Maybe I don't buy into conspiracy theories because I'm a Jew who is involved in both the mainstream media and the entertainment industry -- and yet I've never gotten so much as a "Happy Hanukkah" card from the Elders of Zion.
According to what I could find on the Internet, the British-American Project is a CIA front, a tool for converting Brits into neocons. The woman on the phone, however, made no mention of this. In fact, "Joan Harrison," a "TV executive," spoke only of a free four-day trip to Britain with lots of interesting people. If accepting meant Tehran had to get bombed, it seemed a small price.
After traveling for 17 hours to Newcastle, I was told to check into my room and get back downstairs in 10 minutes to start bonding with my 46 fellow first-year project mates. We were shuttled to a firehouse, where we put on heavy gear and gas masks and ran into a smoky building, from which we had to carry out incredibly heavy cloth dummies. Apparently, the neocon charge to keep the world safe from terrorist acts was a little more literal than I'd expected.
That night we met the 100 returning project mates, and at a pre-dinner speech, someone explained the purpose of the group while I fell asleep on a couch. From what I later gathered, it was established in 1985 and is run by ex-Sen. George Mitchell and a bunch of people called "the Right Honorable the Lord."
It's funded by huge corporations such as JP Morgan, UPS and BP, and Paul Wolfowitz is on the advisory board. Whatever this was, I was pretty sure someone should be protesting it.
The purpose seemed to be to foster good relations between the U.S. and the U.K. It was kind of like that summer camp for Palestinian and Israeli kids but much, much easier. All we had to do was end the weekend with a firm agreement on how to pronounce "aluminum." And what is an acceptable amount of alcohol for a post-collegiate adult to drink.
My project mates were lawyers, think tankers, journalists, soldiers, entrepreneurs, government policymakers, nonprofit execs and a woman who runs a Portuguese whorehouse. I discovered, to my surprise, that I'm very curious about Portugal. They were, despite the conspiracy theories, overwhelmingly liberal.
The next three days were filled with incredibly boring speeches, panel discussions and debates about this year's topic, "Faith and Justice." We also visited a British prison, where I could not get past the fact that the inmates get to wear their own clothing.
Everyone, however, told me that these events were not at all the point of the group. The real point was to go clubbing until 5 a.m. and drink, which I did my best at. However, I stood my ground on the four-syllable "aluminum."
I had a really good time but was a bit disappointed that it didn't seem that I'd enlisted in some shadow world government. I'd joined a well-financed networking club, kind of a high-end Kiwanis. In fact, there are dozens of these after-school activities for little global overachievers: the French-American Foundation, the U.S.-China Young Leaders Forum, Renaissance Weekend, the Bilderberg Group, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bohemian Club, the Trilateral Commission.
For the last two years, I've taken a free trip to Salt Lake City with 60 young Jews for a weekend conference -- with no stated goal -- financed by Edgar Bronfman and Steven Spielberg. If that group isn't controlling the world, none of them are.
But the fact that these groups are politically impotent doesn't mean that they still aren't creepy avenues for the elite to maintain power -- just like Kiwanis. None of these groups will change the world. In fact, I think that's exactly the opposite of their purpose.
The next gathering of the British-American Project's minions will come in November 2008 here in Los Angeles. The only significant policy shift I think will come of it is a major loosening of the door policy at the Geisha House.