In 1720, there was a frenzy of speculation and rumour in the newspapers and among the London public, about the so-called ‘Hellfire Clubs’ which were allegedly proliferating everywhere. All this was triggered by a Royal Proclamation:
His Majesty have received Information, which gives great Reason to suspect that there have lately been and still are, in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, certain scandalous Clubs or Societies of young Persons who meet together, and in the most impious and blasphemous Manner, insult the most sacred Principles of Holy Religion, affront Almighty God himself, and corrupt the Minds and Morals of one another (Lord, 45).
It is difficult to establish much for certain about the activities of these clubs, in view of their secrecy – or how much exaggeration was involved, though presumably the proclamation was not based on nothing at all. The public sensation may have been whipped up as a propaganda ploy against the Whig Party, hyperbolizing and demonizing its tendency towards atheism. The name ‘Hellfire Clubs’ was invented by the Press, but the character of the clubs themselves may have varied widely, from drinking clubs to freethinking, atheistical discussion forums to various degrees of hedonism and perversity, occultism and full-blown Satanism.
Specific events can always rip a hole in the veil of secrecy, and 1760s a sacrilegious or Satanic ‘Hellfire’ club – which took the motto of Rabelais’ fictional abbey of Thélème: Fais ce que vouldras (do what thou wilt) – became a cause célèbre. When people refer to ‘The’ Hellfire Club, it is usually this group that they mean. The Order of the Friars of Saint Francis of Wycombe had come into existence in 1749 under its ‘Abbott’ Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron of Despencer, and consisted of a tight circle of ‘inner members’, a wider outer circle, and numerous persons of quality who attended the club as guests. They met at a Gothic designer-ruin of an abbey on the Thames, which Dashwood had refurbished and artfully re-ruined, and what emerges about the Order’s activities conforms very much to the stereotype; perverse group sexual activity and occult or Satanic rituals.
The membership, drawn from among the minor aristocracy and the wealthy bourgeoisie, was a mixture of opposition politicians and libertines. Paul Whitehead, or ‘Paul of Twickenham’ when he was at Medmenham, was a propagandist for Prince Frederick, who was at the centre of opposition circles. Whitehead designed the ritual and obtained handbooks on sorcery, and was described by contemporaries as gaunt, sneering, and immoral. Thomas Potter, son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a famous seducer whose pastimes included watching executions and copulating in graveyards. Another, George Selwyn, liked to attend executions in female disguise, and had necrophiliac leanings. Others were political heavyweights such as George Bubb Dodington, Lord Sandwich and, later, John Wilkes – ‘Liberty’ Wilkes.
There were thirteen full members, the founder and twelve apostles. When a vacancy occurred in the inner circle, “any of the lesser friars could apply… The fringe members never knew what went on in the inner circle, and Dr Bates, who remained on the fringe, insisted in his old age that the wild tales about the Order were ‘scandalous and sarcastic fabrications’”(Ashe). There were many visitors and guests to Medmenham, invited to attend feasts. Only a small part of the Abbey was barred to outsiders: the Chapter Room and the Chapel.
When George II of England died in 1760 and his grandson George III ascended the throne, the new King’s favourite and his mother’s lover, Lord Bute, came into a great deal of power in opposition circles, Tories and post-Jacobites gathering around him. Bute had been drawn into the Medmenham circle, and seems have been a member of the Order. Within a couple of years, thanks to Dodington’s political manoeuvring and the King’s support, particularly his ability to create peers, Bute was Prime Minister. He promptly made Dashwood Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dodington First Lord of the Admiralty, and gave Whitehead a sinecure post in government. Sandwich was already a minister.
It didn’t last long. The Order, ironically, put an end to the Seven Years War, because in the absence of sufficient tax revenue they ran into trouble paying war-debts. Bute resigned after less than two years and the Hellfire Cabinet fell apart. But the remarkable fact is that, in 1762, a group of Satanist libertines had taken power in Britain.
This conjunction of anti-morality and power is certainly of interest. Clearly the sexual and sacrilegious nature of the Brothers’ amusements at Medmenham would be a binding factor – the inner circle would all have the ability to blackmail each other, but in doing so would destroy themselves. In a secret society based on these lines, everybody has a knife at everybody’s throat, guaranteeing loyalty and mutual protection.
In fact, a significant factor in the group’s failure to hold on to power was the mutiny of one member who had been disregarded in the sweep to office under Bute. John Wilkes was a lesser Friar who was not a member of the inner circle, but he had witnessed enough. He started a polemical newspaper and attacked the government to great effect throughout its tenure, warning of a corrupt authoritarianism. Eventually he was arrested, but the government failed to make its charges stick, and on his release he discovered the people had turned him into ‘Liberty’ Wilkes, thinking they had some stake in this internecine dispute between members of the Order.
Wilkes had begun leaking stories about orgies and Satanism at Medmenham through third parties, mainly cartoonists and satirical poets, as well as giving some details in his own articles, generating damaging rumours about the Order. This was where he over-reached. Even after Bute’s resignation some of the Brethren were still in office, notably Sandwich. Using their knowledge of Wilkes’s activities at Medmenham – mainly his authorship of various sexually-twisted parodies – combined with bribery and bit of forgery, they easily took Wilkes down for obscenity and libel. In fact they didn’t just take him down, they drove him into exile.
In 2004 we were treated to the amazing sight of the two candidates for the Presidency of the United States, the incumbent George W Bush, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts (later Secretary of State in the second Obama administration) fielding questions about a secret society of which they were both members. Neither denied their membership, but both candidates refused point blank to reveal anything about it in interviews in interviews with Tim Russert on Meet the Press.
Russert: You were both in ‘Skull and Bones’, the secret society.
Bush: It’s so secret we can’t talk about it.
Russert: What does that mean for America? The conspiracy theorists are gonna go wild.
Bush: I’m sure they are, I haven’t seen the websites…
Russert: Number 322?
Bush: First of all, he’s not the nominee… Look, I look forward –
Russert: Are you prepared to lose?
Bush: I’m not gonna lose.
Russert: But if you did, what would you do?
Bush: Well, I don’t plan on losing, see, I’ve got a vision for this country and where I want to lead it…
Russert: You both were members of ‘Skull and Bones’, a secret society at Yale. What does that tell us?
John Kerry: Not much, ‘cos it’s a secret.
Russert: Is there a secret hand shake, is there a secret code?
Kerry: I wish there were something secret that I could… manifest…
Russert: ‘322’, the secret number?
Kerry: Well, there are all kinds of secrets, but one thing that’s not a secret is that I disagree with this president’s direction, the way he’s taking the country…
The best source I have found for details about the so-called Skull and Bones Society of Yale University, is Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin’s massively researched George Bush: The Unauthorised Biography (reprinted by Progressive Press 2004). Skull and Bones is reminiscent of occult European ‘Order of Death’ societies such as the Thule Society, an important element in the birth of National Socialism in Germany. Some commentators allege that the Thule Society and Skull and Bones have common ancestors and are sister organisations, both of which have contributed to and at times controlled the mass political movements of their day.
The Order was incorporated in 1856 under the name ‘Russell Trust Association’, though exempted from the normal legal requirements of a corporation. In fact ‘Skull and Bones’ is merely a nick-name for the society, based on the pirate emblem flown by the Russell Trust opium ships. The incalculable Russell family fortune was derived from the largest American criminal organisation of the nineteenth century: Russell and Company, the opium syndicate.
Membership is selected from the senior (third year) Yale students, only fifteen of whom (all have to be from ‘good families’) are ‘tapped’ each year. Membership is for life, and older members, the so-called ‘patriarchs’ of the society, provide cash bonuses for graduating initiates and give special backing in business, politics, espionage and legal careers to younger ‘Bonesmen’ who exhibit talent or usefulness.
Skull and Bones members promote and protect each other, in Masonic fashion; the society helps its members to maximise their potential, in order that they can promote and project the Society’s ethics and agenda. Even a superficial roster of the best known initiates will give some idea of its power and influence over the past century and a half: Presidents, Secretaries of War (later ‘Defense’), Secretaries of State, Supreme Court Judges, CIA Directors; the names Taft, Rockefeller, Bush, Stimson, Bundy occur and recur on the ledgers.
Influence was there from the society’s inception and has only grown from then onwards: ‘The Russells were protected as part of the multiply-intermarried grouping of families then ruling Connecticut. The blood-proud members of the Russell, Pierpont, Edwards, Burr, Griswold, Day, Alsop and Hubbard families were prominent in the pro-British party within the state’ (Tarpley and Chaitkin). Twentieth century Bonesmen have included a number who are connected at the deepest level with many of the epoch-shaping events of the twentieth century – and indeed the twenty-first. The Bush dynasty (Prescott, George H W and George W Bush); the brothers Allen and John Foster Dulles, Robert A Lovett, and Averell Harriman, who were so instrumental in the post-war transformation of the United States as a militarised national security state.
Moreover, Skull and Bones, through its financial arms the Guarantee Trust Company and the Brown Brothers Harriman, fostered the rise of Bolshevism in Russia, and were instrumental in creating the financial and industrial conditions for the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the building of Hitler’s war machine. Averell Harriman, in particular, seems to have played a driving role in the wholesale destruction and reconfiguration of Europe, meeting with Hitler’s enabler, Franz Thyssen, as early as 1922, and later supervising the postwar reconstruction and rearmament of the USSR as US ambassador to the Soviet Union.
These connections between Skull and Bones patriarchs and totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century are impossible to ignore; Prescott Bush was the Nazis’ banker in the United States (his Union Banking Corporation was closed down under the Trading with the Enemy Act in 1942), and the investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman, a major financial enabler of the rise Hitler, is intimately connected with the Trust, handling all its business since 1978. Allen Dulles was stationed in Switzerland throughout the war in order to oversee US interests in Germany, and together with fellow Bonesman Robert Lovett and Wehrmacht Major General Reinhard Gehlen designed the Central Intelligence Agency, modeled on the Gehlen Organisation (which was kept intact to working for the West against the Soviet Union). Dulles himself took over as CIA director in 1953, a post which George H W Bush moved into in 1975 at a crucial moment for the agency. Since its inception the CIA has been completely dominated by the society and used as its instrument in the transformation and militarisation of the United States of America.
A significant step in this transformation was the recruitment in the late 40s and early 50s of tens of thousands of Nazi scientists and technicians to work in military and intelligence institutions. Operation PAPERCLIP, overseen by CIA founder Allen Dulles installed, deep within new Cold War military structures, not just rocket scientists like Werner von Braun, but medical scientists like Dr Hubertus Strughold, responsible for some of the most brutal researches undertaken in the concentration camps – and thousands of others. The research projects associated with names like Himmler and Mengele were imported wholesale, continued and ramped up within the new military-intelligence complex protected by walls within walls of secrecy. A tiny tip of this subterranean iceberg would be exposed within a quarter of a century; most of it remains buried.
Webster Tarpley sees Skull and Bones as a pre-eminent structural force within the powerful Anglo-American faction in corporate-military-political establishment, this faction representing the survival or transition of the British Empire (itself containing a transition of the Venetian Empire) into the colony it had lost, and continuing and developing the manipulative strategies which both those empires are famous for.
‘The present century [the 2oth] owes much of its record of horrors, writes Tarpley, to the influential Anglophile American families which came to dominate and employ the Skull & Bones society as a political recruiting agency, particularly the Harrimans, Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and their lawyers, the Lords and Tafts and Bundys.
The apostles of the order have shown that they are masters of the Hegelian dialect and the creation and management of conflict, which is the indispensable condition for societal transformation (as well as mutual self-enrichment).
The Order known as Skull and Bones, then, is enormously more powerful, dangerous, and long-lived than its English foreshadowing in the ‘monks’ of Medmenham. And it is, even more unambiguously than its forerunner, a Satanic death cult; now achieving a hypertrophic form. Its meetinghouse at Yale campus is a windowless stone building ‘resembling a mausoleum and known as ‘The Tomb’. Initiations take place on Deer Island in the St. Lawrence River (an island owned by the Russell Trust Association), with regular reunions there and at Yale. Initiation rites reportedly include ‘strenuous and traumatic activities’ of the new member, while immersed naked in mud, and in a coffin. More important is the ‘sexual autobiography’. The initiate tells the Order all the sex secrets of his young life.” (Tarpley and Chaitkin).
On more than one occasions, outsiders have gained access to the mausoleum and been able to survey and photograph the paraphernalia inside the mausoleum, which include pentagrams, a font decorated with skeletons holding fore-fingers to their jaws in the sign of silence, arrangements of skulls, and everywhere, German inscriptions. Pride of place is reportedly given to the skull of Geronimo, the Native American chieftain, stolen from his grave, according to society lore, by none other than Prescott Bush. Leaving aside Bush’s Nazi connections, this act of desecration alone speaks volumes about the racism and genocidal reek that rises from the Skull and the Bones. It celebrates genocide and speaks of a fundamental desire to desecrate. The skull is reputedly an integral element in ceremonies at The Tomb.
Another time, students climbed across its roof to spy on (and record) activities in the courtyard, and captured dark footage in which can be heard chants of ‘Death is Death! Devil Is Death!’ These constitute mere glimpses of what goes on inside the order.
Some may find all this laughable and representative of ‘sophomoric’ rather than sociopathic tendencies; pseudo-Satanism, essentially meaningless; ridiculous rather than sinister (as if these are exclusive categories).
What we do know, however, is that this brand of occultism, whatever motivates it, has become extraordinarily widespread throughout the establishment, not just through Skull and Bones but a multiplicity of societies. This network of vicious creeps, ranked in their Masonic orders, controls the political process to the degree that when, in 2016, a presidential candidate appeared who did not emerge from this milieu, it threw the entire establishment into a panicked uproar.
When Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and an influential party insider for decades, was asked about why the candidate was so hated, he said this:
Gingrich: And now they’re faced with Donald Trump becoming the leader of the party and it absolutely drives them crazy.
Gingrich: Well, because he’s an outsider, he’s not them, he’s not part of the club. He’s uncontrollable. You know, he hasn’t been through the initiation rites, he didn’t belong to the secret society. They have no idea how to relate to him.
Well, of course they don’t. Here’s a man who never masturbated in a coffin while reciting his sexual history in front of his robed brothers. Someone who doesn’t allow the brethren to cater to his sexual whims. Someone who has never…
Let’s just say, who is not blackmailable. Who has a knife to their throat while they have nothing to his.
This is not right or fair. It is not honourable, in the inverted world of the brethren.
So watch now, how all sections of the establishment will unite against the interloper.
Geoffrey Ashe, The Hellfire Clubs or a History of Anti-morality, The History Press, 2000
The Hell-Fire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies by Evelyn Lord (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2008)
America’s Secret Establishment, by Antony Sutton (2003)(reprinted by Progressive Press 2014)
George Bush: The Unauthorised Autobiography, by Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin, (1994) (reprinted by Progressive Press 2004).