Y’see, this whole country is a Masonic conspiracy . . .
That is, Masons have been trying to subvert this Country
since it was started . . . That is, y’see
by David Greason
Was George Washington a Satanist? This is perhaps a crude and offensive thing to say; nevertheless it is the unasked question that cuts to the core of anti-Masonry today. Nowhere is it so gingerly approached as in the anti-Masonic tracts of right-wing American fundamentalists, who move heaven and earth to clear Washington and other Founding Fathers of the monstrous allegations they so readly pin on many other masons throughout history.
The difficulties in reconciling American patriotism with anti-Masonry, given the central role played by many senior Freemasons in the American Revolution, places a particularly heavy burden on the shoulders of U.S. fundamen-talists, yet such a problem is not theirs alone. Anti-Masons have always been left fioundering when, after having painted Masonry as a devilish sect, they have then had to acknowledge the membership not only of many of their national heroes, but possibly also of their reader’s unassuming neighbor.
This problem faced one of the founding fathers of antiMasonry, Scotsman John Robison, who in his Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, Carried On in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies, suggested that the infiltration of the Freemasons by the Illuminati, the “notorious” Bavarian secret society with dark political ambitions, had turned an otherwise blameless body into a subversive sect.
Robison’s book was published in 1797, just three years after the end of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and British receptiveness to conspiracy theories was still at a height. Even so, as historian J.M. Roberts has pointed out in The Mythology of the Secret Societies, “the impeccable respectability of the British freemasons must be recognized as uniquely
successful in resisting the taint of treason.” Robison, said Roberts, tried to protect orthodox English Freemasonry” by throwing the blame on the Illuminati and other now traditional villains (among other things he repeated the story that the Jesuits invented Scots Masonry and the Templar legend).” 1
Whatever Robison’s original intentions (he was, after all, a former Mason himself, albeit a disaffected one), his allegations were conflated over the years by anti-Masons, who used them to attack the Craft directly. It is interesting to note, however, that from Robison’s time to today the attacks on Masonry, many of which center on the Craft’s international networks and universalist philosophy, have often expressed distinct—and contradictory--national biases.
Robison’s theme was taken up in this century by Nesta Webster, an English writer who combined anti-Masonry and anti-Semitism to create the template for the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory beloved by today’s extreme right. In Secret Societies and Subversive Movements,Webster attempted to separate British Masonry—“neither revolutionary nor anti-religious”—from the French Grand Orient rite-“not only political but subversive”:
That the lodges of the Grand Orient are largely controlled by Jews, is, however, certain, and that they are centers of political propaganda is equally undeniable. Any attacks on British Masonry as at present constituted and directed are therefore absolutely opposed to the interests of the country. But at the same time it behooves Masons to be aware of the insidious attempts that are being made by irregular secret societies to infiltrate the Craft and pervert its true principles. 2
Clearly Webster had no common cause with those critics of Masonry who saw it as a Baal-worshipping cult, an allegation leveled as strongly against English and American Masonry as it is against Masons on the Continent. Those fundamentalist Christians who today laud Webster as a crusader against the occult might also be a little less enthusiastic if they were aware that her fascination with the French Revolution, and subsequently with conspiracy theories, arose from her spiritualist dabblings and from her belief that she had experienced the revolution first-hand in a previous life. 3
Webster’s claims feature strongly in the writings of many contemporary U.S. anti-Masons. Christian Broadcasting Network chairman Pat Robertson cited Webster in his best-selling book The New World Order, probably one of the biggest-selling conspiracy texts since Gary Allen’s None Dare Call It Conspiracy, a favorite of the John Birch Society in the 1970s. Robertson’s work blended standard postwar conspiracy theories with end-time prophecies, placing the Illuminati, by way of the Masons, at the center of past and present-day world unrest. When it came to America’s revolutionary history, however, Robertson stumbled.
“Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were Masons,” he wrote.”lf there is a dark side to Freemasonry, and there is, it should be carefully pointed out that the average American Mason—especially those in the lower orders—is not in any way aware of it.” 4
Which is all well and good, but Franklin and Washington were not “average American Masons.” Franklin was Grand Master of the Philadelphia lodge. Washington was sufficiently highly placed to have been offered the post of Grand Master of all American lodges.
Critics of Robertson’s book have drawn parallels between his thesis and those of other conspiracy theorists; an easy enough claim to make, given that many fundamentalist anti-Masonic writers rely on a much-used store of al-ready disproved allegations—witness Robertson’s trumpeting of the now thoroughly discredited concoctions of professional slanderer Leo Taxil. One such critic, amateur Masonic historian John J. Robinson, claimed that Robertson lifted much of his book from an obscure farright author named A.
Ralph Epperson and his book, also titled The New World Order. 6 In a previous work, The Unseen Hand: An Introduction to the Conspiratorial View of History, Epperson claimed that America benefited from Masonry. “It is interesting to discover why the two major leaders in the American Revolution of England [sic] were fellow Masons Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. ‘When America needed a national army and a national diplomat, it turned to Brother George Washington as the only officer who not only had national fame but who, due to his Masonic application, had friends in all parts of the Continent. At the crucial moment when America, on the verge of defeat, needed foreign alliances, it turned to Brother Franklin—the only American who had world-wide fame and who, due to Masonry, had friends all over the world’,” writes Epperson, citing Bernard Fay’s Revolution and Freemasonry. 7
And to whom on the Continent did Brothers Franklin and Washington turn for help? The very lodges that were, at least according to Epperson, controlled by the Godless conspirators of the Illuminati. Yet this obvious next step is nowhere spelt out in Epperson’s book. Canadian conspiracy theorist William Guy Carr, writing in the 1950s, did venture to suggest in his best-selling Pawns in the Game that Thomas Jefferson was a student of Illuminati founder Adam Weishaupt, 8 but on the very next page appeared a publisher’s note:
“American students of Carr contend that Jefferson, [John Quincy] Adams and Franklin were not aware of the evil goals of the Illuminati. Their roles in history bear out this contention.”
Another fundamentalist pamphleteer, Robert Morey, went out of his way to play down the involvement of men like Franklin and Washington in Masonry, even brushing aside Franklin’s Deist views as of little consequence.”
Of all the American fundamentalist critics of the Craft, one of the few who has dared to criticize national heroes is Ed Decker, who was led to anti-Masonry through his anti-Mormon work, which itself culminated in the making of a notorious Mormon-bashing film, The God Makers. In a pamphlet called The Question of Freemasonry, Decker denounced Masonry as a Satanic cult; “proved”—through lines drawn on a map of Washington, D.C.—that the White House is located at the tip of a pentagram; exposed the Congressional Medal of Honor as bearing the same Satanic device; and flatly stated,”There is no doubt that Masonic conspirators plotted against this nation from its very inception to the present hour.” 10
Fellow fundamentalist William T. Still didn’t go so far as to accuse Washington of diabolical deeds in his New World Order: The Ancient Plan of Secret Societies, but he was willing to take on Benjamin Franklin with that mixture of wild surmise and sexually obsessed scandalmongering that is the hallmark of much fundamentalist scholarship: “As Minister to France . . . Franklin was well known for his love of the indulgences of the French Masonic halls,” Still wrote. “He may well have contracted the syphilis from which he eventually died as a result of these indiscretions.”
Such allegations would find short shrift among the followers of Lyndon LaRouche, the one-time U.S. Trotskyist who embraced conspiracy theories as he lurched to the extreme right through the 1970s. LaRouche includes Masons and Gnostics in his overcrowded pantheon of evildoers, which is slightly odd given that he was once happy to see himself and his followers as part of a “neo-Platonic humanist” conspiracy against oligarchical enemies. l2 He also venerates the eighteenth-century German Romantic Friedrich von Schiller, who was not only a Mason but also, according to J.M. Roberts, a member of the Illuminati. l3 (One of the many LaRouche front groups is called the Schiller Institute.)
LaRouche author Anton Chaitkin made no mention of Schiller’s dark past in his Treason in America: From Aaron Burr to Averell Harriman. He did, however, rework the bynow familiar line that American Freemasonry was in some ways qualitatively different from English Masonry, a line necessitated by LaRouche’s belief that the English are a “lower form of humanity.”
Chaitkin took the line to its logical (and rarely expressed) conclusion:
that if Freemasonry is inextricably linked to conspiracy, then “our” Masonic conspiracy was all for the best. To a certain extent this reflects the pen-chant of certain “anti-conspiracy” groups for conspiratorial plotting themselves; as Dennis King noted in Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, LaRouche’s organizational model drew directly on conspiratorial forms and the use of progressively revealed “hidden” knowledge 14 But a view like Chaitkin’s is an awkward one for conspiracy theorists to hold, given their suspicion of most political figures as well as the common belief that any sort of plotting is somehow anti-Christian at best, out-and-out Gnostic at worst. Not that this bothered Chaitkin, who wrote:
In 1766, ten years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Franklin traveled to the continent of Europe, to begin assembling a vast, transatlantic conspiracy, intended to provide the strategic correlation of forces indispensable to American victory over its oppressor and adversary, Lord Shelburne’s Britain. This vast conspiracy brought together, under Franklin’s leadership, the surviving networks earlier associated with John Milton of England, Richelieu, Mazarin, and Colbert of France, and of Gottfried Leibnitz.... The central feature of the conspiratorial form of Franklin’s transatlantic network was Franklin’s position as international leader, and Grand Master of one of the two contending forms of freemasonry in France, ally of Franklin’s own Free and Accepted Masons in the U.S.A.’ 15
Another case where anti-Masonry and Masonry uneasily coexisted can be found in the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Mormonism was initially seen as antagonistic towards Freema-sonry. Early Mormon leader Martin Harris announced that The Book of Mormon was the “Antimasonic Bible,” and scholars of this Mormon sacred text have identified parallels between the oaths and covenants of the Gadianton rob-bers in the book of Heraman and popular images of Masons. 16 Joseph Smith’s first recognized plural wife was the widow of William Morgan, the former Mason allegedly murdered by Masons in 1826 for revealing the secrets of the Craft. (Morgan in turn was one of the first persons to receive the Mormon proxy baptism for the dead in 1841.)l7 Yet Smith’s last words before an anti-Mormon mob killed him at the jail in Carthage, Illinois, were supposed-ly “O Lord my God,” the first words of the Masonic cry of distress. In the intervening years, Smith and senior Mormons had become Freemasons, and Masonic ritual and symbolism had been incorporated wholesale into Mormon temple rituals.
Historian John L. Brooke has argued that The Book of Mormon’s tale of the virtuous Sethites and the debased Cainites reflects a Masonic mythology that contrasted pure “primitive” Freemasons with corrupt “spurious” Freemasons, and that later Mormon leaders explicitly stated that “their” Masonry was authentic. “We have the true Masonry,” said Mormon leader Heber C. Kimball in 1858. “The Masonry of today is taken from the apostacy [sic] which took place in the days of Solomon and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing. l8
The patriotic/subversive split that so troubles American and British writers also has its echoes in Russia, where anti-Masonry has always found a large and receptive audience. The notorious anti-Jewish conspiracy blueprint, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, also implicates the Masons. While probably French in origin, this work is most strongly associated with prerevolutionary Russia, where it first came to light around 1905. Zhidomasonstvo, or “Jewmasonry,” was a specifically Russian variant on the myth of the Jewish conspiracy. Although Jews were said to be involved in this diabolical plot, the overarching Masonic nature of the conspiracy was its most important facet.
Incidentally it is interesting to note that this theory has been taken up by some Western anti-Masonic writers who are presumably not of the racist right, including the late Stephen Knight, author of the best-selling anti-Masonic work The Brotherhood, and David Icke, a former British Green Party candidate cum self-identified Messiah who has since turned to writing New Age conspiracy theories. Knight, in Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, which attempts to reveal the Masonic hand behind the Jack the Ripper murders, insists that the transparently fraudulent Protocols are an authentic blueprint for world domination, but were in fact authored by Masons, not Jews.’ 19 Icke says much the same in his book The Robots’ Rebellion. This development is interesting in that it appears to herald a conspiracy theory that relies on all the primary texts of anti-Semitism while at the same time repudiating racism. For good measure, Icke claims that the American Revolution was an antiBritish Masonic revolution and therefore bad. Washington was also supposedly a murderer. 20
In Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia, Walter Laqueur writes that for those believers in Zhidomasonstvo, “there were certain obstacles to overcome, since many heroes of Russian history, such as General Suvorov, Marshal Kutuzov, and the Decembrists [early fighters against tsarist autocracy], had been Masons, as had Pushkin and countless other Russian writers.” 2l Yet anti-Masonic sentiment found official outlet in Russia even under communism, which was, according to the mainstream anti-Masonic thesis, itself a creation of the Craft.
One Soviet-era Zhidomasonstvo text, Behind the Facade of the Masonic Temple, by Lolly Zamoisky, minimized Masonic influences on the Decembrists, arguing—without any supporting evidence—that they felt Masonry’s prin-ciples of brotherhood were “too narrow.” 22 Zamoisky’s argument was generally patchy; he also managed to denounce the Protocols as a tsarist forgery on page 108, and just 26 pages later pronounce them a concoction of Freemasonry, which is a sign of confusion impressive for even a con-spiracy theorist. He also claimed the Illuminati were a copy of the Jesuits (a theory unlikely to be endorsed by Rev. E. Cahill, SJ., author of Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement) .
Zamoisky gave the Zhidomasonstvo thesis an unusual twist: writing under a Communist regime, he was hardly likely to blame Masons for the Bolshevik Revolution, as his Western counterparts did, so he blamed them for the rise of multinational corporations and finance capitalism, and threw in the hoary old allegation of Satan-worshipping as well. Oddly enough, his book, published by Progress Publishers, the Soviet Union’s international book-publishing arm, carries an advertisement in the back for Rank Xerox, that well-known division of International Conspiracy, Inc. No wonder communism collapsed. The pressure of keeping tabs on who was who in the International Judeo-Bolshevik-Masonic-Financier Conspiracy must have been a heavy burden indeed.
In his groundbreaking study of the conspiratorial mindset, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, historian Richard Hofstadter identified what he saw as a crucial motivator for this type of discourse:
The enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy.... Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery.The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy.The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through. “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. 23
Hofstadter’s observation has some weight in an anti-Masonic setting.We began with the hapless Weishaupt, whose contempt and envy of the Jesuits and their influence at his university encouraged him to form his own rival secret society. We move on through to Webster, who (like her comrade-in-arms Christina Stoddart) 24 railed against the occult, yet had a few dark secrets of her own.
The fundamentalists’ rejection of Freemasonry, buttressed with gimlet-eyed scriptural references, is rooted in their contempt for those who seek to reform and improve this wicked world. But it is not only the Freemasons who withhold full expression of their doctrines from the profane. 25 La Rouche’s followers are perhaps a textbook case of projection, as were the Soviet communists, no slackers when it came to secretive maneuvering. The Mormons’ simultaneous condemnation and courtship of Masonry owes more to psychology than to theology; Joseph Srnith’s obvious fascination with forbidden doctrines could manifest itself in two ways—denunciation or embrace. Smith chose both.
The standard apologies and caveats that litter anti-Masonic writing, excusing individual or “ordinary” Masons (or “our” Masons) from the supposed depredations of the Craft, would suggest that much anti-Masonry is a battle with the Other rather than with specific Masonic practices or beliefs. Perhaps it could never have been otherwise. The very nature of Masonic practice and belief was, innocent or not, almost guaranteed to provoke a hostile response, just as critical Catholics and Mormons (and fundamentalists today) have themselves been targets of similar accusations.
Writing of the nineteenth-century quarrels arnong Mormons, Catholics, and Freemasons, Hofstadter noted: “All these movements had an interest for minds obsessed with secrecy and concerned with an all-or-nothing world struggle over ultimate values.” 26 And despite their religious grounding, it seems that none of the players could recall Christ’s injunction to remove the beam from their eye.
David Greason is an Australian journalist. His autobiography, 1 Was a Teenage Fascist, was published by Penguin Books (Aus-tralia) in 1994.
1. J.M. Roberts, The Mythology of thc Scacr So~ictics (St. Albans, U.K.: Pal-
adin, 1972), p. 218.
2. Nesta H.Webster, Sc rct So-ictics and Suhversive Movemcnts (London: Britons
Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 272-273.
3. Nesta H.Webster, Spari(~us Days An Autobiography (London: Hutchinson,
n.d.), pp. 171-175.
4. Pat Robertson, Thc Ncw World Ordcr (Miltoll Keynes, U.K.:Word, 1992),
5. Perhaps the most substalltial criticism can be found in Michael Lind,“Rev. Robertson’s Grand International ConspiracyTheory ‘ in The New York Review of Books Feb. 2,1995, pp. 21-25. See also “On Pat Robert-son ‘ The New York Review of Books April 20,1995, pp. 67-71.
6. John J. Robinson, A Pilgrim’s Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right (NewYork: M. Evans & Co., 1993), p. 72.
7. A. Ralph Epperson, The Unseen Hand:An Introduction to the Conspiratorial View of History (Tucson,Ariz.: Publius Press, 1992), p. 130.
8. Williatn Guy Carr, Pawns in the Game (Los Angeles: St. George Press, 1962), p. xii.
9. Robert Morey, The Truth about Masons (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), p. 96.
IO.J. Edward Decker, The Question of Freemasonry (Lafayette, La.: Hunting-ton House, 1992), p. 41.
11. William T. Still, New World Order:The Anrient Plan of Seaet Sorieties (Lafayette,
La.: Huntington House, 1990), p. 59.
12. Dennis King, Lyndon LaRouche and the Nevv Ameri~an Fascism (NewYork:
Doubleday, 1989), p. 270.
13. Roberts, p. 139.
14. King, ibid.
15.Anton Chaitkin, Treason in America From Aaron Burr to Averell Harriman (NewYork: New Benjamin Franklin House, 1985), p. 142.
16. “And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs,
and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant ‘ Helaman 6:22, The Book of Mormon See also John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology ~644-1844 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 1994), p. 169.
17.John E.Thompson,”The Mormon Baptism of William Morgan ‘ nle Philalethes Feb. 1985
18. Cited in Brooke, p. 252.
19. Stephen Knight,Jack thc Ripper nhc Final Solution (St Albans, U.K.: Pan-ther, 1977), p. 157.”[A] translation of some original documents, alleged-ly stolen from one of the most infiuential and highly initiated leaders of Freemasonry in France at the turn of the century, gives an indication of the plans and ambitions of at least some of its leaders.... The so-called Prototols are explicit: absolute power is the ambition, at least of the Freema-sons in the highest degrees, and nothing, not even human life, must stand in its way.”
20. David Icke, nhc Robots’ Rcbcllion (Bath, U.K.: Gateway Books, 1994), pp.
21. Walter Laqueur, Blatk HundKd nhc Risc of thc ExtKmc Right in Russia (New York: HarperPerennial, 1994), p. 38.
22. Lolly Zamoisky, Behind thc Fa adc of thc Masoni~ Tcmplc (Moscow Progress Publishers, 1989), p. 95.
23. Richard Hofstadter, Thc Paranoid Stylc in Ameri~an Polities ~London:Jonathan Cape, 1966), p. 32.
24. Stoddart, a former office-bearer in the magical order of the Stella Matuti-na, wrote a series of anti-occult articles for the British far-right papern~c Patriot and under the pen name “InguireWithin” authored two anti-occult books: LightbcaKrs of Darkncss and Trail of thc Serpct~t Both regu-larly feature on far-right recommended reading lists. See also Jay Kinney, “Much Ado about Something ‘ GNOSIS #6, pp. 6-7.
25.”Knowing that the ‘church age’ is destined to end in failure and can be redeemed only with the destruction described in detail ill Revelation, dispensationalists are confident that no amelioration of the human con-dition is possible and that their religious duty is to separate from, not to seek the improvement of, the world about them.” Robert C. Fuller, Nam-ing thcAtrti~hrist nhc History of an Amcri~an Obscssion (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 123.
26. Hofstadter, p. 15.
Summer 1997 / Gnosis Ma~a~ine 45