The Elite and Collegiate Secret Societies

From the Lecture Series: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard B. Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

Some wealthy people always wonder if they are rich for exceptional talents, pure chance, or destiny. They want to know if they are chosen for a particular cause and if so, what is that cause? Some of them decide that their fortune has a lofty goal to achieve. Then, they choose to join others who are, like themselves, chosen. This is how elite secret societies emerge, even inside colleges.  

The photo shows the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Netherlands.
The Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Netherlands was the place of the first meeting of the Bilderberg Group, a secret society. (Image: Michiel1972/CC BY-SA 4.0/Public domain)

Since almost all secret societies promise their members special status, what do we mean by elite? An elite secret society can be described as one that exclusively recruits members who are already—or likely to be—rich or influential. As always, the society offers the fellowship of people like themselves. It might also offer them the ability to become even richer and more influential. Are they just rich guys having some rich-guy fun? Or are they the secret masters working their magic?

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The Bilderberg Group

The Bilderberg Group was founded in 1954. Their first meeting was at the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Netherlands, hence the name. It is not clear whether the group has a real name or not. If it does exist, it is a secret. Their meetings are held every spring. They claim to be an “advisory body” to the Atlantic Alliance. There are many allegations about the nature and activities of this group. Some believe that it is a manifestation of a shadowy movement called Synarchy, which plans to take over the world through a “technocratic elite.” Maybe the most interesting thing about the Bilberberg Group are two of its founders: Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and Józef Retinger. Both were men of vague nationality and questionable ethics.

The photo shows Prince Bernhard of Netherlands.
Prince Bernhard of Netherlands was one of the founders of the Bilderberg Group. (Image: Mieremet, Rob/Anefo/CC BY-SA 3.0 NL/Public domain)

Prince Bernhard was a German aristocrat who married Princess Juliana of the Netherlands in 1937. He had been a member of the Nazi party and SS at some point, but after marriage, he became a Dutchman. He was the formal head of the group until 1976 when he had to stand down after a bribery scandal.

Retinger was the general secretary of the group and supposedly, the real head of Bilderberg. Hailing from Poland, his questionable background involved political activism, conspiracy, and espionage in the First World War. He had also been deported from France, Mexico, and the United States at different points. Ironically, he acted as an advisor to presidents, prime ministers, and corporate chiefs.

The members and guests of Bilderberg include a wide range of prominent figures: politicians, bureaucrats, bankers, industrialists, and some lawyers and academics. The first meeting’s list of members shows 60 attendees, most of whom were from Western Europe and 12 were from the US. Most of these attendees were not members and were only guests.

Recently, the number of attendees has increased to 100 or even 150. When they go into the meeting, they are all “magically stripped of their office,” swearing an oath of strict secrecy. But it is not clear why they have to keep everything so secret if their role is just advisory.

Learn more about secret societies: the never-ending story.

Secret Societies in Colleges

The Cambridge Apostles emerged in 1820 under the name of a discussion society. Members were initiated based on their ideological and sexual preferences to create a diverse group tied together under the name of the society. After graduation, these Apostles were renamed Angels and moved up to critical business and governmental positions.

The American equivalent of the Apostles was Yale University’s Skull and Bones Society. Going back to 1832, it was an extension of an anonymous German order. Rather than being a fraternity, Skull & Bones is “senior society.” Every year, 15 members of that year’s senior class are selected or “tapped.” The members are not like-minded as they might include artists, a couple of prominent jocks, some intellectuals, a notorious radical, and a devoted conservative. This diversity spread the influence of the society among a broader scope of people.

An interesting example of this broad reach is seen in the US presidential candidates of 2004. George Bush and John Kerry were both from Skull & Bones, but none of them wanted to talk about it. The membership as a Bonesman is not restricted to college: it lasts for the whole life. After graduation, members join legions in places like Congress and Wall Street. The question about all secret societies also applies here: what is the purpose of these orders, and what do they do?

Antony Sutton, the scholar, believes that Skull & Bones is “America’s Secret Establishment.” According to researcher Alexandra Robbins, it is a branch of the Bavarian Illuminati. Perhaps it is just another gathering of the wealthy elite, both men and women, who want to have fun. Skull & Bones is only one example of a large number of secret clubs inside academic spaces.

Learn more about Masonic revolutions in America and France.

Common Questions about the Elite and Collegiate Secret Societies

Q: What is the Bilderberg Group?

The Bilderberg Group is a secret society that was founded in 1954. They chose this name because their first meeting was held at the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Netherlands. They claim to be an “advisory body” to the Atlantic Alliance.

Q: What is the Cambridge Apostles?

The Cambridge Apostles is a secret society founded in 1820 under the name of a discussion society. Members were initiated based on their ideological and sexual preferences to create a diverse group tied together under the name of the society.

Q: Is Skull & Bones a secret society?

Skull & Bones is a “senior society” at Yale University. Members are chosen from senior classes. The selected members are from diverse backgrounds, and after graduation, they join legions in places like Congress and Wall Street.

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