Named after the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland, where the first meeting took place in May 1954, the Bilderbergers form an unofficial, secretive group set up in the first years of the cold war to foster communication and cooperation between Europe and the United States. Leading businessmen and political figures hoped to further the aims of liberal democratic capitalism, protecting it from what they saw as communism’s imperialist aspirations.

Critics who accuse the Bilderbergers of conspiracy claim the group constitutes an invisible, shadow government, and that this secret government’s goals involve the destruction of the nationstate, the creation of a single currency, and the foundation of a New World Order led by a single world-government.

Reference to “the Bilderbergers” generally means those who have attended at least one of the meetings, but there is no set list of members as such. Rather, the group’s steering committee (including figures such as the former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Canadian media-mogul Conrad Black) is in charge of deciding who will attend the meeting in any given year.

The list of those who have attended Bilderberger meetings is impressive, including leading politicians and military figures, businessmen and bankers, and lawyers and academics (see www[dot]bilderberg[dot]org for complete lists).

The first meeting was not only attended by high-ranking CIA officials, but was financed in part by the CIA as well. Also, which is important for a certain strain of anti–old world conspiracy theory, the group allowed members of Western European royal families to reclaim the political power they had abdicated through constitutional reform.

The Bilderbergers claim that their limitation of press coverage and overall secrecy is necessary in order to ensure an environment of openness and freedom of speech during the meetings. In this age of media proliferation, it is truly stunning that they manage to retain such a low profile, with nearly none of the members ever agreeing to be interviewed on the subject of the meetings. Many antiBilderbergers see this high level of secrecy as sure evidence of a conspiracy.

In the minds of some, further evidence of conspiracy can be found in the Bilderbergers’ ties to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)—an extremely high percentage of U.S. Bilderbergers are also members of the CFR—and to the Trilateral Commission, which was founded from within the Bilderberg meetings by David Rockefeller.

Even mainstream writers often suggest that U.S. Bilderbergers may well be contravening the Logan Act, which makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to negotiate with foreign powers without being granted the authority to do so by the U.S. government.

Many argue that future heads of state are handpicked by the Bilderbergers. It is no coincidence, they charge, that Bill Clinton attended the 1991 meeting and went on to become president the following year, or that Tony Blair attended in1993 and became the Labour Party’s leader a year later, ultimately becoming Britain’s prime minister in the 1997 election.

Furthermore, the policies made by the parties of the left in both Britain and the United States during the 1990s—policies that proved highly successful in capturing “moderate” voters—seem to be in line with the policies of the Bilderberger group, particularly those that favor the promotion of economic globalization (i.e., the New World Order).

When faced with the impressive list of attendees, no one would dispute the fact that the Bilderbergers wield immense political and economic power; the question is, rather, whether or not this obvious power is best described as a conspiracy or secret world government.

The forces of international capitalism are indeed powerful, and, as even mainstream theorists have argued, the forces of globalization create interconnected networks of power that operate just the way a conspiracy to create a New World Order would (see, for example, Michael Hardt and Antonia Negri’s book, Empire).

Furthermore, by their own admission, the Bilderbergers are out to promote the advance of global capitalism. So it is fair to ask exactly what makes anti-Bilderbergers “merely” conspiracy theorists.

For many, anti-Bilderbergers are designated conspiracy theorists because of their reliance on an array of concepts, rhetorical figures, and, perhaps most importantly, targets that are often to be found in other “extremist” theories.

As with other conspiracy theories, anti-Bilderberger rhetoric focuses on an international cabal run by the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds, and many would argue that the choice of these two families as targets is no accident.

Critics of these “international bankers” and “secret governments” tend to draw their metaphors, figures, and arguments from a vast conceptual reservoir that includes, among other things, attacks on the so-called Jewish-Masonic world conspiracy.

Whether or not anti-Bilderberger writings are manifestly antisemitic groups highly attuned to the language of antisemitism (such as the Anti-Defamation League) often detect antisemitism in certain code words (i.e., the Rothschilds, “international bankers,” etc.).

When labeled antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the conspiracy theorists ask: if there were a conspiracy of international bankers that was orchestrating world events, how on earth are we to investigate it and critique it other than by using terms such as “international bankers”? In the eyes of the antiBilderbergers, the ADL may be unwittingly (or wittingly) playing into the hands of the Bilderbergers.

Yet in the very virulence of their attacks on the ADL and international Jewish bankers, the right-wing antiBilderbergers often seem to betray their true intentions (see www[dot]bilderberg[dot]org/jewish.htm).