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 focuses 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. To understand how this conspiracy theory came to be and how it has spread over the years, several logical fallacies and propaganda techniques will also be introduced and explained.

So who exactly are these devious elites and how concerned should we be about them?

The Theory

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Freemasonry is indeed a real thing. Masonic[1] organizations are fraternal groups that originated as fraternities of stonemasons. According to the United Grand Lodge of England, 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.[2] 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 – or at the least have a great deal of influence on our government. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Aaron Burr, and James Monroe were all Masons. According to amateur historian Paul Bessel, 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.[3] 14, or roughly one third of U.S. Presidents have been Freemasons. That list includes Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford. 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.

A basic Wikipedia search will also quickly lead to theories about connections between Freemasons and the Illuminati. Take it a step further, and dozens of conspiracy sites, like educate-yourself.org, masonicinfo.com, truthaboutangelsanddemons.com, illuminatirex.com, and countless others will surface, each making claims about the connection between the two groups. There is no one site more official or legitimate than the others, but to sum up what most of them say: Illuminati is another 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 are supposedly 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 worship Lucifer, another name for Satan. However, according to the Illuminati official website, their mission is to “further the prosperity of the human species as a whole,” and they are striving to “create a better understanding between us and the people we have been entrusted to protect.”[4]

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Figure 2. This image from 100777.com, which has all the signs of a paranoid-conspiracy-theorist’s site, shows how the streets between major landmarks in D.C. form a pentagram, which is an important symbol in Freemasonry. The city was designed with help from members of the Freemasons.

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.[5]  

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.[6]

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.[7] A New World Order is a dreaded futuristic totalitarian government.[8]

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.

Says Whom?

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 the first American third party in the United States and the first party to hold a national nominating convention. The party was established in response to the disappearance of a Freemason who had broken his vow of secrecy and was suspected to have been silenced (permanently) by the fraternity.[9]

Another example of fear about the group happened in Europe, when a former Mason defected from the organization and 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 several of those conspiracy theorists are also Christian pastors.

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?”[10] Admittedly, this book is written by a group of Freemasons, so there is potential for bias. However, the arguments do align with the rules on the official site for Masonic education.

Another source of propagation of anti-Mason conspiracies comes from journalists. In 2012, Amy MacPherson, a freelance writer published “Why are the Freemasons Collecting Our Children’s DNA?”[11] in the Huffington Post, 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.[12] 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 wrote an extensive 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.[13] 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. His article has been published by a site called HiddenMysteries.org. Hidden Mysteries is a site that promotes the conspiracies propagated by David Icke. Icke is a former soccer player and journalist who now works as a “full time investigator into who and what is really controlling the world.”[14]

He has written several books and has gained a following of others who subscribe to his ideas, such as the Reptilian Elite theory, and of course, the Freemason and New World Order theory.

masonichip
Figure 3. The MasoniChip program has causes suspicions of Freemason’s to arise. The slogan, “it’s not what we do, it’s who we do it for,” has been turned against the Masons, implying that they are doing it for themselves, serving some ulterior motive to promote their diabolical interests. Accusations range from trying to create a database of everyone’s DNA, trying to track people’s activities, or even trying to molest the children involved. Image found at the official site for The Connecticut Freemason’s Foundation

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 is a fraternal organization that does have customs and rituals that may seem mysterious and suspicious. Many of the Founding Fathers were Masons. The United States Constitution and system of government were heavily influenced by members of the Freemasons. Symbols of the organization permeate many national monuments and documents. The layout of streets in D.C. does 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.

Logical fallacies[15]

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. For example, in David Janssen’s sermon, he said, “Freemasons are deceived regarding the truth that Freemasonry is a religion of Lucifer. Any ‘Christian’ who is a Freemason must come out of it, renounce it, and repent of it, or he will be damned… When one sees the list of high level Freemasons and their positions of power and influence in an apostate ‘churchianity,’ the speed and extent of the apostasy is understandable.” He went on to say, “Jesus is the only God who is not welcome in the (Maasonic) Lodge… The true God is the only god excluded from Freemasonry.”[16] This example shows how those who believe in the theories 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 alleged historical connections with the Illuminati hundreds of years ago, that Masons are seeking to establish a New World Order.

Freemasonry conspiracy theories also appeal to emotions like fear and hatred. Both historically and currently, the lack of a strict religion has led to fear and accusations of occult practices like Satanism. William Day’s chronology says that in 1826, William Morgan, the Freemason who broke the vow of secrecy revealed that, “the last mystery at the top of the Masonic pyramid is the worship of Lucifer, that is Satan.”[17] Janssen said, “Lucifer, the gold of this world, the god of Freemasonry… is enjoying his final greatest hour of stealing killing, and destroying. His followers will join him in hell.”[18] 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. Even if the Illuminati did recruit from some Masonic Lodges in Europe during the Enlightenment, 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.

 Potential biases

The biases of the conspiracy theorists seem mostly religion-based. Janssen and other Christian leaders discourage religions or lack thereof that contradict what they believe and teach. This is not the case for all or even most religious leaders, but for those that do, many followers find the argument convincing. By discouraging his congregation from associating with Masons, he is conveniently limiting any thought that could challenge his own teachings and potentially threaten his position. Similarly, the members of the NFTU, who took Amy MacPherson’s article about the MasoniChip program as inspiration for one of their own, are all religious leaders as well, so there is likely a desire to limit interactions with a system of belief that challenges what they teach.

Amy MacPherson herself possibly just wanted a controversial story that would get lots of attention or traffic. The NFTU is a news site as well, so they also probably have some element of wanting to attract attention

The final example, Day Williams, is a bit more confusing. Williams is an attorney who has also run for U.S. Senate, so perhaps opposing the practices of the Masons was a political move? However, the site on which his article appears is run by David Icke, a professional conspiracy theorist. Icke benefits from people believing these theories because he sells books and other merchandise for people who fall for them.[19]

So, perhaps promoting these theories is a business endeavor and Icke only wants people to believe him so they will buy his merchandise.

 Propaganda techniques

One of the biggest propaganda techniques identified through materials and discussions of this class has been the appeal to fear of the audience. In an article by Harold Laswell,[20] 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. Laswell was at the forefront of communication research during World War I and II and these prescriptions are based on observations of propaganda techniques of either side during a war.

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 many versions of the theory.

Questions

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?

 

 

References

[1] The terms Freemason and Mason are interchangeable.

[2] Freemasonry has several rules outlined by the United Grand Lodge of England.  United Grand Lodge of England. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.ugle.org.uk/what-is-freemasonry/frequently-asked-questions

[3] 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 is an amateur historian who’s website contains a lot of content focusing on the Freemasons. It can be accessed at http://www.bessel.org/foundmas.htm

[4] Though the Illuminati has had a bad reputation, they seem to be trying to promote a better image on their website, illuminatiofficial.org

[5] A basic Google image search shows the layout of the streets in D.C. Sites like freemasonrywatch.org, that are clearly drenched in conspiracy theories include maps that highlight the symbols.

[6] 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

[7] 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 from www.usnews.com

[8] This definition of New World Order comes from a chapter of the Guilford Publications book Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close For Comfort by Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons. The chapter is called “Battling the New World Order,” and a PDF version can be accessed at www.guilford.com

[9] The story of William Morgan, the Freemason who broke the vow of secrecy can be found at https://www.britannica.com/event/Anti-Masonic-Movement

[10] 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.

[11] Amy MacPherson provokes readers to fear the MasoniChip program.  MacPherson, A. (2012, September 26). Why are the Freemasons Collecting our Children’s DNA? from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/amy-macpherson

[12] The NFTU is a “news” site with a staff made up of Orthodox priests and monks. They discourage people from associating with Freemasons. http://nftu.net/freemasons

[13] 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 from http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/themagazine/vol14

[14] David Icke is famous in the world of conspiracy theories. He claims he has had revelations about his destiny to find the truth about who is controlling the world. He sells books and other merchandise. Additional information about Icke and excerpts from his work can be found at web.archive.org

[15] A list and descriptions of logical fallacies was found at https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/

[16] The full transcript of Janssen’s sermon about Freemasons can be found at http://overcomerministry.org

[17] This claim about Masonic Satan worship comes from William Day’s chronology on David Icke’s site, http://www.hiddenmysteries.org

[18] Another excerpt from Janssen’s sermon.

[19] David Icke is a “professional conspiracy theorist.” It is possible that he works so hard to promote conspiracy theories because of the books and other merchandise he sells that revolve around them. His site is https://www.davidicke.com

[20] 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.

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