alerting passengers flying out of San Francisco International and other regional airports to expect delays of 15 minutes or more over the following week. The reason given had nothing to do with the weather, a computer or a pilot shortage. The FAA’s official explanation consisted of two enigmatic words: “Bohemian Grove.”

Founded in 1872 by a group of San Francisco Examiner journalists, The Bohemian Club, headquartered in San Francisco’s Knob Hill, has over the ensuing 150 years evolved into an ultra-exclusive and shadowy males-only fraternity that includes some of the world’s most powerful corporate heads, politicians and celebrities. Although the membership list remains a closely guarded secret, leaks over the years have name-checked William Randolph Hearst, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, various Rockefellers, Ronald Reagan, the Koch brothers, Donald Rumsfeld and both President Bushes as members in good standing. More recently, Republican billionaire Harlan Crow brought Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the club on one of the jaunts that brought Thomas under scrutiny

The club’s annual two-week members-only retreat has long been a font of dark rumors and conspiracy theories, a sort of right-leaning cousin of the Bilderberg group.

The 2,700-acre encampment known as Bohemian Grove is situated along the Russian River among the redwoods outside Monte Rio. Along with the inescapable “No Trespassing” signs, the Bohemian Grove’s front gate boasts the club’s cryptic, Shakespearian motto: “Weaving spiders come not here.” For two weeks every July, an estimated 200 tycoons, politicians and media movers and shakers — each having paid the annual $25,000 membership fee — descend on Bohemian Grove to, well, do something. As no cameras, phones or recording equipment are allowed past the front gate, and since attendees are sworn to secrecy about who is present and what is discussed, only those in attendance really know for sure what that something is. This furtiveness has fueled the fevered imaginations of outsiders for more than a century.

Then California Gov. Ronald Reagan (center left) and U.S. Vice Pres. Richard Nixon (center right), at Bohemian Grove, California, 1967. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Depending on who’s doing the telling, the retreat is merely a convivial gathering where members enjoy concerts, lectures and performances, relaxing and recharging their batteries among male friends. Others insist it’s more of a drunken, raucous frat party. In the early 90s, long before becoming nationally infamous, InfoWars founder Alex Jones smuggled a video camera into the encampment. There he surreptitiously filmed an arcane ritual straight out of” Eyes Wide Shut,” complete with hooded robes, torches, a burning coffin and a towering sculpture of an owl. This, not surprisingly, has led to persistent rumors that Bohemian Grove is a Satanic campout where the world’s most powerful and sinister men gather every year to plot the fate of the world and sacrifice babies to Moloch. 

Fitting somewhere among the above speculations, an anonymous source informed Politico that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy made an appearance at Bohemian Grove this July and gave a speech in which he reportedly decreed Donald Trump would be the GOP’s 2024 presidential candidate. 

A cabal of 200 oligarchs are participating in quasi-occult rites while hatching devilish schemes concerning the fate of the world, and the help is suing for unpaid overtime. 

When the conversation rolls around to secret societies like The Bohemian Club — be it the Bilderberg Group, the Freemasons, the Church of Scientology or Skull and Bones — people rarely pause to consider the workers who make them run. What is life like for the waitstaff, the cleaning crew, cooks or maintenance teams charged with catering to the comfort and whims of some of the most powerful men in the world? Do they hear the diabolical secrets being shared all around them? Are their tongues cut out to ensure their silence? 

A few hints are beginning to dribble out.

In a 2022 interview with Santa Rosa’s Press-Democrat, Emily Chavez recounted her brief stint as a server at one of Bohemian Grove’s outdoor cafes in 1996, when she was still in high school.

“That place was so creepy,” she told the paper. “This [was] really strange energy…It was literally a sea of white bald heads and a cloud of cigar smoke. That was pretty gross. You’re this young woman, serving food, and they’re blowing smoke in your face.”

Former Bohemian Grove valets, it seems, deal with far worse things than having assholes blow smoke in their faces.  

On June 5, Sherman Oaks attorney Tony Nunes, acting on behalf of three former valets, filed a class-action suit against the club, citing multiple unlawful labor practices. As might be expected, the filing is a curious one.

Along with rules, regulations and humorous descriptions of the attending dignitaries, a handbook given to all visiting members states the sole purpose of the valets is “to feed us morning, noon and night.” 

The three plaintiffs bringing the suit — Wallid Saad, Anthony Gregg and Shawn Granger — assert that during the three years they were valets at the Bohemian Grove retreat, they were forced to work between 15 and 18 hours a day without the privilege of meal or bathroom breaks. They claim Bohemian Club officials only paid them for eight hours, sometimes pressuring them to falsify timesheets to reflect this. Other valets were paid under the table and rarely received what they were owed, all in a reputed effort by the club to avoid paying overtime and payroll taxes. On top of that, valets were barred from accepting tips from the richest men in the world.

Because the Bohemian Club is by its nature hush-hush, Tony Nunes and his clients aren’t quite sure who they’re suing, exactly.

Employees were furthermore not allowed to make phone calls between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.; even outside those parameters, calls could not exceed  30 minutes. They were also prohibited from attending any of the performances, or rehearsals thereof, given during the encampment.

It’s worth pausing here to appreciate the dark humor of the suit. A cabal of 200 oligarchs are participating in quasi-occult rites while hatching devilish schemes concerning the fate of the world, and the help is suing for unpaid overtime. 

This isn’t the first time the Club has faced a labor challenge. 

To settle a 2016 class action suit involving the same charges from its workers, the Bohemian Club paid plaintiffs $7 million. Seven years later Saad, Gregg and Granger are asking for much less: a paltry $1.5 million. They probably could have earned as much in tips, had they been allowed to accept them. Since the latest suit is a class action suit, the money is to be distributed among 300 present and former Bohemian Grove valets who, the suit claims, are too afraid to come forward themselves. This amounts to roughly $5,000 per screwed-over valet. Take that, oligarchs!   

Because the Bohemian Club is by its nature hush-hush, Tony Nunes and his clients aren’t quite sure who they’re suing, exactly. The named defendants are treasurer Bill Dawson and the club’s payroll company. (According to the suit, “John Does 1 through 10, inclusive, are currently unknown to Plaintiffs, who therefore sue Defendants by such fictitious names.” He then assures the court that as soon as they learn those names, if they ever do, they’ll amend the filing as need be.)

While Bohemian Club officials have remained mostly mum on the matter, their communications representative Sam Singer sent the following statement to the local paper, the Press-Democrat.

The Bohemian Club, said Singer “has always valued and respected its employees, and that includes our commitment to full compliance with all applicable wage and hour laws and regulations. We believe these three individuals know full well they did not work for the Club and that this lawsuit is a transparent attempt to drag the Club into their individual circumstances. The Club will vigorously defend itself in this action, as it would in any other meritless lawsuit.”

Needless to say, no one from Mr. Nunes’ office nor The Bohemian Club responded to my email requests for comment.

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