The Order of Skull and Bones

Skull and Bones crypt, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
September 30, 2004
Election a 'win-win situation' for secretive Bonesmen
By Kris Millegan

Both major presidential candidates are members of a small secret society at Yale University - the Order of Skull & Bones. On different Sunday mornings, "Meet the Press" anchor Tim Russert asked George Walker Bush and John Forbes Kerry if they could talk about their memberships in this 172-year-old clandestine club.

Tossed off with nervous laughter, their answers were, "It's so secret that I can't talk about it," and, "Not much, because it's a secret."

Should citizens be concerned about this unwillingness to discuss an elite organization? Is it relevant? Don't we all have the freedom to fraternize with whom we please? Aren't Lions, Kiwanis, Elks and similar organizations used by many in pursuit of business and political connections? So what?

William Huntington Russell founded the Order of Skull & Bones in 1832 after he returned from studies in Germany. The Russell family's business - Russell & Co. - was the premier American opium shipper and the third largest in the world. In the 1830s, opium became the world's largest commercial commodity, and the maneuverability and speed of the American clipper ships laid foundations of great wealth with the smuggling of opium into China. Many of the fortunate sons of Russell & Co. families were sent to Yale and were "tapped" into the Order of Skull & Bones.

Fifteen new members are chosen each year from the junior class at Yale. After initiation rites that include simulated murder, the kissing of a skull and chants about the devil and death, they are known as Knights during their senior year. Reportedly, members hold weekly sessions in which they talk about their sex lives, which some say helps forge a strong fraternal bond. The initiates have privileges beyond those enjoyed by fellow students - including a near million-dollar clubhouse, a private island and access to a distinguished and powerful cadre of fellow Bonesmen.

Three Bonesmen have occupied the Oval Office: William Howard Taft (who also served as chief justice of the Supreme Court), George Herbert Walker Bush, and his son. Members have included more than 20 U.S. senators, three U.S. Supreme Court justices and myriad lesser officials.

The order is legendary in its promotion of its members above all others. As a Yale alumnus noted in 1905 about the senior secret society system at Yale, "the best man doesn't always win."

George W. Bush has appointed 11 fellow Bonesmen to government jobs: Evan Griffith Galbraith, adviser to the U.S. mission to NATO; William Henry Donaldson, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; George Herbert Walker III, U.S. ambassador to Hungary; Jack Edwin McGregor, member of the advisory board of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.; Victor Henderson Ashe, member of the board of directors of the Federal National Mortgage Association; Roy Leslie Austin, U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago; Robert Davis McCallum Jr., associate attorney general; Rex Cowdry, associate director of the White House's National Economic Council; Edward McNally Sr., associate counsel to the president and general counsel to the Office of Homeland Security; David Batshaw Wiseman, an attorney in the Justice Department's Civil Division; and James Emanuel Boasberg, an associate judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Taft and George H. W. Bush were both one-term presidents.

George W's secret name in the order is reported to be "Temporary." Will he be the first member of the Order of Skull & Bones to serve two terms, in spite of his secret name, or will he hand the reins of government to his rival Bonesman, John Kerry?

This is the first time that both major candidates are members of Skull & Bones. There has been little discussion of the order in Democratic and Republican circles. The Washington Post assigned Bonesman Dana Milbank to cover the election, and he hasn't brought the question up. Even Ralph Nader has been quiet. Is this because Nader's sometimes lawyer and long-standing associate, Donald Etra, is Skull & Bones 1968, and a good friend of George W. Bush?

Author Antony Sutton in the 1980s called attention to the order's predilection for trying to politically influence both the left and the right. Is our current presidential election a contest between the two best candidates for the job, or a cynical dialectic ploy for control of our republic and our collective future?

As a Bonesman is reported to have said about Bush vs. Kerry, "It's a win-win situation."

Maybe it is for the order.

But what about the rest of us?

Kris Millegan (ramillegan lives in Noti and works as a writer and publisher. His book, "Fleshing Out Skull & Bones," is available from


Fleshing Out Skull and Bones: Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society edited by Kris Millegan

An amazing collection of articles on the Skull and Bones secret society - the most comprehensive account available on this organization.

The article "The September 11th Attack, the War on Terror and the Order of Skull & Bones" by Antony Sutton discusses the likelihood that remote control technology was used to perpetrate 9/11.


Skull vs. Bones: the final rigging of the electoral system?

In 1991, in Louisiana, the corrupt Democrat Edwin Edwards was running for governor against Klansman / Republican David Duke. People throughout the country were horrified that a Nazi might become a Governor.

They called it the Governor's Race From Hell -- Edwin Edwards vs. David Duke.
There were bumper stickers that read, "Vote for the crook; it's important!"

It seemed in 2004 that voting for Kerry was the equivalent of the "need" for Edwards to win that election.

from a CBS story about Skull and Bones

One can't help but make certain comparisons with the mafia, for example. Secret society, bonding, stakes may be a little higher in one than the other. But everybody knows everything about everybody, which is a form of protection.

"I think Skull and Bones has had slightly more success than the mafia in the sense that the leaders of the five families are all doing 100 years in jail, and the leaders of the Skull and Bones families are doing four and eight years in the White House," says Rosenbaum.

archived at
(sorry for the link to prisonplanet, not the best source for these sorts of stories) Skull and Bones archives of the Progressive Review

George Bush, Skull & Bones and the New World Order

Anthony Sutton On 'Skull & Bones,' US Banks Financing Hitler, & 'Trance-Formation'

Skull & Bones article, Esquire magazine, September 1977
George W. Bush, John Kerry, Skull & Bones occultists and the Mausoleum they're based in at Yale University
The Order of Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones: a capsule history and an intimate peek at one section of the US Ruling Class
Skull and Bones aka The Order
George Bush, Skull & Bones and the New World Order
A New American View -- International Edition White Paper
April 1991,13918,1154848,00.html

Skeleton key to the White House
Both John Kerry and George Bush were members of Yale's secretive Skull and Bones society. Matthew Wells scours the university for future presidents
Tuesday February 24, 2004

"The Hangman equals death, The Devil equals death, Death equals death!"

It's weird to think that the two men who are now contesting the most powerful job in world politics, both apparently went through an occult ritual that involved dressing-up and chanting the words above, prostrate in front of a fellow student wielding a butchers' knife and dressed in animal skin. (no longer posted on the Herald website)

Kerry made his Bones in secret club - like Bush
by Andrew Miga, Boston Herald [US]
May 15, 2003

WASHINGTON - Sen. John F. Kerry expounds on many issues in his presidential campaign, but he's completely silent on one topic: his membership in Skull and Bones, Yale's infamous secret society.
``John Kerry has absolutely nothing to say on that subject. Sorry,'' said Kerry spokeswoman Kelley Benander.
Kerry is a respected senator and a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, but 36 years after he was initiated into what has been called the ``ultimate old boy network,'' he's wary of breaking the ultra-exclusive club's strict secrecy code.
There's also another high-profile member of the club: President Bush.
Bonesmen already are buzzing over the prospect of the first Bones vs. Bones presidential race should Kerry win his party's nomination and face Bush in 2004.
``Bones don't care who wins,'' said author Alexandra Robbins, whose book ``Secrets of the Tomb'' pierced the secrecy shrouding the 171-year-old society. ``If Kerry wins, it's still a Bones presidency.''
Robbins calls the group ``probably the most secretive and successful club in America,'' and adds, ``It's also pretty bizarre.''
Every year, 15 Yale juniors are tapped for the club, which holds meetings twice a week in a crypt-like building known as the ``Tomb.''
Robbins described the interior, replete with skulls and skeletons, as a cross between the ``Addams Family'' and a slightly shabby English men's club.
There are bizarre initiation rites, including a ceremony where new members must spend an evening before a roaring fire in the Tomb recounting details of their sexual history to fellow members.
Kerry was tapped for the club in 1968, two years after Bush, whose father and grandfather were also Bonesmen. Kerry's brother-in-law from his first marriage, David Thorne, was Bones. So was the late husband of Kerry's current wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. The Bones alumni roster is flush with CIA officials, business moguls, congressmen and Supreme Court justices. The club owns a secluded 40-acre island retreat on the St. Lawrence River.
In 1986, Kerry allegedly tried to recruit Jacob Weisberg, then a college-age intern at ``The New Republic'' magazine.
Weisberg, now Slate magazine editor, said Kerry made his pitch during a private meeting in his Senate office. Weisberg declined, pointedly asking Kerry how he squared his liberalism with membership in such an elitist club that refused to admit women. ``Kerry got sort of flustered and said, `I've marched with battered women,' '' Weisberg told the Herald.
Five years later, Kerry was among those voting to force the club to admit women after a bitter court fight.

TrineDay, a Lane County, Oregon publishing house, announces its third book in national release, Fleshing Out Skull & Bones, Investigations into America’s Most Powerful Secret Society.

Fleshing Out Skull & Bones brings together for the first time many original source documents and writings from over 10 different writers giving readers the widest and most detailed view of this very powerful secret group, The Order of Skull & Bones

Fleshing Out Skull and Bones breaks new ground about the Order and its members' involvement in the financing of Hitler and the Nazis. The book investigates how the society operates, makes available for the first time the Order’s corporate records and asks questions about its tax exempt status. This book reveals for the first time the Order’s involvement in the birth of the oil/gasoline business and many other interesting historical tidbits.

Book Review
Fleshing Out Skull & Bones
Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society
Edited by Kris Millegan
Hardcover: 712 pages; US$39.95
Published by Trine Day
ISBN: 0-9720207-2-1
Publication Date: October 2003
Reviewed by Bev Conover
Online Journal Editor & Publisher

February 11, 2004—Despite the publicity in recent years, Skull & Bones is not a household name. Even those Americans who have heard of Yale's oldest and most secretive society tend to dismiss it as nothing more than just another college fraternity.
Kris Millegan has done a masterful job in assembling and compiling what is known about Skull & Bones, including writing several chapters of his own, in "Fleshing Out Skull & Bones: Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society"--so masterful that it may be more than you ever wanted to know about this secret society, its history, and the history of the secret, but nowhere as influential, societies born in its wake.
To date, three Bonesmen have occupied the White House: William Howard Taft, George Herbert Walker Bush and George Walker Bush. Also from the ranks of Skull & Bones have come two chief justices of the Supreme Court, more than 20 senators and members of the House, cabinet officers, judges and state officials, in addition to captains of banking and industry.
This is not just another old boys' (and now girls') network. It is a network extraordinaire in all American history
, which may surpass even that of the Freemasons. One difference between members of Skull & Bones and Masons is that the former are forbidden from publicly acknowledging their membership in Bones. Moreover, from what is known about Skull & Bones' rituals, they are dark--some say satanic.
George W. Bush has reportedly walked out of rooms when asked about his membership. Senator Kerry, also a Bonesman, fobs off such questions.
The on-campus group is small and is made up of seniors: only 15 members. Each year those 15 members each "tap" one junior as being worthy to join their secret society. But it's a "tap" that lasts a lifetime, opening doors to the powerful elite. Does this sound more like the Mafia than the antics of kids in an American university?
Yet, if the current trend holds and John Kerry becomes the Democratic nominee for president, for the first time in history, two Bonesman will be squaring off for the White House in November. That alone raises interesting questions as to why this secretive, powerful and influential society would pit two of its own against each other. Unfortunately, the answer is not in the book.
What does such an influential secret society say about an open and democratic America? Combine Bonesman, who may or may not hold memberships in other secretive organizations, with Freemasons, Opus Dei, P2 and, perhaps, even the Mafia, and you have a worldwide network of extraordinary power.
Put "Fleshing Out Skull & Bones" on your must-reading list. You won't be disappointed.
The Order of Skull & Bones is the Wizard of Oz!
Presidents are just assassinated!
There is no conspiracy!
It’s just necessary for us barbarians "to be able to make sense of the world!"
Whitewash, Smokescreen, Disinformation and Modified Limited Hang-out

Recent Yale graduate, Alexandra Robbins’s new book, Secrets of the Tomb – Skull and Bones, The Ivy League, And The Hidden Paths of Power portends to be an exposé, but in reality is a response by Bones to its critics, an apologia and… more skullduggery. Ms. Robbins, claims to be a member of one of Yale’s seven senior secret societies (she never reveals which one) writes:
"The rumors and conspiracy theories about Skull and Bones,… are widespread and deep-rooted.… the most fascinating thing I learned through my interviews with members of Skull and Bones is that the majority of rumors were carefully planted by the Bonesmen themselves."
"Skull & Bones is at its core, equivalent to the Wizard of Oz, the puny but cunning man hidden behind a curtain of mystique, projecting images that inspire awe and terror in order to expand himself into something great and terrible."
"If the Wizard of Oz can represent Skull and Bones, then one must point out that, for a while, Oz needed its Wizard to provide balance and a constant current of reassurance." [emphasis in original]
According to Ms. Robbins, The Order of Skull & Bones is all just a façade and the conspiracy theories are created out of a psychological need of us "barbarians." It’s just a "frat" house that taps into the power of the Ivy League old boy network. Just a bonding "thing," Skull and Bones isn’t "cultlike" but its critics are.
"The Bonesmen cannot see the outside world without first looking through the Bones-constructed prism; at the same time, the outside world cannot see into Bones headquarters—instead, barbarians can only project their own imagery onto the, blank, brown walls of the tomb. Which they do. Often. At great length. The attention paid to Skull and Bones is cultlike, and it has grown exponentially in recent years because of the Bush dynasty and the expansion of the Internet, which has provided a most convenient medium through which to discuss and expound on conspiratorial ties. Skull and Bones is not a legend just to those who live it. To barbarians also, it is more than merely an institution; it is a concept onto which people project the images necessary for them to be able to make sense of the world. However sinister the notion of an all-powerful secret society might be, the existence of a Skull and Bones also brings us some measure of relief. The secret society allows us to believe that things don’t just happen: genocide isn’t just caused by one crazy individual, presidents aren’t just assassinated, family political dynasties aren’t just born. Even chaos, the society’s conspiracy theories tell us, has causality. The secret society--like the power of the elitist, old-school colleges, the small groups of mogul networks, and the political dynasties--survives because people like to believe that seemingly random events are orchestrated by someone or something in control. "We’ve all done a good job of keeping the quintessential mystery alive," one patriarch said to me, "because people don’t believe this is all we do." Perhaps one of the reasons people are so fascinated with conspiracy theories, particularly the far-reaching networks associated with secret societies and old-school power, is that they need causality in much the same way as they need a God. People’s need for the Skull and Bones conspiracies to elucidate an underlying order is similar to the need for religion to explain death and purpose. Underground control suggests order and order implies reason. Explanations, however implausible, are somehow reassuring."The psychological underpinnings, the rhetoric and the techniques used to "massage" the message in this book I find very interesting. Also, her use of the term barbarians to refer to non-members and her use of Bone’s terms of deference to older members, I also find interesting.
Ms. Robbins takes a swipe at the "sinister" views of Bones with an exaggerated and shunted version of many of the allegations about Bones in an introduction titled The Legends of Skull and Bones. By mixing reality with known myth Ms. Robbins clumsily tosses aside many historical tragedies brought about by the elite deviance of Bones and its cohorts. She then proceeds to tell us "What follows, then is the truth about Skull and Bones." But by simply not addressing many of the allegations against Bones that she brings up in her "legends" she lays down more smoke and mirrors on the whole subject of what is real and what is fiction, even ending her book with more of the same:
"Whether the legend of Skull and Bones reflects a sinister veracity or a prismatic distortion depends almost entirely on one’s desired perception. The great conspiracy surrounding the society is one of half-truths and our own willing complicity. And its secret, great and terrible, is that Skull and Bones, unreal, has mastered both"
This book is not an expose it is a paean to The Order of Skull & Bones. Secrets of the Tomb is designed to deflect mounting exposure and criticism of The Order’s secrecy and its malignant effect upon our body politic and our republic.Ms. Robbins has insights into the culture of Yale and access to Bones members. She supplies us with some gossip, some new info, a map of the inside of the tomb, and plenty of Bone’s unsourced shallow retorts.
I will offer a small disassembly of one piece of Ms. Robbins disinformation, for now… Her dismissal of the history of Skull & Bones financial dealings with the Nazis consisted of one sentence.
"Nor was it Skull and Bones that specifically instructed members to aid Adolf Hitler, though Hitler’s financier stowed $3 million in the Union Banking Corporation, a bank that counted among its seven directors Prescott Bush."
Ms. Robbins gives us no documentation of her assertion that all that happened was that Fritz Thyssen "stowed" just "$3 million" in a bank that "counted among its seven directors Prescott Bush." Poor Pres, just been stuck with a bad rap, them mean Nazis did it behind his back. What a crock!
If one checks the historical record one finds that the Union Banking Co. was established in 1924 to formalize an agreement between Bonesman Averell Harriman and Fritz Thyssen, German industrialist and author of I Paid Hitler. Union Bank was more than just some place to stow money but was anactive participant in the rearming of Germany and the financing of Naziism. Union Banking Corporation was eventually seized by the US Alien Property Custodian in October on 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
And there were many more Bonesmen involved than just Prescott Bush. And much more involvement in the financial affairs of Germany and the Nazis. In 1933 there were eight directors of Union Bank. Four were members of Skull & Bones, classmates Roland Harriman, Knight Woolley, Ellery Sedgewick James and Prescott Bush. In 1942 the bank had (Ms. Robbins is correct) only seven directors but there were three Bones directors and shareholders, Roland, Prescott and Ray Morris. And their shares were declared as being "held for the benefit of… members of the Thyssen family, [and] is property of nationals… of a designated enemy country…"
There is much more historical evidence about The Order’s and the Bush’s involvement in the financing of Germany and of Hitler. There is George Herbert Walker’s and Prescott Bush’s major involvment with the Harriman Fifteen Corporation and the American Ship and Commerce Corporation which both helped in the rearmament of Germany and the rise of Naziism.
Ms. Robbins also side-stepped the very real relationship between The Order, eugenics and Hitler. But that is par for the course for this book. Not that I do not recommend it. For as I have learned much can be gathered from disinformation, first there are the "bona fides" that must be supplied and then there is what is not said and where they wish you to go, which always provides illumination.

Bone collectors buoyant for 2004
By Douglas Herman

February 18, 2004—Whichever way you roll the dice they come up snake eyes. They win and you lose. What were the odds that two Yale grads and two Bonesmen would be vying for the position of presidential puppet in 2004?
Before you get defensive about our so-called "democratic process," let me inform you that Yale University was the site of the old O.S.S., forerunner of The CIA and for the last 40 years—not coincidentally—almost all victorious presidential candidates (aside from the anomaly, Jimmy Carter) have been vetted either by Yale, the CIA or the elite Skull and Bones Society. Not that there appears to be any difference
Whether Bush wins in a landslide—as expected here—or Kerry sweeps the Democrats back into nominal, yet fictitious, control of the U.S. government, no power shift is expected. Michael Donnelly asks the pertinent question in Counterpunch: Will Skull and Bones Really Change CEOs? Inside John Kerry's Closet. To paraphrase playwright William Shakespeare, Senator Kerry may yet "out-Herod Herod."
Yet not since Watergate or the sinister Mena operation, have we witnessed such shenanigans or government abuse in high places. Call me a fatalist, but I fully expect a manufactured, domestic "terrorist strike" in the month before the November election. Otherwise American voters, an endangered species of animal similar to the Dodo, shall probably witness either the surprise discovery of Saddam's hidden Weapons of Mass Destruction, or the capture of Osama Bin Laden—or both.
Possibly, the neocons will unveil Osama emerging from another spider hole at gunpoint, metaphorically pulling the rabbit out of the hat again sometime in September or early October. Another likely scenario are massive riots in New York City during the RNC. With massive police response to the "anarchists"—actually undercover police agents—the Republicans will be seen as a party fully in charge, frightening to some, fully reassuring to those who value a false sense of security at the expense of liberty.
To the average voter on election day, the choice will be the devil he knows—George W. Bush—or apparently the devil he doesn't know—Senator Kerry. Either way, the skullduggery will continue. Pragmatists stuck in traffic at the wheel of their SUVs, pondering Life After The Oil Crash, can perhaps take solace that we occupy the second largest known reserves of oil. Only problem how to extricate it?
Thus, the only clear winners on the horizon remain the Power Elites. Certainly The Higher Circleshardly care who sits in the West Wing; witness the almost preschool level of intelligence exhibited by the current occupant. As long as George follows the script and doesn't embarrass the prudes who wield influence with the religious masses, as did Clinton, he won't be A Left Behindsort of president. No, the clear losers are those unfortunate Iraqis, the common American soldier sent to far-flung lands to guard the "neo-confiscated" oil wealth and, of course, you and I, the American citizen.
Douglas Herman, essayist and USAF veteran, is author of the much-reprinted Achtung! Are We the New Nazis? He lives and works as an Alaska fisherman in Kodiak.

from Thursday, January 22, 2004 by Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now!
Skull & Bones: The Secret Society That Unites John Kerry and President Bush
Interview with Alexandra Robbins

I actually want to back way up and talk about, at least as mention exactly what Skull and Bones is, because while some people on the East Coast have heard about the society, other people across the country have no idea that we are looking right now if the polls are correct, at what would be the first Skull and Bones versus Skull and Bones presidential election. That's pretty weird. Skull and Bones is America's most powerful secret society. It's based at Yale, where it's headquartered in a building called the Tomb, and Skull and Bones has included among its members, presidents, including presidents George W. Bush and his father, as well as William Howard Taft, Supreme Court Chief Justices, C.I.A. officials, cabinet members, congressmen and senators. What makes it so staggering that we could have a Skull and Bones versus Skull and Bones, Kerry versus Bush election is that this is a tiny tiny club. There are only 800 living members. Only 15 per year. It's staggering that two of them could be facing off for the presidency and so many of them have achieved positions of prominence. One of the interesting and I think disturbing things about Skull and Bones is that its purpose is to get members into positions of power and have those members hire other members into prestigious positions. This is something we have seen with George W. Bush since his ascendancy to the presidency, he has put several Bones members into prestigious positions, such as Bill Donaldson, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The number two and number three guys in the Justice Department, the guy that puts out all of Bush's secrecy memos. His assistant Attorney General is a major Bonesman. Bonesman Frederick Smith was Bush's top choice for Secretary of Defense until he had to withdraw for health reasons. The general council of the Office of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense’s representative to Europe. The list goes on and on and on. That's something that's interesting, because George W. Bush likes to feign his distance from Yale, from Bones, from Northeastern establishment elite connections, and yet he's going ahead and following Skull and Bones to the letter.
.... One other thing interesting about Kerry that I wanted to mention is that both of his wives have been directly related to members of Skull and Bones. A sister and daughter which is another connection to Skull and Bones that people don't usually know about.

AMY GOODMAN: Does it matter to Skull and Bones who wins this presidential race?
ALEXANDRA ROBBINS: No. That's a good question and one that I asked many Bonesmen and the way they describe it is a win-win situation. As long as there's a Bonesman in the White House there are going to be many more Bonesmen in the administration.

New York Daily News
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Yale Bones Connect Bush, Kerry
By Lloyd Grove, Daily News Columnist

Never mind Iraq, terrorism and the economy. For some conspiracy-minded voters, the real issue of the 2004 presidential campaign is the allegedly sinister influence of Skull and Bones.
Both President President Bush and his all-but-certain Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, were members of the elite and secretive club that meets in a windowless mausoleum on the Yale campus in New Haven.
Both Kerry, Class of '66, and Bush, Class of '68, are extremely reluctant to discuss their common ties to what Skull and Bones expert Ron Rosenbaum calls "the most powerful of all secret societies in the strange Yale secret-society system."
Back in August, "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert gave Kerry the third degree on his Bones connection.
"What does that tell us?" Russert demanded.
"Not much, because it's a secret," Kerry parried.
"Is there a secret handshake? Is there a secret code?"
"I wish there were something secret I could manifest there."
On the Feb. 8 installment of "Meet the Press," the President was similarly uncommunicative.
"It's so secret we can't talk about it," he told Russert.
"What does that mean for America?" Russert pressed. "The conspiracy theorists are going to go wild."
"I'm sure they are," Bush agreed with a nervous giggle.
Since its founding in 1832, Skull and Bones has had fewer than 2,000 members, including three Presidents - Bush, his father and William Howard Taft - and such powerbrokers as W. Averell Harriman, Henry Stimson and Henry Luce, who all engaged in what Rosenbaum calls "certain occult rituals of the ruling class."
Bonesmen tend to help other Bonesman. The current President has staffed his administration with such Bones brothers as Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William H. Donaldson, Assistant Attorney General Robert McCallum, Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Roy Austin and Edward McNally, general counsel to the Office of Homeland Security.
Skull and Bones investigator Alexandra Robbins, author of the book "Secrets of the Tomb," told Lowdown yesterday that the society is positively gleeful over the Bush-Kerry contest.
"Individual Bonesmen will sway according to their personal affiliations," she said, "but the Bonesmen I've spoken to have said it's a win-win situation."
In what might be eerie coincidence or further disturbing evidence of a scheme for world domination, The Washington Post has assigned Bonesman Dana Milbank to chronicle the battle between Bush and Kerry.
"I have been assigned to monitor all secret hand signals during the debates," Milbank told me -- half in jest but wholly in earnest?
"I have it on good information that if this one gets tied up in a recount, [late Supreme Court Justice and Bonesman] Potter Stewart will return from the grave to write the majority opinion."
Skulls in the closet
What does membership in a bastion of privilege say about
George W. Bush's character?
By Stephen Prothero

- - - - - - - - - -

January 21, 2000 | One evening in May 1967, a man dressed in a black hood and sporting a gold pin emblazoned with a skull and crossbones approached George W. Bush, slapped him on the back and offered him membership in Yale's oldest secret society. The governor-to-be accepted and, like his grandfather and father before him, became a member of Skull and Bones.
Skull and Bones is one of the nation's most exclusive and powerful secret societies. The list of past and present Bonesmen, as members are called, makes California's Bohemian Grove retreat (also patronized by Gov. Bush and his dad) look like your local Rotary Club. Members have served as senators, secretaries of state, national security advisors, attorneys general, CIA directors and Supreme Court justices.
They have also become presidents of universities, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, foundation presidents and founders of investment banks. Two Bonesmen, William Howard Taft and George Bush, were elected president, a post Gov. Bush now hopes to fill.
Much has been made of the Texas governor's "youthful indiscretions" and of his gentleman's C's at Yale. But membership in Bones shaped George W. Bush far more than road trips or college courses. In the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky mess, character has emerged as a leading theme in presidential politics. An examination of the culture of Skull and Bones should shed some light on the character of the latest Bush who would be president.
Though a seniors-only society, Skull and Bones is more than a tad sophomoric. Each May on "Tap Day," senior Bonesmen troll around Yale's campus, selecting, or "tapping," 15 juniors for membership in the upcoming class. The initiation rites that follow sound like something out of Fred Flintstone's Water Buffalo Lodge or a Robert Bly retreat. Each knight, as neophytes are called, reportedly regales his fellow initiates with his sexual exploits. (He may or may not be naked and may or may not be lying in a coffin.)
During initiation, he endures some sort of physical challenge (mud wrestling? diving into a dung pile?) before being born again with a new name and a new identity. In the outside world, members are never to speak about their society. If outsiders raise the topic, Bonesmen are supposed to leave the room.
Members take their secrecy oath seriously -- no insider has ever published an expos -- so it is impossible to separate the realities from the rumors that swirl around the society. One rumor has each new member receiving a $15,000 payout. Another says the interior of the "Tomb" (the eerie Gothic headquarters where twice-a-week meetings are held) is decorated with human remains, including the skulls and bones of notables such as Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and Apache warrior Geronimo.
Are the rumors true? Certainly not all of them; the society is probably not the fountainhead of a vast international conspiracy to spread Hegel's dialectic via the drug trade. But Bush is not helping to clear the air. Like his father, who has consistently refused to discuss Skull and Bones, he isn't talking. And members of his 1968 Skull and Bones class whom I contacted either neglected to return my calls or refused to comment on what goes on inside the Tomb. "We don't discuss those things," said Roy Leslie Austin, now a sociology professor at Penn State. "We just don't."
Skull and Bones was founded by William H. Russell in 1832, more than a decade before Texas joined the union. At the time, men's fraternal organizations were so popular that politicians like former President John Quincy Adams were denouncing their secret oaths as cancers on the body of the republic. When Phi Beta Kappa responded to the anti-masonry in the air by abolishing its oath of secrecy, Russell (who later become Yale's valedictorian) founded "The Scull and Bones" as an alternative.
For the next century and a half, Skull and Bones, as Russell's society came to be known, guarded its secrecy with the zeal of Howard Hughes and the nuttiness of J.D. Salinger.
In 1856, Bones incorporated as the Russell Trust Association and members built the grim sandstone mausoleum that is still used as society headquarters. In 1876, pranksters broke into that crypt through a window and investigated its interior. Bonesmen responded by bricking up all the windows, which remain sealed today. Supporters describe Skull and Bones as a meritocracy that, by rewarding excellence in academics, athletics and the arts, has fostered achievement at Yale and beyond.
From this perspective, the society's rites, however secretive or sophomoric, promote fading virtues such as friendship and loyalty. And the society does have an astonishing record when it comes to turning out leaders.
Russell saw the society as a way to promote and reward academic excellence. But Bones gradually expanded its mission, tapping not only outstanding scholars but also football captains, Yale Daily News editors and members of the a cappella group the Whiffenpoofs. Eventually, the society also began selecting Bonesmen not for what they had accomplished in life but for who they were by birth.
George Herbert Walker Bush was no doubt selected in part because his father, Prescott S. Bush, was a U.S. senator and a Bonesman. But the president-to-be was also a decorated World War II pilot and captain of the Yale baseball team. George W. Bush, who had a less illustrious youth than his father, is more plainly a legacy member, tapped because of his genes and not his deeds. >From its inception, Skull and Bones has been a bastion of privilege -- an ideal steppingstone from a preppie past to an establishment future. And so the society has been regularly denounced for its elitism as well as its secrecy. In 1878, the Yale Courant ripped Bonesmen as "vampires of darkness." Bones, it wrote, was a "a curse to the college" that promoted "royal and stylish living" and divided the undergraduate classes into "castes."
That same year, the Yale Daily News called the society's mummeries "supremely silly." During the 1960s, critics claimed Skull and Bones and other Yale-only secret societies rewarded conformity rather than achievement. Today, denouncing those societies as anti-democratic cults is almost as routine at Yale as Tap Day itself.
Bones waited about a century to respond to the criticism. After World War II, it began admitting blacks and Jews. In 1991, the outgoing Bones delegation tried to tap the first Boneswomen. Patriarchs, as Bones alumni are called, literally barred the doors to the Tomb. Led by conservative William F. Buckley Jr., they obtained a court order temporarily blocking non-male members. In the society-wide vote that followed, however, the conservative blue bloods were defeated and a few women were admitted to the rolls.
There are likely many things this society does well. I would love to have been a skull on the wall in a private debate between, say, Sen. David Boren and Sen. John Kerry or authors Archibald MacLeish and John Hersey (all Bonesmen).
But I doubt the Tomb fosters the sort of character necessary for leadership in multicultural America and the new global economy. And I am certain it is an unsuitable incubator for the presidency in the 21st century. This is true for Bonesmen tapped for their accomplishments in rowing or debating. But it is doubly true of those who, like Bush, were tapped primarily for the accomplishments of their forebears.
Since our country's inception, Americans have been profoundly ambivalent about power and wealth. That is why Horatio Alger is as much a part of the American mythos as is the Titanic. We like to worship the high and the mighty, but we love to see them go under. True, the rich are different from the rest of us. So are the powerful.
But both are supposed to live, at least in this country, by some rules.
The rich are expected to earn their money through hard work or cunning. And the powerful are to earn their power in public elections, not private clubs. Just as many years ago George W. Bush was suddenly tapped for an exclusive society, critics today might charge that he similarly coasted into becoming an odds-on favorite for the White House before a single ballot had been cast.
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About the writer
Stephen Prothero graduated from Yale in 1982. He teaches in the religion department at Boston University and is the author of "The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott" (Indiana University Press).
Copyright 2003 Salon Media Group, Inc.