by Jon Ronson
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4. BILDERBERG SETS A TRAP!
"MOTHER." IT WAS Tuesday morning. Jim was leaving his regular voice-mail message with his friend back in Washington, D.C., to confirm he had not been murdered during the previous twenty-four hours. "Your dutiful son is playing kick the can in Portugal. Thank you very much."
This was supposed to be an easy day. Jim simply wanted to verify that the complete shutdown of the Caesar Park had been accomplished. We would drive up there and be turned away at the gate. Jim would ask why, for the record, and document the response in his notepad. Then we would turn around and drive back to our hotel for a leisurely afternoon by the pool and in the bar.
But this was not to be. We arrived at the Caesar Park to discover no police, no cordon, no shutdown. The gatekeeper lifted the barrier and waved us on with a cheerful smile. For the first time, Jim appeared sidestepped.
"That's surprising," he admitted. "That's surprising already."
"Do we drive in?"
"I'm confounded," murmured Jim. "We saw the shutdown begin yesterday. We saw it with our own eyes. And now no shutdown. This is not what's supposed to happen."
"What should we do?"
Jim faltered. The gatekeeper approached the car.
"Just drive in," said Jim urgently.
Impulsively, I took my foot off the brake and we cruised up the drive. This was a disconcerting new twist. We were venturing into a place where it had been made perfectly clear that we were not welcome, and we didn't even want to be there. We were accidental agents provocateurs, propelled on by circumstance, simply because we had been waved on at the gate.
"The hotel is deserted," I said, as we pulled into the parking lot. "We're the only people here."
"Let's get lunch," said Jim. "Just two guys getting lunch."
We wandered through the now-deserted marble lobby. There were no more civilians. We walked out into the silent grounds and sat at the poolside bar, the only two customers in a hotel designed for thousands. A young waitress appeared.
"Ma'am," said Jim, raising his fedora.
"Sir?" she said.
"What time do you get off work?"
The question seemed to startle her.
"Nine o'clock," she said, cautiously.
"And what bars do you like drinking in?" said Jim.
"There are some nice bars in the village near the cathedral."
"Any bars in particular?" Jim laughed. "Don't worry. I'm buying."
"Just lots of nice bars in the village," she said, evenly.
"That's good information," said Jim. "Thank you, ma'am," he called after her.
He turned to me. "Now we know where the waiting staff drink. Could be good contacts."
"So," I said. "Shall we try the bars near the cathedral?"
"Sure," he said.
"Will we go then?"
"OK," said Jim.
WE WALKED BACK to the car and began driving the half-mile towards the exit. I glanced into my rearview mirror. A dark green Lancia had pulled out behind us.
"Jim," I said.
"I think we're being followed."
Jim turned around.
"No shit," he grinned. "Don't worry. Once we're on the public highway they'd be pretty foolish to try anything."
"OK," I said.
"They're not going to want to have a fat old dead reporter on the side of the road," said Jim. "That's too big a news story."
"OK," I said.
"But here they could say, 'Oh, we thought they were armed. They looked threatening. We told them to stop but they didn't stop.' Bango!"
"I get the picture," I said.
A flock of geese wandered idly up the drive in front of me. I honked my horn. We finally reached the peach-colored gates.
"You watch," said Jim. "He'll turn around now. He's done his job. Poor fool."
But the Lancia didn't turn around. It began to follow us down the deserted lane.
"Uh oh," said Jim.
"OK," I said, "I'm a journalist from London. I'm calling you on the road from Sintra to Estoril --"
"Hold on. "
"I'm a journalist from London," I said. "I'm calling you on the road from Sintra to Estoril. I'm being tailed, right now, by a dark green Lancia, registration number D4 028, belonging to the Bilderberg Group."
There was a sharp intake of breath.
"Go on," she said.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but I just heard you take a sharp breath."
"Bilderberg?" she said.
"Yes," I said. "They watched us scouting around the Caesar Park Hotel and they've been following us ever since. We have now been followed for three hours. I wasn't sure at first, so I stopped my car on the side of a deserted lane and he stopped his car right in front of us. Can you imagine just how chilling that moment was? This is especially disconcerting because I'm from England and I'm not used to being spied on."
"Do you have Bilderberg's permission to be in Portugal?" she said. "Do they know you're here?"
"No," I said.
"Bilderberg are very secretive," she said. "They don't want people looking into their business. What are you doing here?"
"I am essentially a humorous journalist," I explained. "I am a humorous journalist out of my depth. Do you think it might help if we tell them that?"
From the corner of my eye, I saw Jim wind down his window. He leant his head out and blew an antagonizing ladylike kiss at the Lancia.
"Hold on a second," I said.
"Jim!" I said, sternly. "Please stop that."
I lowered my voice.
"I'm here with an American," I said, "called Big Jim Tucker. He's an agent provocateur. That might be the problem. Perhaps you can phone Bilderberg and explain that I may be in the car with Jim Tucker, but I'm not actually with him."
"Listen," she said, urgently, "Bilderberg is much bigger than we are. We're very small. We're just a little embassy. Do you understand? They're way out of our league. All I can say is go back to your hotel and sit tight."
"I'm actually just pulling into our hotel parking lot right now. The Paris Hotel in Estoril. He's right behind me. He's pulling up on the street right next to the hotel. He's getting out of his car ..."
"Sit tight," she said. "I'll make some phone calls. Whatever happens, don't incite them in any way. Don't fan the flames."
BEFORE THE CHASE had begun, Jim was lumbering and lethargic. Now he jumped out of the car with the agility of a young deer. The man from the Lancia climbed out of his car and took up a position behind a tree. He was young, in his thirties, with short black hair. He wore sunglasses and a dark green suit.
"I can see you!" sang Jim. "You're behind the tree. Peekaboo! Smile pretty for my idiot-proof camera."
"Jim," I said, "will you stop that."
But everything was beyond my control. It was as if the invigoration of the chase had transformed Jim into a sprightly teenager.
A one-sided game of peekaboo ensued, during which the chaser maintained a steely expression behind his sunglasses, Jim performed a little ballet dance, and I sidled towards the swimming-pool area, attempting to distance myself from the unfolding crisis. Jim wandered over to me.
Am I being paranoid," he said, "or did Bilderberg set a trap for us? No, listen. Yesterday, we saw the shutdown begin. We saw it with our own eyes. Today, surprise surprise, no shutdown. They let us in with a smile ..." Jim trailed off.
"But they weren't going to keep the entire resort open on the off chance that the two of us might ..." I trailed off and looked over to the tree.
"Whatever," said Jim. "It looks like we have ourselves a waiting game.
He smiled and blew a cloud of smoke from his nostrils.
"I consider it a great honor to be followed back to the hotel by those Bilderberg boys," he said.
JIM SAID HE needed to rest. He may have twisted something when he leapt out of the car. He retired to his bedroom. I sat by the pool. The man behind the tree shrugged and paced around and adjusted his tie and busied himself there behind the tree. Vacationers splashed all around us. From time to time I made eye contact with the chaser, which meant, "Can I come over and tell you who we are and what is going on?" But he waved me away with a flick of his hand.
Sandra from the British Embassy called me on my cell phone to inform me that she had spoken to the Bilderberg office at the Caesar Park and they said that nobody was following us and how could they call off someone who didn't exist?
"He is," I said, in a staccato whisper, "behind the tree."
"The good news," said Sandra, "is if you know you're being followed, they're probably just trying to intimidate you. The dangerous ones would be those you don't know are following you."
But this was scant comfort. What if these men were the dangerous ones, and I just happened to be naturally good at spotting them? What if I was adept at this?
"But that isn't logical," I said. "Big Jim Tucker is obviously not intimidated. I don't think they'd waste their time trying to intimidate us when it is quite obviously failing."
"You sound a little intimidated, if you don't mind me saying," said Sandra.
"Perhaps so," I said, "but I am not behaving in a visibly intimidated manner. From across the parking lot I do not seem to be intimidated."
Two HOURS PASSED. Jim and I reconvened at a hotel bar down the road. As I wandered through the lobby, two men in dark suits immediately grabbed brochures and began scrutinizing them. I found Jim some yards away staring into his beer glass.
"There are two men by the door," I said, "reading brochures."
"I see them," said Jim.
"They are only pretending to read brochures."
"How do you know?" said Jim.
"You can tell by their demeanor," I said.
"Here's the plan," said Jim. "We leave the bar together. When we get within earshot of the chasers, I say, 'I'm gonna meet my Bilderberg contact at the Tiny Bar.' You say, 'Shhh.' Say it urgently as if you don't want them to overhear. Feed them disinformation."
"I'm not going to do that," I said.
Jim and I left the bar together.
"JON," said Jim, loudly, "I'M GONNA MEET MY SECRET BILDERBERG CONTACT AT THE TINY BAR."
I scowled and said nothing and marched ahead.
"Very good," murmured Jim outside.
WE SPLIT UP. I walked down to the beach and found a seafood restaurant. I do not think I was followed there (unless, of course, I was being followed by the people who didn't want me to know they were following me -- perhaps an elaborate tag operation was in place involving Portuguese pensioners, a man painting some railings, and small boys in bathing suits, but on the other hand I do not think so).
When I returned some hours later to the bar of the Paris Hotel, Jim was drunker than any man I've ever seen. He was surrounded by four Danish ladies and they were all singing "Yes, We Have No Bananas."
"Jim," I said, urgently, "are you still being followed?" I coughed. "Sorry, ladies," I said.
"Excuse me, ladies," said Jim, bowing graciously. He turned to me.
"So what happened?" I said.
"I went to the Tiny Bar," he said. "They call it the Tiny Bar because it is a tiny bar."
"And did they follow you there?"
" ...We have string beans and onions/Cabbages and scallions ..."
"I'm a superstitious old boy," said Jim. He paused. "Abe Lincoln was a good man. Shame he was an abolitionist. Well, I guess nobody's perfect. I've lost my train of thought."
"You went to the Tiny Bar ..." I prompted.
"They call it that," said Jim, "because it is a very tiny bar. So I'm a superstitious boy and I never sit with my back to the door. Don't want to end up like old Abe Lincoln. But I didn't want them to know, see, that I knew they were there."
"And were they there?"
"I don't know," said Jim. "I had my back to the door. Ha ha ha ha ha!"
Jim nearly fell off his chair laughing.
"Jim," I said, sternly, "when you left, were you followed?"
"Who'd want to follow an old boy like me?" said Jim. "The amount of pills they make me take for my plumbing, anyone would think I was F.A.G. Positive."
"Jim!" I said, startled. "That's a terrible thing to say."
"I'm a Neanderthal," said Jim. "Grrrrr."
EARLY THE NEXT morning, a DO NOT DISTURB sign hung on Jim's door, and sounds of typing echoed down the corridor. At 2 P.M., Jim let me in to read me his report.
Bilderberg Sets a Trap! Was that car following them or was paranoia setting in?
Tucker climbed several steps to the swimming-pool area and poked his camera between tree branches. Chaser took up position behind tree and played peekaboo.
"Come on, smile pretty," Tucker ordered. Chaser struggled against it but for a brief moment his grim expression turned to an involuntary grin, then was reset.
Hours later, by prearrangement, Tucker went to another hotel bar a block away. Chaser's car was gone so the stalking was over, right? Wrong. When Ronson joined Tucker he reported two new stalkers in the hotel lobby. How did he know the two men were stalking them?
"You can tell by their smell," Ronson said.
"I did not say that," I interrupted with indignation.
"You didn't say that?" said Jim. "I thought I heard you say that."
"I'm not the sort of person to say something like that," I said.
There was a doubtful expression on Jim's face,
"Their demeanor," I said. "You could tell by their demeanor. Change it to demeanor."
"You can tell by their ... demeanor," amended Jim, reluctantly, with a red pen.
There was a chilly pause.
"You said smell," said Jim. "You just forgot you said it."
"I did not," I said, "say smell. I have never in my life said that anybody could be told by their smell."
A frosty atmosphere had developed between Jim and myself this past day or so. The tension was driving us apart. I was ready to sell Jim out to save my own skin, and I felt that Jim, invigorated by the chase, was grabbing my hand and jumping blindly into dangerous waters.
"OK," said Jim softly, "if you want to have said demeanor, you said demeanor."
"I didn't say smell," I said.
WE HAD AN appointment with Paul Luckman, the editor of the tiny English-language Weekly News, the Algarve parish newspaper that had stuck its neck out and gone big on the Bilderberg story. Paul's was the only newspaper in Portugal -- indeed the only newspaper in the world, as far as I could tell -- that was reporting the Bilderberg story.
Paul is an expat from England, fifteen years an Algarve resident. He is not a journalist by trade. He runs a small telephone company. The Weekly News is a hobby for him and his wife, Madeline, and their two friends from church, Fred and Brendan.
Paul told me he was perplexed that their parish journal had stumbled into a world exclusive on this explosive, baffling story.
"I do not consider myself one of the world's greatest thinkers," he said over the phone, "but it doesn't take much to work out that this is something genuine. And no other newspaper will touch it. Nobody. The conversation dies as soon as you say the word Bilderberg. I mentioned it to an editor on the Daily Express yesterday, and he immediately changed the subject. I said, 'Did you hear what I said?' 'Yes.' 'Do you know about Bilderberg?' 'I've, uh, heard of them.' And that was it. The conversation died."
"How did you hear about Bilderberg?" I asked him.
"From a little newspaper on the Internet called The Spotlight, " he said. "Have you heard of them?"
"I'm actually here in Portugal with Big Jim Tucker," I said.
Ooh!" said Paul. "He's a hero! Bring him along."
PAUL HAS A LITTLE office in a modern glass building in central Lisbon where he conducts his telephone business. He's a committed born-again Christian. Church posters decorate the walls.
"I find myself out of my depth," he said, twisting an elastic band around his fingers. "If what they're up to is perfectly innocent, why don't they say what's going on? But they don't. Not even a little bit. Not even a hint. Nothing." Paul paused. "Maybe my head's gone," he said, "but the Book of Revelation speaks of a one-world order, one financial order, a one-world religion. There'll be a sense of disorder, of children not respecting their parents, and then a very powerful group will form. So it does all fit together."
"I know they're bad guys," said Jim, "and I hate them, but I don't believe they're Satanist."
"I believe that Paul's not saying they're Satanist," I said. "He's saying they're actually Satan."
"You think that this is some kind of Biblical prophecy being fulfilled?" said Jim.
"All I'm saying is this is the strangest thing I've ever known," said Paul.
THE NEXT MORNING, Paul sent Fred and Brendan, his fellow Weekly News editors, to meet Jim and me outside the gates of the Caesar Park.
This was the day Jim said the limousines and the helicopters would arrive. If any of us still had doubts, Jim said, if any of us still didn't believe, today was the day we would realize that the world was nothing like we had been told it was, that it turned on a sinister axis.
The four of us waited out in the heat. A gypsy caravan trotted past, a few hikers. An hour trundled slowly by and we filled in the time with small talk.
"So Paul thinks Bilderberg represents the fulfillment of the Book of Revelation," I said to Fred.
He chuckled. "Well that's where Paul and I part company."
We both laughed.
"You see," said Fred, "I believe that all the prophecies have already been fulfilled."
There was a small silence.
"Oh," I said.
Another hour passed. We ran out of mineral water. We kicked the gravel.
"They'll be here," said Jim, but now even he seemed unsure. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a silk handkerchief. Our shirts were soaked. We stopped talking to each other and just stood there.
PORTUGAL IS NOT an eventful country. There is tourism and there is football and there are golfing tournaments. It was, then, all the more extraordinary that at around four o' clock many of the world's most powerful people really did begin to roll past us in taxis and anonymous town cars.
There was David Rockefeller, net worth $2.5 billion, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, huddled into the back of a local cab.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Rockefeller," murmured Jim.
The gatekeeper bowed and lifted the gate, David Rockefeller waved, and the taxi disappeared up the drive.
Then came Umberto Agnelli of Fiat, Italy's de facto royal family, net worth $3.3 billion, barely noticeable in the back seat of some old sedan.
"Big Bilderberg family," said Jim. He was trying to remain matter-of-fact, but pretty soon he was grinning broadly.
"Jim!" I said.
"Damn right, soldier," he beamed. "Pretty overwhelming, huh?"
There was Vernon Jordan, Bill Clinton's closest friend, his unelected unofficial adviser and golfing partner -- Vernon Jordan, who plucked the president from Arkansas obscurity and nurtured him to the White House, and who is widely credited with pulling strings to get James Wolfensohn his job as president of the World Bank.
There was James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank.
"Incredible," murmured Fred. "Unbelievable."
And there was Henry Kissinger, possibly the most powerful individual the postwar world has known: Dr. Kissinger, who sanctioned the secret bombing of Cambodia and later won the Nobel Peace Prize, who revealed to the press his heart attack with the words, "Well, at least that proves I have a heart" -- and here he was trundling up the drive of the Caesar Park in the back of an old Mercedes.
"I'll tell you one thing I bet you didn't know about Henry Kissinger," said Jim. "His accent is as American as mine. Creep up on him at a bar, as I once did, and whisper that you know exactly what he's up to, and he'll splutter and shout at you in an accent as American as Mom's apple pie."
I attempted, for a moment, to judge rationally whether there was any truth to this startling claim -- whether Henry Kissinger really had throughout his life adopted a fake European accent to camouflage his American one. But I couldn't. My rationality had suffered a tremendous blow, and I now no longer knew what was possible and what was not.
The taxis kept coming. There were CEOs of pharmaceutical giants and tobacco companies and car manufacturers, the heads of banks from Europe and North America. Some, like Richard Holbrooke, America's United Nations representative, gave us friendly smiles, which Jim returned with a glare of undisguised loathing.
"Who are these people?" said Fred. "Why does nobody want to know?"
"They're the masters of the universe," said Jim. "The rulers of the world. You know their names now."
There was Conrad Black, the world's third-biggest media magnate, the owner of the Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times and forty Canadian dailies and 447 other newspapers around the world. Conrad Black, who when asked what epitaph he would like replied, "Just my name and dates. The more exalted a person, the less is written on their tombstone. Charles de Gaulle just has his name and dates, Winston Churchill has the same, Otto von Bismarck has only his last name, and Napoleon Bonaparte has only the letter 'N' with no dates at all." This was a man sure of his place in history, and now I felt that perhaps I understood why.
Fred and Brendan stared in horrified awe. Like Paul, their fellow editor back in the Algarve, these two men were taking an evangelical stance on Bilderberg, presuming its existence confirmed the prophecies laid out in the Book of Revelation. They looked as if they were witnessing the Devil himself ride past.
An old bus cruised up the drive. I paid it little attention, assuming it was full of hotel workers. Only Brendan scrutinized the occupants. I glanced over. Brendan seemed frozen to the spot.
"Brendan?" I said.
"Brendan!" said Fred, sharply. "What is it?"
"I looked through the window," he explained, finally, "and I focused on one person, and he was staring back at me. I was standing with my camera in hand, and this person ... just stared."
"What kind of stare was it?" I asked.
"It was a strange stare," he said. "It was a different type of stare. Yes. He looked down at me. As if he was staring right through me." There was a pause. 'I couldn't even lift my camera."
"And who was it?" I asked.
Then Brendan said, softly, "It was Peter Mandelson."
Peter Mandelson was the architect of Tony Blair's New Labour Party. He was the image-maker, a wily spinner and a fixer, masterminding Tony Blair's ascent to power, the quintessential man behind the man in front. But times had turned bad for Peter Mandelson. He had, six months earlier, been forced to resign from government amid allegations of financial sleaze -- he had, contrary to government policy, secretly accepted a sizeable loan to buy a minimalist house in Notting Hill. His Machiavellian back-room deal-making had afforded him, among British journalists and politicians, the nickname "The Prince of Darkness."
I saw from Brendan's facial expression -- from his look of frozen horror -- that this nickname had never been more appropriate.
But Brendan was a handsome young man, a blond South African with an excellent physique. And I remembered that shortly before Mandelson's political downfall, he had been outed as gay on the BBC's Newsnight program. So perhaps Mandelson wasn't staring the stare of the Devil. Perhaps he was simply eyeing Brendan up.
There was a long silence.
"Peter Mandelson?" I said.
"I've never seen a stare quite like it," said Brendan.
"Who's Peter Mandelson?" said Jim.
There was nothing left for us to do, so we got lunch. We lavished praise upon Big Jim, who grinned with satisfaction. He had, indeed, uncovered something extraordinary. Fred half-joked that Jim should win a Pulitzer, except Pulitzer was probably in Bilderberg's hands. We went back to our hotels to freshen up, and after a while Jim called to ask, if I had a moment, would I mind meeting him in his room?
THERE SEEMED TO be something on Jim's mind.
"We can only wonder what evil things they're doing in there right now," he said, lighting a cigarette.
"They've only just arrived," I said, lighting one too. "They're probably showering."
There was a pause.
"So what is it, Jim?" I said.
And then Jim dropped his bombshell -- he was calling off the midnight penetration.
"When I was at the Tiny Bar last night," he explained, "I met this taxi driver. Local guy. Knew the terrain. I said I'd give him a hundred dollars to escort me through the undergrowth and up the drainpipes. 'One hundred crisp American dollars,' I said to him. 'Buy the wife that red dress she's always wanted.'"
Jim paused to cough. He had a coughing fit. He lit a cigarette. I lit one too.
"Anyway," resumed Jim after he had drunk a glass of water, "the taxi driver called just now. He said his wife wasn't going to let him go. Too dangerous, she said. She didn't want him killed. Poor fool."
Jim looked out of the window.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Jim gazed out at the traffic and the ocean beyond. He pulled on his cigarette. As I watched him, I considered the cancellation of the midnight penetration. Jim was never without a cigarette. He didn't like to admit it but his lungs were shot. His health was no longer a match for drainpipes and guard dogs and armed security. Bill Clinton's best friend Vernon Jordan was there, thirteen years a director of America's second-largest cigarette manufacturer, RJR Nabisco. I was sure that it was Jim's rattling, cigarette-induced emphysema that had put an end to his midnight penetration.
I went back to my own room and lay on my bed. I drifted off for a while, and then I was woken by the telephone. It was Fred from the Weekly News. He said he had something of great importance to tell me. Could I meet him at once at his hotel?
"Just come as fast as you can," said Fred. "I'll meet you by the pool. And don't bring your friend Jim Tucker."
AT THE POOLSIDE of the Hotel California, Fred held a document. The document was screwed up in his hand and damp with sweat. Fred said that he had discovered something terrible in the hours that had passed since our lunch.
"OK," said Fred, "I returned to my hotel and I had a swim and then I went to my room and began surfing on the Internet. And after a while I found this ..."
Fred passed me the document. I uncreased it and laid it on the table.
Bilderberg material is fascist hoax!
I am writing to you urgently to warn you about material being circulated about a "Bilderberg Conference" due to take place in June in Portugal. The Washington-based journal Spotlight is quoted as a source of information on the Bilderberg Conference. Spotlight is published by the fascist Liberty Lobby. The purpose of the material appears to be to make people imagine there is a sinister Jewish conspiracy that is trying to dominate the world. You may find much information on Spotlight by contacting any major anti-fascist organization.
Against fascism and against capitalism,
(International Solidarity with Workers in Russia)
"What do you think about that?" said Fred.
There was a long silence.
"Well," I said. "I should tell you that the other night Jim told me it was a shame that Abraham Lincoln was an abolitionist."
"Did he?" said Fred, clearly startled.
"But I can't really think of anything else Jim said that might be construed as ... oh -- he did say that with the amount of pills they make him take for his plumbing anyone would think he was --"
"We're getting all our information from neo-Nazis?" interrupted Fred. "We're publishing a newspaper all over Portugal and our sources are neo-Nazis?"
"You might be," I said. "But that doesn't mean ..." I paused.
Fred looked out at the pool. Children were splashing around. It was a lovely day. He put his head in his hands.
"What," he said, "have we got ourselves into?"