Secret meetings, rituals that can be traced back hundreds of years, and mysterious symbols that seem to pop up all over the place are just a few of the components of Freemasonry that lead many to believe that the members of this organization are up to something nefarious.
While the group originated in Europe, many of the claims of conspiracy focus on the Freemasons in North America. This analysis will focus primarily on the conspiracy theory that Freemasons in the United States are a group of elites working in secret to establish a New World Order, in which these elites will rule through an authoritarian world government.
So who exactly are these devious elites and how concerned should we be about them?
Freemasonry is indeed a real thing. Masonic organizations are fraternal groups that originated as fraternities of stonemasons. There are three levels within the Masonic hierarchy: Apprentice, Journeymen (also called Fellowcraft) and Master Mason and members work their way up in the ranks. They are organized in local groups called Lodges all around the U.S. Traditionally, there are three rules of Freemasonry: every member must profess a belief in some deity, no women are admitted, and the discussion of religion and politics is banned. There are many symbols associated with Freemasonry.
Aside from the mystery associated with these images and symbols, the way that members of the group seemed to be very involved in the government of the early United States of America adds to the suspicion that the Masons are plotting to take over. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Aaron Burr, and James Monroe were all Masons. In fact, 56 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, 39 of the signers of the U.S. Constitution and 74 Generals in the Continental Army were Freemasons. 14, or roughly one third of U.S. Presidents have been Freemasons. The influence that Masons had over the founding and government of our nation is just one of the reasons suspicion has arisen over the secretive group.
Freemasons are said to be part of a larger group called the Illuminati. The Illuminati is also a secret society that was originally formed during the Enlightenment to oppose religious influence in society and government in Europe, and did recruit members from Masonic Lodges. Just like Freemasons, the Illuminati is rumored to be planning to rise to power by establishing a New World Order. Their symbols, including the luminescent eye, found on the one dollar bill and the pentagram appear frequently in architecture, documents, and art and overlap with Masonic symbols. The Illuminati is rumored to assassinate those who threaten their rise to power. The group’s platform of separation from religion has also led to the accusation that the Illuminati worships Lucifer, another name for Satan. It is important to note that it is generally agreed upon that the Illuminati has for the most part dissolved.
In addition to leaving a legacy in United States history, Masons and the Illuminati have literally left their mark on the nation’s capital. Pierre Charles L’Enfant was a Freemason who designed Washington D.C. He returned to his home in France on bad terms with the other founders of the city and took the plans with him, but his assistant, Benjamin Banneker, was able to recreate them from memory. The White House, Vernon Square, Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, and Washington Circle do, in fact, form the five points of an inverted pentagram created by the streets connecting them. The upside down star shape is also said to represent the shape of a goat’s head; the goat is a symbol of Lucifer (Satan), which the Illuminati supposedly worship. In addition, the top points, Dupont Circle, Scott Circle, and Logan Circle each have six streets that converge at them. Three sixes — the number 666 — is also associated with Satanism and the Illuminati.
Conspiracy theorists also point to the Capitol (building) as evidence of Masonic influence. George Washington himself — who, remember, was a Mason — donned a ceremonial Masonic apron and helped lay the cornerstone of the building. Upon laying the stone, he also completed a Masonic ritual of using a silver trowel, marble gavel and sprinkling the stone with corn, wine, and oil. The ceiling of the building features a portrayal of the “Apotheosis of Washington,” or his ascent into heaven. There are at least 30 statues inside the building depicting other Masons.
A slogan of Freemasonry is “Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum,” which translates to “God smiles on our new order of the ages.” This leads many to conclude that the Masons have some thought of a New World Order.
Today, Masons continue to face accusations of practicing Satan worship and plotting to establish a New World Order. Present day examples of these claims will be identified later in this module.
Using these, and other incidents as supposed evidence, conspiracy theorists propose that 1.) the Masons practice Satanism, 2.) the Founding Fathers, many of whom were Freemasons, were hoping to establish a Masonic government in the United States, and 3.) this Masonic government was a model for the future New World Order, which Masons today are still planning to establish.
Masons have fallen under attack by numerous groups — political, religious, and otherwise — since their origin. In the mid 19th century, the Anti-Masonic party was a major third party in the United States. The Taxil hoax was also used as evidence for the conspiracy theories; when a former Mason defected from the organization in Europe, a Catholic priest urged him to expose the evil doings of the Masons; he claimed they practiced Satanic rituals and delved into the occult, however, he later admitted that he made it all up.
Today, a number of conspiracy theorists continue to accuse the Freemasons of being evil Satan worshippers, plotting to take over the world.
One of the most common places to find anti-Mason conspiracy theorists is behind the pulpits of American churches. That is not to say that American Christian pastors as a group subscribe to anti-Mason conspiracy theories; instead, it is saying that a good amount of those conspiracy theorists happen to be of that profession.
Take Pastor David S. Janssen for example. In 1997, he delivered a “Sermon on the Rituals of Freemasonry,” urging his congregation in Pennsylvania to disassociate themselves with Freemasonry and stating that Masons would be ineligible for membership in his church. His reasonings were that Freemasons practice pagan rituals and religions, and, in so many words, are antithetic to Christianity and verging on Satanism. He based his entire argument on a book published in 1867 called “The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.” In other words, he formed his entire outlook on one account of the ideologies of Freemasons that was published over a hundred years before, discounting the notion that this may not be the only approach to Freemasonry and the possibility that the organization progressed with the rest of society over one hundred and thirty years. In fact, in 1953, one of the Masonic Committees on Rituals and Ceremonial Forms stated that those published in the 1867 text “did not agree with present rituals.” A more extensive counterargument to Janssen’s claims can be found in the 2010 book, “Is it True What They Say About Freemasonry?”
Another source of propagation of anti-Mason conspiracies comes from journalists. In 2012, Amy MacPherson, an investigative journalist at the Huffington Post published “Why are the Freemasons Collecting Our Children’s DNA?” which brought up the New World Order conspiracy. Her piece was a criticism of the MasoniChip program, which was a system that collected information about children — height, weight, hair and eye color, fingerprints, dental impressions, and DNA collected from mouth swabs — to be used by investigators in the case of the child ever being abducted. The Freemasons sponsored the program and many volunteered in assembling the identification kits, and they provided their own health care professionals to collect the DNA. MacPherson proceeded to assert that, were a child to go missing or be found dead, experts could simply use the clothes they last wore or samples of hair to search for or identify them, and collecting DNA was highly unnecessary. Her article caught the attention of other conspiracy theorists who accused the Masons of using the information and DNA from the children to create a DNA database. Supposedly, they would try to use this information to control the next generation and use them to help establish their New World Order. In addition, some theorized that they were molesting the children.
Not surprisingly, a big group of those who have taken MacPherson’s story and run with it are affiliated with a “news” organization, known as Notes From The Underground, or NFTU. NFTU’s mission is to report on True (Traditional) Orthodox jurisdictions, along with Ecumenism — non denominationalism — which they deem to be “the most prevalent and dangerous condemned heresy of the 20th century.” It would make sense then, that NFTU is suspicious of Freemasonry, which allows people of all religions and denominations, to join. The staff writers are all Orthodox priests and monks.
A third conspiracy theorist who is wary of Freemasonry is named Day Williams. Williams is an attorney in Carson City, Nevada, who has created a website with a chronology of major events in the history of Freemasonry and presents accusations of Satan worship and plot to establish the New World Order, along with statements saying the Masons are mass murderers.  He claims that Freemasons are “responsible for a number of murders and provocations to war,” and claims that Masons assassinated Kennedy to put Johnson into power because he was a Mason.
Shreds of truth
Many shreds of truth have already been presented in the previous sections introducing the theory. The conspiracy theories surrounding the Freemasons are indeed rooted in shreds of truth. The Freemasons are a fraternal organization that do have customs and rituals that may seem mysterious and suspicious. Many of the Founding Fathers were Masons and the symbols of the organization to permeate many national monuments and documents. The streets in D.C. do seem to form Masonic symbols, but whether that is intentional or coincidental is unknown. In recent years, the Masons did truly start the MasoniChip program for identifying missing children.
The conspiracies against Freemasons are based on several logical fallacies. First, the ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem attacks “can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument.” The attacks on the Masons largely rely on the assumptions that they are Satan worshippers and, even more so, not strictly Christian. Therefore, they can simply attack the Masons on the premise that they are “ungodly.”
Another logical fallacy that comes up is the composition/division fallacy. This one says that “you assume that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts.” This especially comes up when the Masons are linked to the Illuminati and the plot to take over the world. Theorists assume first, that the New World Order conspiracy is true, and second, that because Freemasonry has historical connections with the Illuminati hundreds of years ago, that Masons are seeking to establish a New World Order.
A third logical fallacy that can be seen in the Freemasonry conspiracy theories is the appeal to emotion. “Appeals to emotion include appeals to fear, envy, hatred, pity, pride, and more.” This can be seen in the fear and hatred — both historically and currently — of the lack of a strict religion and accusations of Satanism. The fear of such a nefarious practice appeals to people’s emotions and rallies them against the group. Similarly, the accusations of the Masons trying to create the DNA database appeals to people’s fear of this organization invading their privacy and using their information to later control them and their children.
Falsehoods or fabrications
There are several falsehoods and fabrications within the anti-Mason conspiracy theories. The connection to the Illuminati is highly exaggerated. The Illuminati did recruit from some Masonic Lodges in Europe during the Enlightenment, but there is no reason to automatically associate one with the other. Furthermore, the notion that the Masons set out to establish a Masonic government in the United States does not have much evidence to prove it true; yes, many the political elites at the time of the United States’ founding were Masons, but Masons also tended to be elitist in nature. So the two would naturally overlap. The symbolism in the nation’s capital does not indicate any affiliation with the occult either, and Masons do not consider symbols to have any type of supernatural powers. So, the accusation that the symbols somehow promote their takeover of the government and the world are based on falsehoods. Many of the arguments by pastors, like Janssen, are based on the outdated rules or rituals of Freemasonry dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries that have evolved and been updated to reflect progress in society, as well as in the organization. The arguments about the Masonichip program have been debunked after it was proven that once the families of children receive the identification package, the DNA and other information is deleted and would not be used in some sort of database.
The biases of the conspiracists seem mostly religion-based. Janssen and other Christian leaders discourage religions or lack thereof that contradict what they believe and teach. By discouraging his congregation from associating with Masons, he ultimately seems to be aiming at limiting any thought that could challenge his own teachings and potentially threaten his position.
The conspiracists involved in the MasoniChip example may have similar motives. Amy MacPherson herself possibly just wanted a controversial story that would get lots of attention or traffic. The NFTU, who took her article as inspiration for one of their own probably have some element of wanting to attract attention, since they claim to be a news site. But the staff of this news organization are all religious leaders as well, so there is likely a desire, like with the pastor in the previous example, to limit interactions with a system of belief that challenges what they teach.
The final example, Day Williams, is a bit more complicated. It is unclear why a lawyer in Carson City, Nevada would have such a vendetta against the Freemasons. His website does have religious undertones, so it could be another case of wanting to distance himself and those he reaches from a foreign system of belief. His webpage that includes a chronology of Freemason atrocities features a link to a book at the end, but he is not the author and doesn’t appear to be credited in it. There are links to his webpage for his law firm and it appears he ran for U.S. Senate, but there is no obvious connections to his work and his business or campaign. Perhaps he wants to propagate the notion that the Masons are trying to seize power and that, by electing him, citizens could prevent this from happening.
The conspiracy theories around Freemasons and the plot to establish a New World Order raise several questions.
- Why haven’t they succeeded by now? Though many of the Founding Fathers were Masons, their influence in the U.S. government has dissipated drastically. The last president to be a Mason was Gerald Ford. They have had about 250 years to try to take control of the U.S. so why haven’t they?
- If the Masons were trying to take over the U.S. government, why would they establish a system that puts them at risk of not winning control. Elections for president definitely do not guarantee any one person to win. Furthermore, the separation of powers system gives them even less chance of influence.
- If they are evil satan worshippers, why do they have so many charitable projects. There are countless offshoots of Freemasonry, such as the Shriners who have the Shriners Childrens Hospitals.
- One requirement of Freemasonry is some belief in a higher power, most likely indicating a religious belief and most religions would condemn the Satan worship and murder of the Illuminati connection. So why force members to have a religion that would counter your plan? Or why have a plot that would be threatened by members?
- If they are trying to be secretive or “sneaky,” why are members allowed to admit to being in the association? Why do they don certain clothing, or wear pins with the symbol? Why are the Masonic Lodges explicitly named as so?
One of the biggest propaganda techniques identified through materials and discussions of this class has been the appeal to fear of the audience. In the Laswell article, he prescribes making the “enemy” seem so evil and perverse that people instinctively fear it. Each of the aforementioned conspiracy theorists uses this technique in some capacity.
The religious leaders point out ways in which the Masons deviate from Christianity. This evokes fear, not only from Christians, but probably from a large portion of others who share some basic values with the religion (because they are ingrained in our society). The accusations that they practice some form of Satanic worship creates a sense of fear and helps create a sense of the “other,” even for people who do not subscribe to Christianity. Laswell literally advises the reader to make the “other” seem like a Satan worshipper, so by actually doing that, conspiracists succeed.
The assertion that the Masons are creating a DNA Database, and ultimately, trying to use that information to further their plot to establish a Masonic world government uses the technique discussed in class of threatening the “weaker” members of society: women and children. By making it seem that the Masons are aiming to exploit and possibly even control innocent children by collecting information about them evokes fear that these men are evil. By proposing the question “who are they doing it for?” challenges people to question the motives of the Masons and implies that they have some ulterior mission.
Again, the most common propaganda technique used by those propagating the conspiracy is simply to evoke fear by establishing the Masons as “others” who are evil Satanists who are plotting to infiltrate the government and take over the world.
While there are some shreds of truth in the anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, it is clear that playing on fear and limiting challenges to religious views seem to be at work in the propagation of the theory.
 The terms Freemason and Mason are interchangeable.
 Freemasonry has several rules outlined by the United Grand Lodge of England. United Grand Lodge of England. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved November 5, 2016, from http://www.ugle.org.uk/what-is-freemasonry/frequently-asked-questions
 On his website, Paul M. Bessel lists all of the presidents, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and Continental Army Generals who were Freemasons. Bessel, P. M. (n.d.). Founding Fathers. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www.bessel.org/foundmas.htm
 By connecting certain landmarks, one can see certain Masonic symbols in the layout of D.C. Business Pundit. (2009, November 5). 7 Sinister Ways Freemasons Control Our Country (And Why It Could Be Bull). Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www.businesspundit.com/7-sinister-ways-freemasons-control-our-country-and-why-it-could-be-bull/
 It is no secret that the architecture in Washington D.C. has Masonic influence. The Masons were proud to make their mark on the capital. Montgomery, D., & Hesse, M. (2009, September 10). Take a Tour of Masonic Washington: What Does it all Mean? Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/09/AR2009090902501.html?sid=ST2009091402737
 The mention of a New World Order in a Latin Masonic slogan is used by conspiracists as evidence for Masonic plots to take over the world. Horowitz, M. (2009, September 14). Masons and the Making of America. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2009/09/14/masons-and-the-making-of-america
 Janssen uses claims based on an outdated source to persuade his congregation to disassociate with Freemasons. Morris, S., & De Hoyos, A. (n.d.). Is it true what they say about Freemasonry?; Chapter 6, Pastor David S. Janssen: “A Sermon on the rituals of Freemasonry” 2010: Government Institutes.
 Amy MacPherson provokes readers to fear the MasoniChip program. MacPherson, A. (2012, September 26). Why are the Freemasons Collecting our Children’s DNA? Retrieved November 3, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson/freemason_b_1906521.html
 Day Williams presents a (very long!) introduction to Freemasonry. He accuses early Freemasons of murdering those who challenge them. He delves into many rabbit trails of the conspiracy, including the accusation that Masons were involved in the JFK assassination. Williams, D. (2000). Masons and Mystery at the 33rd Parallel. Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/themagazine/vol14/articles/masonic-33rd.shtml
 Harold Lasswell, somewhat seriously recommends doing anything in your power to make the “other” look like a Satanist. The anti-Masonic conspiracies take this literally. Harold Lasswell (1927) “Satanism” in Propaganda technique in the world war, New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc.