Bush, Kerry belong to Yale’s elite secret society

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Bush, Kerry belong to Yale’s elite secret society

By Joyce Tang


When voters go the polls in November to elect a president, the two major candidates they can choose from will have a windowless tomb, secret initiation rites and a private island on the St. Lawrence River as part of their personal histories.

Both incumbent President Bush and likely Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., are Yale graduates, 1968 and 1966 respectively, and are also members of Yale's secret society Skull and Bones.

Each year, the exclusive society "taps" 15 distinguished third-year Yale undergraduates to participate in an initiation ceremony that "has bonded diplomats, media moguls, bankers and spies into a lifelong, multi-generational fellowship far more influential than any fraternity," wrote Ron Rosenbaum, class of 1968, in a New York Observer article.

"What's so staggering about the fact that the two presidential candidates come from this particular society is that this is a tiny club – there are only 800 living members (in the whole country,)" said Alexandra Robbins, who authored an exposé on the society, "Secrets of the Tomb."

Skull and Bones typically selects its new members, or Bonesmen, by drawing from distinguished student leaders of campus organizations. Kerry was tapped because he was president of the political union.

But Bush was likely tapped because of his family's legacy with Skull and Bones as both Bush's father and grandfather were members, Robbins said.

Robbins, a Yale graduate of 1998, whose next book is an undercover look into sorority life, said she became interested in writing a book on Skull and Bones when Bush ran for president in 2000.

Yale Photo, 1968

She has interviewed over 100 Bonesmen for her book, even though Bonesmen are traditionally sworn to secrecy (even the rosters are secret).

This presidential election will be the first Bonesman versus Bonesman contest, though the society's interests will not necessarily be split, Robbins said.

"I've talked to several Bonesman and they view it as a win-win situation. There'll be hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. Of course, some of them have their political leanings … though, as a group, they're going to be happy no matter what – because automatically, they'll have a connection in the White House for the next four years," she said.

Though there is some speculation that Kerry and Bush may have participated in Skull and Bones initiation rites together since they attended school at roughly the same time, this is highly unlikely because only 15 Yale seniors are Bonesman at any given year because the previous 15 would have already graduated.

Donald Etra, Yale class of 1968 and a Los Angeles-area lawyer who was in Skull and Bones with Bush, said Kerry and Bush didn't know each other at Yale.

Etra is currently representing Andrew Dyck, a UCLA classics professor on trial for charges of sending harmful materials to a minor, and represented Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the director of UCLA Hillel, in a separate case.

Bush's campaign declined to comment on his involvement with the society. A spokesman for the Kerry campaign was not available for comment.

Yale Photo, 1966

Etra, who said he has known Bush for 40 years and remains good friends with the president, said it doesn't hurt to have connections through Skull and Bones.

"You never know who's going to be the next president of the United States," he said.

Though Skull and Bones is not the wealthiest senior society at Yale, it is by far the most influential and powerful, Robbins said.

"The whole purpose is to get members into positions of power and then get them to hire more Bonesmen. Bush has done a good job of that; Bush has nearly 10 in his assemblage of advisers," she said.

The power Skull and Bones' members seem to wield over so many domains, including government and corporations, has spawned much speculation and many conspiracy theories. For instance, Skull and Bones has been tied to theories linking it to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Bay of Pigs invasion and U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Even its secret initiation ceremonies and other activities run amid wild rumors.

"A lot of the conspiracy theories are blown out of proportion, though they are sometimes based on some truths," Robbins said. "When the new seniors come back, the first thing they do is recount their sexual history, from their first masturbation to present, for an entire evening."

Other facets of the secrecy surrounding the society include the private island and a "Tomb" where Skull members convene for meetings and activities. Its "Tap Day" results were once published on the front page of the New York Times, according to Yale archives, but rosters are now secret.

Robbins was the first non-member to infiltrate the society, partially because she was a member of Scroll and Key, another secret society. The Bonesmen thought she was on their side, she said, but some were openly aggressive.

"I've realized that members of the society take some things so seriously," she said, referring to threats made to her by a Bonesman who said he would destroy her career.

Skull and Bones' secretive nature was the inspiration for the 2000 movie "The Skulls."

"The movie was loosely based, but it did encapsulate all the notions that society thought about them – they believed everything in that movie," Robbins said.


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