A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is the Trilateral Commission the secret organization that runs the world?

November 6, 1987

Dear Cecil:

This may sound off the wall, but how about the straight dope on the Trilateral Commission? All my life I've heard about this "secret" organization that supposedly actually runs the world. What's the real story?

Cecil replies:

Alton, you wound me. You should know by now the only person remotely together enough to run the world is … well, modesty forbids, but you just wouldn't believe what you can accomplish with a home computer these days. (Sorry about that blip in the stock market, by the way — I definitely gotta keep those floppies out of the taco sauce.)

But on to the Trilateral Commission, or TLC, as it's often coyly referred to. For starters, unless you're a lad of very tender years, it's a safe bet you haven't been hearing about the commission all your life, inasmuch as it was founded in 1973. Second, as you probably already recognize, an organization that everybody already knows about hardly qualifies as "secret." They're in the New York phone book, and if you ask they'll send you a bunch of literature about the organization.  Third, while it's your constitutional right to be paranoid, you might at least try to be paranoid about something reasonably up-to-date. The TLC-as-world-conspiracy theory peaked during the early 80s, and has now pretty much gone the way of the hula hoop.

The Trilateral Commission is based on the quintessentially American notion that if we could just get together and talk about stuff, we could solve all the world's problems.   Accordingly David Rockefeller, chairman of the Chase Manhattan bank, got together several hundred opinion leaders from North America, Western Europe, and Japan (hence the "tri-" in trilateral). They meet annually to hear speeches, participate in seminars, and exchange idle gossip. In between times the commission puts together task force reports on pertinent issues and publishes a magazine.

The TLC's first executive director was Zbigniew Brzezinski, and such well-known figures as Walter Mondale, Caspar Weinberger, and Paul Volcker have been members.  Also on the rolls at one time, mainly because the commission needed some representation from the South, was the then-governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter. The prospect of spending hours cooped up with the likes of Walter Mondale would probably send most of us screaming for the exits. But Carter was an impressionable sort who found both the commission's meetings and its members deeply fascinating. He got chummy with many of the latter and appointed more than a dozen to posts in his administration, including Cyrus Vance, Michael Blumenthal, and of course the redoubtable Brzezinski.

All of this was noted with great interest by the conspiracy buffs, but what really got their juices flowing was the revelation during the 1980 presidential campaign that not only was Carter a member of the commission, so were two of his potential opponents, John Anderson and George Bush. Holy Illuminati, they screamed, the power elite is conspiring to enslave us! They heaped poo on Jimmy and friends and flocked to nonmember Ron Reagan. But then Ron went and signed up Bush and Weinberger, which set off the howling anew.

Among true believers, opinions about what the Trilateral Commission is up to fall roughly into two categories: the merely dubious and the totally insane. The John Birch Society and its confreres see the commission as the latest manifestation of the international conspiracy that is trying to create a one-world totalitarian state, or at least a New World Economic Order. (Before the TLC it was the Council on Foreign Relations and an annual meeting of Western business leaders called the Bilderberg Conference.) The less extreme view is that while the Trilateralists may be well intentioned, the clubby atmosphere tends to create a climate of opinion (either socialist or fascist, depending on whether you're on the far right or far left) that is inimical to America's real interests.

The controversy died out after a short time. Reagan even had a reception for commission members in the White House in 1984. But obviously in a few dark corners the anti-Trilateral flame still burns bright.

Report from (as usual) Baltimore

Dear Cecil:

Twice in recent weeks you have mentioned the Illuminati in your column. In your answer to the question about the Trilateral Commission, you stated that "an organization that everybody already knows about hardly qualifies as secret."

If you know anything at all about the workings of the Illuminati, you must surely know that they virtually always hide their "secrets" in plain sight.

They do this as a sign of their power, and also as a great cosmic joke at the expense of the public (or "robots," as they condescendingly refer to them) because they know that the vast majority of people are too dim to pick up on it.

All the clues are right under our noses and always have been. We just have to open our eyes. An example is the "3172" that can be seen in the bushes at the left side of the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse side of the five-dollar bill. It's a numerical anagram of the 17/23 correlation.

This is an ideal way for the Illuminati to protect themselves.

Anyone who is perceptive enough to figure out what is going on is immediately branded a crackpot and censured by the public or worse, a paranoid schizophrenic, and is thereby censured by the state, i.e., hospitalized, where Illuminati-trained operatives have special techniques designed to actually drive the person insane.

It puzzles me that a man of your intelligence and knowledge could scoff at the Illuminati and compare the TLC conspiracy to a fad like the hula hoop. Have they gotten to you too?

Just in case, and to avoid any further attention from the Secret Chiefs of the Order, I'll sign this …

Cecil replies

The 17/23 correlation?

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