updated 3/10/2004 6:09:47 PM ET 2004-03-10T23:09:47

Pres. Bush and John Kerry were both members of the secret organization ‘Skull and Bones.’ ‘Temporary’ was Pres. Bush’s nickname under the group, and if he winds up losing the presidential election this fall, that name is going to haunt him the rest of his life.

But who are the ‘Skull and Bones?’

‘Skull and Bones’ dates to 1832.  It was in fact a reaction to a secret society, the Masons, then much more influential than they are today.  Founder William Huntington Russell thought of his little enclave as sort of anti-Masons and as a home for the wealthy and the powerful and the people who would do anything for another Bonesman. 

Each year, 15 young undergraduate seniors are tapped for membership, initiated in controversial, murky fashion.

Members of ‘Skull and Bones’ gather on High Street in the Yale campus at the tomb.  New members, the neophytes, are expected to do things like lie in coffins, wrestle in mud, kiss a skull, and confess their sexual histories in front of the group to bond themselves together further or presumably just for a few laughs. 

Once you‘re in, you‘re in: ‘Skull and Bones’ is for life.  Talking about ‘Skull and Bones’ is for others.  There are a lot of Bonesmen who did not talk, but did succeed, Henry Luce, who created “TIME” magazine and all its cousins; Harold Stanley, founder of Morgan Stanley; Henry Lewis Stimson, the secretary of war under FDR and Truman; William F. Buckley; Averell Harriman, long-time governor of New York.

And then there are the presidents: William Howard Taft, whose father, Alphonso, had helped found the group and whose son Robert was a senator; George Herbert Walker Bush, whose father, Prescott, was a Bonesman and a senator; the current President Bush, although his kid at Yale has not been tapped for Skull and Bones—even though they do admit women now.  His child is not Skull and Bones.  His opponent is. 

Meet John Kerry, Bonesman class of ‘66.  And if this needs to be weirder for you, his wife Teresa Kerry‘s first husband, John Heinz, his father was ‘Skull and Bones.’

So we have an all-secret-society presidential election, not that either of them are talking about it.  Both Bush and Kerry refused to answer ‘Meet the Press’ host Tim Russert when asked about the organization.

One a Democrat, one a Republican, miles apart on the issues—but both rooted in the same secret Yale society. This raises the question--  how exactly is the Bush bone connected to the Kerry bone? 

Alexandra Robbins, author of “Secrets of the Tombs: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power.”  She‘s also a Yale alum, and, in the interest of full disclosure, a member of another Yale secret society.  She talked to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann about the organization.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  There seems to be no middle ground about this organization.  Either the group is viewed as the warm-up act for the Trilateral Commission or it is a society devoted to making people thinking that it‘s nefarious and then giggling when people take it seriously.  Which is it closer to being? 

ALEXANDRA ROBBINS: It‘s actually closer to the middle ground. 

There are conspiracy theories that you‘ll hear that are based on nuggets of truth.  For example, they really do tell their sexual histories.  That‘s something that both Bush and Kerry would have done.  The sole purpose of Skull and Bones is to get members into positions of power and then to have those members hire other members to prominent positions, which is something that President Bush has done. 

Basically, this is probably the most powerful and elite alumni network in the country and that‘s the significance of ‘Skull and Bones.’

OLBERMANN:  But what happens when two Bonesmen are in conflict like, oh, say, if they run against each other for president?  Are there rules of conduct among Bonesmen to cover this?

ROBBINS:  I‘ve actually asked members of Skull and Bones what happened if it‘s a Bush-Kerry election.  They told me, they don‘t care.  It‘s a win-win situation for ‘Skull and Bones.’

OLBERMANN:  So this is a secret society with all these rules and help your fellow Bonesmen up until a point. 

ROBBINS:  Well, this is an organization that‘s basically one huge superiority complex.  And they‘re just thrilled to have Bonesmen running against each other, because that means that, no matter who wins, there is going to be a connection in the White House for them. 

OLBERMANN:  And if we broke into that place on High Street in New Haven, Connecticut, we would we see what, something that liked like a Harry Potter adventure ride at an amusement park? 

ROBBINS:  Oh, gosh.  Something like that.  You‘d see dozens of skulls, skeletons, art celebrating death, war memorabilia, and several allegedly stolen items that Bonesmen supposedly were supposed to take as gifts to the society‘s goddess.  I‘m not making this up.

This was the third story on Tuesday's 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann.' 'Countdown' airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET. 

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