LONDON (AP) — It’s a busy weekend at the luxury Grove Hotel, favored haunt of British soccer players and their glitz-loving spouses.
More than 100 of the world’s most powerful people are at the former manor house near London for a secretive annual gathering that has attained legendary status in the eyes of anti-capitalist protesters and conspiracy theorists.
The guest list for the Bilderberg meeting includes Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to drop by Friday.
The Bilderberg Group was set up in 1954 to support military and economic co-operation between Europe and North America during the Cold War.
Named for the site of its first meeting — the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland — the forum for prominent politicians, thinkers and business leaders has been held annually at a series of secluded venues in Europe and North America.
What happens at Bilderberg, stays at Bilderberg. There is no media access and the public is kept away by a large security operation. The group says that “there is no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued.”
But in a move toward slightly more openness, the group now has a website, which lists attendees and key topics for discussion, including the economy, U.S. foreign policy, “cyber warfare and the proliferation of asymmetric threats” and “major trends in medical research.”
Invitees include British Treasury chief George Osborne, Goldman Sachs chairman Peter Sutherland and Thomas Enders, CEO of aerospace company EADS.
Publication of these details has done little to ease the concerns of protesters, who sense a shadowy global elite at work in the secretive meeting.
”When 130 of the leaders from all across the West get together, and many of these are billionaires, they are people who are immensely wealthy and immensely powerful,” said Michael Meacher, a lawmaker from Britain’s Labour Party.
”And when they all get together, it’s not just to have a chat about the latest problem, it is to concert plans for the future of capitalism in the West. That is on a very different scale.”
Others go even further, putting Bilderberg at the heart of a global web of conspiracy. The protesters in Watford include U.S. talk-radio host and Sept. 11 “truther” Alex Jones, and former professional soccer player David Icke, who believes the world is run by a race of reptiles in human form.
Demonstrators plan to hold a “Bilderberg fringe” festival outside the hotel until the conference ends Sunday.
A Bilderberg spokesman — reached by email since no phone number is listed — said there is nothing sinister about the gathering.
“We disclose the date, the location, the participants and the key topics of the conference,” Xander Heijnen said. “Many groups of people meet without announcing it publicly at all, without disclosing who is taking part and without giving any key topics.
“The meetings broaden the participants’ range of viewpoints, help them to gain insights and exchange views,” he said. “It seems illogical to argue that a meeting of individuals designed to give and obtain fresh insights, somehow ‘undermines democracy.’”
That message has not swayed protesters like Judd Charlton, a ventriloquist from London who showed up Thursday to jeer at cars with blacked-out windows entering the hotel compound.
“We are basically here to bring down the parasites who are drug dealers and bank collapsers who seem to want to destroy this world,” he said.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless