Bilderberg mystery: Why do people believe in cabals?
Ordinary people can only guess at the goings-on at the meetings of the secretive Bilderberg Group, which is bringing together the world's financial and political elite this week. Conspiracy theories abound as to what is discussed and who is there. Why, asks Tom de Castella?
The belief in secret cabals running the world is a hardy perennial. And on Thursday perhaps the most controversial clandestine organisation of our times - the Bilderberg Group - is meeting behind closed doors.
In the manner of a James Bond plot, up to 150 leading politicians and business people are to gather in a ski resort in Switzerland for four days of discussion about the future of the world.
Previous attendees of the group, which meets once a year in a five-star hotel, are said to have included Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and Peter Mandelson, as well as dozens of company CEOs.
First meeting in 1954, the aim was to shore up US-European relations and prevent another world war. Now under the group's leadership of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and one-time EU vice president, Viscount Davignon, the aim is purportedly to allow Western elites to share ideas.
But conspiracy theorists have accused it of everything from deliberately engineering the credit crunch to planning to kill 80% of the world population. Longtime opponent and US radio host Alex Jones, heckled one meeting through a megaphone: "We know you are ruthless. We know you are evil. We respect your dark power."
Part of the reason for alarm is the group's secretive working methods. Names of attendees are not usually released before the conference, meetings are closed to the public and the media, and no press releases are issued.
The gnashing of teeth over Bilderberg is ridiculous, says Times columnist David Aaronovitch. "It's really an occasional supper club for the rich and powerful," he argues.
Denis Healey, co-founder of the group, told the journalist Jon Ronson in his book Them that people overlook the practical benefits of informal networking. "Bilderberg is the most useful international group I ever attended," he told him. "The confidentiality enabled people to speak honestly without fear of repercussions."
So why do groups like this cause so much alarm? Aaronovitch, who wrote the 2009 book Voodoo Histories, says plots to install a new world order have traditionally been a conspiracy fantasy. "They tend to believe that everything true, local and national is under threat from cosmopolitan, international forces often linked to financial capitalism and therefore, also often, to Jewish interests."