We love stories about secret societies—just look at The Da Vinci Code. That said, most of the time these tales are bullshit—just look at The Da Vinci Code. The only people who truly believe that a cabal of elite individuals gathers together to control world events are usually shouting these beliefs at you while you anxiously peer down the track, hoping for some sign of a subway train to rescue you.
Well, maybe you should pay a little more attention to that guy. He may be off the mark when he claims that lizard people secretly run the planet, but he’s not wrong when he says secret societies do exist. In fact, many of our most famous presidents have belonged to them. Take a look at these examples and try not to picture The Smoking Man from The X-Files sitting in the background somewhere. Maybe there is a New World Order?
1. Trilateral Commission
George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton
Who they are: Starting in 1973, members of the Trilateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller, have met biannually to encourage overall cooperation between all countries. Participants from Japan, America, and Western European nations convene to tackle the major issues facing the planet and decide how best to approach them. Also, if some are to be believed, the Trilateral Commission is the secret power behind 9/11. Granted, not many take that theory seriously, but (relatively) mainstream critics like Barry Goldwater and Noam Chomsky have expressed the belief that the group’s purposes are not as utopian as they’d like us to believe. The thing that scares us most about that is the fact that Barry Goldwater and Noam Chomsky agreed about something.
2. Bohemian Club and The Family
George H.W. Bush, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan
Who they are: The annual meeting of major business professionals and arts at the Bohemian Grove is supposedly an opportunity for them to take a summer break from ruling the world and enjoy some old-fashioned, top secret, eerily exclusive fun. The fact that they’re very secretive about what goes on there has raised many eyebrows, with some breaking in and reporting that participants engage in such devious acts as a cremation ritual and…pissing in the woods.
In truth, details about the club have remained pretty much under wraps for over 100 years, and that’s exactly how its members like it. An offshoot, The Family, is equally bizarre, with members referred to as “Babies,” “Children,” and “Father.” Okay.
3. Bilderberg Group
Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford
Who they are: Since 1954, influential people involved in world affairs have met secretly to discuss how to foster better cooperation between countries on a range of issues. Doesn’t sound too nefarious, does it? Well, not until you hear folks like Denis Healey, one of the group’s founders, making statements like, “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn’t go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”
Healy’s intentions may have been good, but that definitely set off conspiracy alarms on both sides of the political aisle, and gave unfortunate legitimacy to your crazy aunt’s emails about the government trying to take over the world under one ruler.
4. Skull and Bones
George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, William Howard Taft
Who they are: A Yale secret society since 1832, Skull and Bones has been pure conspiracy fuel for centuries. On the surface, it seems to be nothing more than an excuse for particularly prominent students to socialize, but the fact that few have ever been willing to divulge its secrets has made some people suspect that there may be more to this pseudo-frat than meets the eye. Some even believe that the club is the real power behind the CIA.
Granted, the timeline for that theory is just a little off, but it didn’t help that in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, George Bush and John Kerry, both fellow Bonesmen (yeah, that’s the actual term) made it clear that the topic was too secret to discuss. It’s the KFC recipe of college clubs.
5. Flat Hat Club
Who they are: While most campus fraternities are known for drawing attention, the Flat Hat Club of the College of William & Mary, which dates back to 1750, has managed to keep much of its activities a secret for centuries. It was disbanded for many years, but revived in the 1970s, which is great because membership involves a secret handshake. Nothing particularly creepy there, but a fraternity that doesn’t try to get everyone to come to out to its parties is definitely a little suspicious.
James Buchanan, Gerald Ford, James Garfield, Warren Harding, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, William McKinley, James Monroe, James Polk, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Harry Truman, George Washington
Who they are: The king of all secret societies, the Freemasonry has been nabbing major members since its inception hundreds of years ago. If that sounds vague, it’s because it’s not entirely clear just when this ritualized organization came to be. It doesn’t help that the lodges, where membership is granted and rituals are held, often act independently of one another. As such, little is known about their practices, aside from the fact that members consider Freemasonry to be “a beautiful system of morality.”
Membership involves graduating to different degrees, based on the apprentice system, and once you reach a new degree, you’re not allowed to discuss its secrets. That’s all well and good, but plenty have accused the group over the years of being an evil occult society. There isn’t exactly evidence to suggest that’s the case, but at the very least, it is almost as creepy as Scientology.
Joe Oliveto is a staff writer at Supercompressor where this article was originally published and former member of the chess club, which was a secret society for a totally different, much more lame reason. Follow him on Twitter.
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