For the next four days, while the rest of us fill out spreadsheets and scroll through Yelp looking for decent happy hours, 130 carefully selected people will meet in Dresden, Germany for the Bilderberg Meeting. According to the official website for the event, the closed-door meeting is designed to allow leaders of industry and academia to have an informal discussion about world affairs. But if you talk to a conspiracy theorist, they’ll say with confidence that the Bilderberg Group is a critical wing of the shadow world government and that the meeting is one of the year’s most important events. They say the point isn’t to discuss what’s going on in the world so much as to determine what will be.

Bilderberg isn’t helping to dismantle this reputation with its strict rules about privacy. The meeting operates under Chatham House Rule: Participants are free to use the information they receive, but they can’t reveal the identity or affiliation of their sources. No media is allowed in order to encourage “the highest level of openness and dialogue.” Journalists are invited and have attended, but everything is strictly off the record. You can tell people about what happened later, but you can’t quote.

“Bilderberg Meetings have never sought any public attention,” the organization said in a press release. “An annual press conference on the eve of the meeting was held for several decades up until the nineties, but it was stopped due to a lack of interest. However, the list of participants, main topics, and location are always published a few days before each meeting.”

The effort to publicize the meeting, however slightly, is a relatively new thing. Today you can pull up the Bilderberg website and see that the American side of the guest list includes elites like United States Senator Lindsey Graham, astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Alphabet Inc. executive chairman Eric Shmidt. You can read that the 130 participants were hand-picked by the Bilderberg Group’s 32 member steering committee, led by the AXA Group CEO Henri de Castries, and given the final okay by the solo member of the group’s advisory group, centenarian David Rockefeller. And you can take a look at the meeting’s agenda, which includes casual topics including but not limited to: Russia, cyber-security, technological innovation, and the middle class.

The site of the 2016 meeting, Hotel Taschenbergpalais.

As recent as 2004, if you wanted to see what was happening with the meeting, you would have to leave your number on an automated message machine and expect to not be called back. There was no website. In 2012, the organization began to announce who the participants would be prior to the meeting. It can be presumed that these steps were taken to put to rest the idea that the organization behind the meeting was a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. knockoff — a lot of work done by Bilderberg conspiracy theorist in the 1980s and ‘90s focused on catching and revealing who attended.

“When people say this is a secret government of the world, I say that if we were a secret government of the world we should be bloody ashamed of ourselves,” said Bilderberg Group member and former vice president of the European Commission Étienne Jacques to the BBC in 2005.

But if the people involved in Bilderberg (self-described as Bilderbergers) say that the point of the 64th annual meeting is to produce no “desired outcome” (no minutes are taken and no reports are produced) then what do the disbelievers think is happening? It depends on who’s writing frantically on a message board.

The overarching theme is that this is a powerful and bad group of people who want full control over our lives and do so by dictating what world events happen. The phrase “New World Order” is used a lot – sometimes when claiming that the men and women of Bilderberg are Illuminati, sometimes when conspiring that they are actually Nazis.

A Bilderberg protester outside the 2015 meeting in Austria.

The Nazi part runs counter to one of the earliest Bilderberg conspiracy theories: That it was ran by the “Hidden Hand” of the world — Jewish people. This idea was cooked up by racist, fascist, anti-semitic Arthur Chesterton who was a politician, journalist, and overall shithead. In his book The New Unhappy Lords: The Exposure of Power in Politics, he made one of the first public accusations that Bilderberg was actually the gaping mouth of a global underground. An ego-maniac, Chesterton also took credit for the formation of Bilderberg, saying he was such a good journalist that the powers at be had to go into hiding.

Chesterton’s ideas ran into the 21st century. In the Journal of Contemporary History University of Southhampton professor Graham Macklin writes:

“The January 2005 issue of Identity featured an article that paid homage to Chesterton and another anti semitic author… for revealing that the Bilderberg Group ‘are without doubt the sinister black heart of western ‘democracy.’ The article, entitled ‘The Hidden Hand’ — a traditional euphemism for Jews — was scrupulously careful not to mention the Jews but in case readers were left in any doubt of who lay behind the Bilderberg Group a picture of Chesterton, the ‘Jew wise’ British patriot, was juxtaposed against one of his racial nemeses, Henry Kissinger.”

Today the most vocal Bilderberg conspiracists are Alex Jones of Info Wars and author of The True Story of the Bilderberg Group author Daniel Estulin. But a quick Google search proves they are not alone. There are people out there writing and, worse, reading books like The Nazi Hydra in America, putting up hour-long “documentaries” on YouTube, and uploading videos of their Bilderberg meeting protests.

“We know you are ruthless, we know you are evil — we respect your dark power,” one gentleman shouts into a megaphone in the 2008 video “Bilderberg Wil Kill 80% of Humans They Are Arrogant Monsters. “Your agenda is faltering. Free humans everywhere know what you’re doing.”

From the "Illuminati Bilderberg Group Documentary."

Why do these people think it’s all a conspiracy? It likely has to do with a perfect storm of historical events. When the Bilderberg group was formed in 1954 it was part of an unprecedented growth of global policy groups that happened through the 20th century. These were elite groups among North Atlantic powers — to this day only citizens from North America and western Europe are invited. These groups were designed to repair post-World War II Europe by promoting neoliberal governance.

At roughly the same time, the Cold War ushered in a new era of fear and secrecy. Very real conspiracies were happening and began to be reflected in public culture: Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team” about a secret group that arranged world events was also published in 1954. In the 1960s social critics like Noam Chomsky and Norman Mailer began to make their careers by exposing the activities of the political elite.

“The huge upsurge in conspiracy-thinking over the past twenty to thirty years has been indebted to veterans of that pioneering generation of social critics who came to the fore during the 1960s,” reads Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia.

So the inauguration of the Bilderberg meeting came to be at the very time where the public began to become fascinated with the idea — and the hunt — of conspiracies. Combine that with our ready-made psychological need to believe in conspiracies and you have full-blown intrigue.

But whether or not you believe the conspiracists, they do have a point: The Bilderberg meeting is extremely out of touch with today’s world. In this post-Snowden society it’s hard to imagine the secret meeting surviving much longer if the general public actually starts to care about it and hold the people attending accountable. While elite private meetings may have been an accepted part of early 20th century governance, transparency is the theme of 2016 and onward.