Ever had the feeling our society is dominated by a secret
fraternal order of Ivy League aristocrats?
Your paranoid hunch may not be too far off the mark.
On different episodes of NBC’s Meet The Press, both George W.
Bush and John Kerry publicly admitted to membership in Skull and
Bones, a secret society based at Yale University and arguably the
most influential social club on the planet.
This organization’s very real existence is a testament to how in
America not only does power beget power, but our democracy might be
caressed by an unseen hand more often than most of us want to
When gathering research data for this column, I compiled the
names and historical dates using a number of reputable sources
including CBS and NBC news, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times
and The Detroit Free Press. I did peruse a number of more
unreliable sources, but their claims were so outrageous they are
only fit for print in The Onion.
Skull and Bones was founded in 1832 at Yale by William Russell,
cousin of opium magnate Samuel Russell, and Alfonso Taft, father of
William Howard Taft. A product born out of Russell’s exposure to a
similar order while studying in Prussia, Skull and Bones was formed
at time in American history when anti-Masonic sentiments were at an
Forming a new secret society at Yale gave the wealthy merchant
families of New England and the landed aristocrats of the South a
new avenue with which to effectively organize their interests
incognito. Every spring, 15 third-year students are “tapped” for
indoctrination into Skull and Bones; while individual merit does
play a part in selection, so too does bloodline.
New initiates are pledged not only to maintain the secrecy of
the Order, but more importantly to advance the interests of the
Order by helping other members attain positions of prominence in
American society. To this end the order has been very successful:
over the last 100 years, Skull and Bones members have managed to
percolate into every branch of the Federal government and gain
notoriety in both the world of business and the free press.
Besides Bush and Kerry, other notable initiates currently
wielding power include current Securities and Exchange Commission
chairman William Donaldson, Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador Roy
Austin (the first African American inducted into the order),
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Robert McCallum, U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Council member Donald Etra, columnist William F. Buckley,
University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a handful of U.S.
Senators and Federal Judges and a fistful of corporate executives
and college deans.
Past notables include Time Magazine founder Henry Luce,
Morgan-Stanley founder Harold Stanley, financier Dean Witter,
William Howard Taft, Kennedy/Johnson NSA chief McGeorge Bundy,
Federal Express founder Frederick Smith, George H.W Bush and his
father Prescott Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart,
and many, many others. Keeping in mind that only about 2,500 people
have ever been initiated and only about 800 are alive at any time,
this is a most distinguished brotherhood.
“So they’re the cream of the crop of one of the top universities
in the country and are from privileged backgrounds,” you say, “of
course they’re going to be big fish.” Right. They all grew up
wealthy, went to a good school and were inducted into Skull and
Bones in much the same way rich teen girls become debutantes.
The main difference, though, between being a knight in Skull and
Bones and being a debutante is that debutantes don’t actively seek
out public office or meet on a regular basis for the sake of
The more paranoid sources of my research labeled Skull and Bones
a Satanic cult or a branch of the fabled Illuminati. While the
Order’s ritual is rumored to revolve around the idea of death and
its coming to all of us, more grounded and reliable sources say
this ritual is meant to evoke a sense of duty and urgency among
Additionally, the rumors of Skull and Bones being the American
chapter of the Illuminati are based on the fact that both groups
had roughly the same origins. Unfortunately for conspiracy
theorists, however, the Illuminati only existed for a short period
at the turn of the 19th century.
So is Skull and Bones the fabled phantom conductor of world
events or nothing more than an over-dignified men’s club? While I
would place my wager more on the side of a men’s club, I would not
dismiss its potential for influence entirely. At the heart of its
power and prestige lies the fact that this group of mostly men is
comprised of the best and brightest of America’s ruling elite.
If the unabated existence and continued success of Skull and
Bones is proof of any real conspiracy currently tugging at the
fabric of American society, it is how the wealthy elite of America
band together in order to maintain their place at the top.
Is there any hope for us, petty plebeians? Bill Clinton went
Yale…Law School, not undergrad. Maybe I’ll start a secret society
at CSU; as for names, how about “Horn and Testicles,” or maybe
“Coloradoluminati?” Then again, maybe I won’t.
Joe is a senior majoring in history. His column runs every