As usual, the exclusive Bilderberg Meeting, an annual gathering of the rich and powerful of North America and Europe, has released its list of discussion topics and meeting participants – and precious little else about what will go on at the four-day conference, which is run under the “Chatham House Rule” ensuring participant anonymity – just before its scheduled start on June 1.
The participant list for 2017 includes some notable changes from last year, including former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Harvard president Larry Summers, who appears to have not attended the meetings since 2014. Other notable Americans on the guest list who have not attended the last few gatherings include Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and current governor of Virginia. John Brennan, who recently retired as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and has apparently taken a position with a consulting firm run by Henry Kissinger (a longtime Bilderberger), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) will also be making their debuts.
Perhaps the most notable name on this year’s list, however, is that of H.R. McMaster, national security adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has publicly defended Trump against accusations of improper dealings with Russian officials and been criticized for it. Topics for this year’s Bilderberg Meeting include “The Trump Administration: A progress report” and “Russia in the international order.” Defense Secretary James Mattis, however, who attended the 2015 meeting, is not returning this year. Nor is Emmanuel Macron, who attended in 2014 and recently took office as President of France.
Russia is not the only discussion topic at this high-level conference of the Western world’s political and business elite (although the potentially Russia-related “current events” and “war on information” are also on the agenda). Other bullet points in the Bilderberg press release include “The Near East” and “China.”
Some additional topics, though, betray the typical worries one might expect from billionaires, bankers and career politicians about the perceived threats posed not by their rival power players in foreign countries, but by the broader populations of their own societies. “The direction of the EU” and “Trans-Atlantic relations: options and scenarios” are up for discussion; but perhaps most telling are the topics that take the form of questions: “Can globalisation be slowed down?” and “Why is populism growing?”
There may be some newcomers in 2017, and to be sure, there are some changes from past meetings. David Rockefeller, listed until earlier this year in a category of his own as “advisory group” to the Bilderberg Meetings, passed away in March.
Although the gathering moves from year to year, 2017’s will be in Chantilly, Virginia, site of several past Bilderberg conferences “the latest being in 2009,” according to an article published without a byline on InfoWars.com, the fringe news site run by controversial conspiracy theory promoter and radio host Alex Jones. Despite InfoWars’ reporting, though, the last Bilderberg Meeting in Chantilly was actually in 2012, at which time the “counter-culture icon” Jones was on the scene and reportedly seen as a “hero” to many protesters who had come to the meeting to denounce it.
Whatever amount of credibility Jones may have had at that time (some would say not much) has since taken a significant hit, however, following his recent admission, through his lawyer, that he is a “performance artist” who is “playing a character.” Nevertheless, InfoWars promises to provide “up to the minute coverage of the 2017 Bilderberg meeting,” (despite the press being strictly banned from the meeting itself). There will also be other familiar faces at this year’s event.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, and former CIA Director David Petraeus – who all attended the 2016 meeting and have offered varying degrees of limited public criticism of President Trump, will be back this year. So will Eric Schmidt, a Bilderberg steering committee member and chairman of Alphabet, parent company of Google, who actively campaigned for Clinton in 2016 but has since warmed up to Trump, attending his “tech summit” in December.
Indeed, while President Trump has been mildly criticized by some members of the Bilderberg Group, for someone who ran as a political outsider who would blow up the system and “drain the swamp,” he can count quite a few allies not only among the elite meeting’s attendees, but among its even more elite steering committee. A case in point is the tech summit that Schmidt attended, which also featured two other billionaire Bilderberg steering committee members: PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, an enthusiastic Trump supporter who spoke at the Republican National Convention, along with his fellow co-founder of Palantir Technologies (a somewhat obscure military and intelligence agency technology contractor), Alex Karp, who seemed a bit out of place at Trump’s tech tycoon meeting of mostly household names.
“The most obvious reason,” for Karp’s invitation to Trump’s summit, CNBC reporters noted, “contains little subtlety. Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist and Facebook board member who is part of Trump’s transition team, is a co-founder of Palantir and is the company’s biggest backer.
“Karp’s presence may or may not represent an actual conflict of interest, but the appearance of one is hard to deny, according to Norman Eisen, a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic who worked on President Barack Obama’s ethics initiatives.”
It may be hard to deny the appearance of a conflict of interest in Karp’s invitation to Trump’s tech meeting. Yet it is perhaps even harder to deny the apparent conflicts of interest posed by the presence of three steering committee members of a secretive international club like the Bilderberg Group at such a meeting.
As the Washington Post noted as long ago as last summer, some Democrats have suggested they would have a shot at taking down Donald Trump or those in his inner circle (Jared Kushner, most recently) through the use of the Logan Act, a somewhat obscure piece of legislation that has been on the books since the late 1700s and which technically makes it a felony for private U.S. citizens to interfere in America’s foreign diplomatic relations. It’s a law that Alex Jones, among others, has suggested could be used to prosecute American participants in the Bilderberg Meetings — and also one under which nobody has ever been convicted.
Still, if you’re a regular reader of the Post you might not be blamed if you’d gotten the idea somewhere that the Logan Act “could actually be a big problem for Trump.” But you’d likewise be forgiven for thinking Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, probably the best candidate of anyone in the administration for a Logan Act prosecution, “has absolutely nothing to fear from the Logan Act.”
“That the law keeps being used in partisan political bickering is no surprise: It has its roots there, too,” notes Jeremy Duda of the Post. “The Logan Act passed as a result of acrimony between the ruling Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans during (John) Adams’s administration.” Indeed, as Charlie Savage of the New York Times points out, the law “has functioned primarily as rhetorical ammunition for the party that holds the White House during partisan disputes over a foreign policy matter.”
Despite some apparent and undeniable conflicts of interest, it seems unlikely that Kushner, McMaster, Flynn, or any other current or former White House official will be convicted of America’s first ever felony Logan Act violation, just as it is unlikely that any of the Americans hobnobbing with the financial and political elite of Europe this upcoming weekend will be going to prison for doing so. But in this context, it is also understandable that the billionaires, bankers, media elites and the rest of the aristocrats at Bilderberg feel the need to gather under whatever cover of secrecy they can maintain and plan for how people in their positions can prepare for a rising tide of populist outrage at exactly what they are doing.