Annual off-the-record finance gathering attracts protesters from disparate groups, but they often have a similar goal in mind

The gathering outside the Westfield Marriott hotel in Chantilly included Ron Paul supporters, Occupy veterans, members of the 9/11 truth movement and Oath Keepers, a Tea Party-affiliated group comprised of military and law enforcement officers.

Carrying signs with messages such as "Humanity is winning" and "Warning to secret societies: you are pissing off American patriots. We have machine guns also," the 200 or so protesters could only be there for one event: Bilderberg.

The annual off-the-record gathering of global leaders in finance policy and national security was taking place behind chainlink fencing, No Trespassing signs and scores of local police. At the base of the driveway, the protesters congregated to denounce the meeting and shout at the occasional vehicles that entered and exited.

Participants in this year's meeting reportedly include Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, Henry Kissinger, senior officials from a number of the world's largest banks, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a member of the Syrian National Council, among others.

According to Bilderberg's website, the forum is intended to foster a "broad cross-section of leading citizens that are assembled for nearly three days of informal and off-the-record discussion about topics of current concern especially in the fields of foreign affairs and the international economy."

The protesters were enthused by the turnout over the last two days. "The first day was already a record," said one, Justin Wallis.

Among the most vocal participants at Friday's rally was radio show host Alex Jones, who frequently led the demonstrators by megaphone. He argued the meeting constituted a violation of the law.

"This is illegal. Government officials meeting and discussing policy with private interests in secret, or representatives of other governments, is a violation of the Logan Act," he said, referring to a federal law first passed in 1799 that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.

Jones was confident the presence of protesters was having an impact on the attendees of the meeting.

He added that Bilderberg meetings allow high-ranking officials to make deals away from the public eye.

"It's mainly about big government contracts, for the big wigs," he said. "And then the big wigs give the government people in the revolving door jobs."

Police made at least one arrest on Friday when a young man stepped into the street, prompting condemnation from the crowd. On the whole, however, interactions between protesters and the police were peaceful.

"It's just a day of work," said one officer, who insisted he was "not guarding anything", but simply protecting the Marriott's private property rights.

Bilderberg critics are often labeled conspiracy theorists, particularly due to beliefs that the meeting is a sinister attempt by the global elite to concentrate power and establish a global government.

But protester Max Dickstein insists the summit merits scrutiny.

Dickstein, from New York City, lived two blocks from 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed on September 11, though it was not struck by an airplane. His uncle was killed in the attacks. Dickstein was 12 years old at the time. Explanations for the collapse did not sit right with him.

"I couldn't really trust any narratives," he said. "Two planes hit three buildings. That doesn't add up to me. I felt an obligation to this movement," he said.

For Dickenstein, the fact that so many powerful figures meet at Bilderberg in a fashion that lacks transparency leaves him wondering, "Do people at this meeting know something I don't?"

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[Board room in black and white, via]