The highest levels of the Obama administration are infested with members of a shadowy, elitist cabal intent on installing a one-world government that subverts the will of the American people.
It sounds crazy, but that's what a group of very persistent conspiracy theorists insists, and they point to President Obama's nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, as the latest piece of evidence supporting their claims.
It turns out that Sebelius - like top administration economists Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and Paul Volcker, as well as leading Obama diplomats Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross - is a Bilderberger. That is, she is someone who has participated in the annual invitation-only conference held by an elite international organization known as the Bilderberg group.
The group, which takes its name from the Dutch hotel where it held its first meeting in 1954, exists solely to bring together between 100 and 150 titans of politics, finance, military, industry, academia and media from North America and Western Europe once a year to discuss world affairs. It doesn't issue policy statements or resolutions, nor does it hold any events other than an annual meeting.
Past participants have included Margaret Thatcher, who attended the 1975 meeting at Turkey's Golden Dolphin Hotel, former media mogul Conrad Black, who has been to more than a dozen conferences, and Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, King Juan Carlos of Spain and top officials of BP, IBM, Barclays and the Bank of England.
It is precisely that exclusive roster of globally influential figures that has captured the interest of an international network of conspiracists, who for decades have viewed the Bilderberg conference as a devious corporate-globalist scheme.
The fulminating is aggravated by Obama's preference for surrounding himself with well-credentialed, well-connected, and well-traveled elites. His personnel choices have touched a populist, even paranoid nerve among those who are convinced powerful elites and secret societies are moving the planet toward a new world order.
Their worldview, characterized by a deep and angry suspicion of the ruling class rather than any prevailing partisan or ideological affiliation, is widely articulated on overnight AM radio shows and a collection of Internet websites.
The video sharing website YouTube alone is home to thousands of Bilderberg-related videos.
"I don't laugh at the people who claim that they understand the connections, but I've never really spent much time tracing that through," said Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a former presidential candidate whose libertarian sensibilities have made him a darling of the Bilderberg conspiracists.
"The one thing that concerns me is that the people who surround Obama or Bush generally come from the same philosophic viewpoint and they have their organizations - they have the Trilateral Commission, the CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] and the Bilderbergers, and they've been around a long time. And my biggest concern is what they preach: Keynesian economics and interventionism and world planning," he said.
While it's easy to dismiss the Bilder-busters as cranks, these voices have a way of making themselves heard on the margins of the debate in ways that can prove to be a real, if minor, distraction to Obama's political team. Bill Clinton had trouble shaking rumors that he was behind a shady criminal syndicate operating out of the Mena airport. George W. Bush was sometimes portrayed as the puppet of clandestine Middle Eastern oil interests.
Obama's selection of numerous Bilderbergers for key posts "certainly would verify their suspicions," said Paul, referring to fears of the group's influence.
"And I don't think it's just Obama. Whether t's the Republicans or the Democrats - Goldman Sachs generally has somebody in treasury. And the big banks generally have somebody in the Federal Reserve. And they're international people, too. And they're probably working very hard this weekend, with the G20. And they get involved in the IMF. But that is their stated goal. They do believe in a powerful centralized government and we believe in the opposite."
One popular website, "Prison Planet," greeted Sebelius' nomination with the headline "Obama Picks Bilderberger for Health Secretary."
It's obvious why Bilderberg is a frequent target of conspiracy theorists, who've credited it with anointing aspiring presidents, selecting their running mates, creating the European Union and instigating the war in Iraq and the bombing of Serbia, among other coups.
Bilderberg meetings are closed to the press, participants are asked not to publicly discuss the proceedings and the attendee list is only occasionally released. As a result, the group has come to be viewed as a more publicity-shy cousin to the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations - other influential international think tanks that are staples of fringe group conversation.
Unlike Bilderberg, though, those organizations have opened their proceedings to public scrutiny, maintain websites and have long listed their members.
The Bilderberg group, in a rare press release last year, laid out a benign if vague mission: creating "a better understanding of the complex forces and major trends affecting Western nations."
"Bilderberg is a small, flexible, informal and off-the-record international forum in which different viewpoints can be expressed and mutual understanding enhanced," read the press release, which noted that a list of participants would be available by phone request between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM on the second and third days of the conference.
The Bilderberg conspiracists first pounced on the Obama connection during the 2008 campaign, when news leaked in May that the candidate, who at the time was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination, had initially tapped former Fannie Mae chairman Jim Johnson, a top Bilderberger, to help him select a running mate.
IRS filings show that Johnson as recently as 2006 was the treasurer of a non-profit group called American Friends of Bilderberg. The group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to pay for meetings--including $125,000 in total contributions from Bilderberg stalwarts Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller in 2005 and 2006 plus $25,000 in 2005 from the Washington Post, whose chairman Don Graham has attended in the past.
Johnson did not return a message inquiring about his role at Bilderberg.
"The news further puts to rest any delusions that Bilderberg is a mere talking shop where no decisions are made," reported Prison Planet. "It also ridicules once again any notion that an Obama presidency would bring 'change' to the status quo of America being ruled by an unelected corporate and military-industrial complex elite."
One month later, in June, Johnson was joined at the 2008 Bilderberg meeting by Geithner, Holbrooke, Summers and Ross, as well as Obama's first choice for HHS secretary, Tom Daschle, and Sebelius, who at the time was included on some short lists of prospective Obama running mates and who also attended the 2007 meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.
According to the Bilderberg press release, the meeting was designed to "deal mainly with a nuclear free world, cyber terrorism, Africa, Russia, finance, protectionism, US-EU relations, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Islam and Iran." Approximately two-thirds of the 140 expected attendees came from Europe, according to the release, and the rest from North America.
Had the meeting been held outsie the United States, that might have been the end of the Obama angle. But the conference, which took place from June 5 through 8, was held at a heavily guarded hotel in Chantilly, Va. in suburban Washington-coincidentally overlapping with an Obama campaign event in the area.
While Obama's schedule indicated he was to fly home to Chicago for the weekend-and journalists were herded on a campaign plane under the impression they were headed there along with Obama-the future president slipped away for a private meetings and never actually boarded the flight. As it turned out, Obama secretly met that evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington, D.C., but not before raising alarms among the Bilder-busters, who were convinced something was rotten in Chantilly.
Prison Planet connected the dots and concluded Obama and Clinton met at the Bilderberg meeting, declaring that "the complete failure of the mainstream media to report on the fact, once again betrays the super-secretive nature and influential reputation that the 54-year-old organization still maintains."
"It is now seems increasingly likely that the secret meetings with Bilderberg this weekend will herald the decision to name Hillary Clinton as Obama's VP candidate," predicted a sister site, Infowars.net.
Even the snarky D.C.-based Wonkette blog weighed in, half-seriously positing that "really, it sounds like" Obama and Clinton rendezvoused "at that creepy Bilderberg Group meeting, which is happening now, and which is so secret that nobody will admit they're going, even though everybody who is anybody goes to Bilderberg."
Curiously, though, the episode wasn't the first time a Bilderberg meeting intersected with vice presidential selection machinations.
In 2004, both Time magazine and the New York Times noted that then-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C) had impressed Bilderbergers at that year's conference in Stresa, Italy-roughly one month prior to his selection as Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) running mate-- when Edwards debated Republican Ralph Reed. Then, as in 2008, Jim Johnson led the vice presidential vetting.
Time reported that then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Holbrooke attended and called Kerry "with rave reviews" about Edwards' debate skills.
In its tick-tock of the vice-presidential selection process, the New York Times also noted the Bilderberg effect.
"His performance at Bilderberg was important," a friend of Kerry told the Times. "He reported back directly to Kerry. There were other reports on his performance. Whether they reported directly or indirectly, I have no doubt the word got back to Mr. Kerry about how well he did."
An attendee of the 2004 meeting dismissed the notion that Edwards' Bilderberg performance helped land him on the Democratic ticket.
"It wasn't because of his performance at the meeting - he was at the meeting because he was going to get picked" said the attendee, who did not want to be identified breaching Bilderberg's off-the-record rule. "He was there as a surrogate for Kerry" and to boost his foreign policy bona fides, said the attendee.
Either way, the attendee contended, the Bilderberg conspiracy theories don't make sense on their face, if only because the wide array of ideologies represented would make it difficult to reach consensus.
"There were so many different people there with so many different viewpoints that it belied the opportunity to really conspire, because obviously a Kissinger and a [prominent neoconservative Richard] Perle are going to come down in a very different place than say a Holbrooke or a Johnson," the attendee said.
Besides, the attendee observed, it's almost impossible to name a Bilderberger-free Cabinet.
"You'd be hard pressed to find an administration that hasn't reahed into those ranks into the last 20, 30, 40 years."
By Kenneth P. Vogel