Antisemitism

Anti-Masonry, Catholicism, Communism, and Anti-Semitism

Freemasonry_unmasked_web The title of the current exhibition in the Library and Archives reading room - Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives - is drawn from the book shown here (and on view in the exhibition): Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism. The cover of this book is an example of how Freemasonry has been blamed as the secret power behind just about everything.

Although published in 1956, the text of this book actually reproduces a lecture that a Catholic priest delivered in Scotland in October, 1884. At that time, the Vatican had just issued Humanum Genus: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Freemasonry, an official declaration of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Freemasonry. The Vatican's 1884 document claimed that Masons were “planning the destruction of the holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom.”

Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked was published by the Britons Publishing Society, a group that formed in 1923, and which was an off-shoot of the Britons, a group that formed in England in 1919 for the express purpose of disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. While the name Britons Publishing Society doesn't sound particularly threatening, one historian has called them "one of the most extreme of the post-1918 formations on the radical and far right" in England. A quick search of the British Library's online catalog reveals a number of both anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic titles published by the Britons Publishing Society. One title in particular stands out and is the likely key to the the group's interest in Freemasonry: according to one source, the Society published 85 different editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion over a forty-year period, including two separate editions during World War II.

Why would the Society's interest in The Protocols point to an interest in anti-Masonry? First published in Russia in 1905, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a notorious work of anti-Semitic propaganda. The book purported to document a secret conference at which the Elders of Zion, a fictitious Jewish group, discuss using Freemasonry to deceive humanity and attain worldwide domination. Both the text and the meeting are complete fabrications. Regardless, the book persists as a popular piece of propaganda even today.

You can learn more about the overlap between anti-Masonry and anti-Semitism here: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10007186

Here's a good intro to the history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry: http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/RomanCatholics.html

For more on history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a great online exhibition about this forgery: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10007058

If you are interested in any of the topics above, be sure to check out the two bibliographies we've prepared which will point you to helpful resources so that you can learn more about both Freemasonry and anti-Masonry.

Also, be sure to check out Chip Berlet's guest blog post from last week. Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.

Pictured above:
Dillon, Monsignor George E., D.D. Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism, Through Discovery of Lost Lectures. London: Britons Publishing Society, 1956.
Call number: 19.41 .D579 1956


Conspiracy Theories, Scapegoating, & Demonization are Toxic to Democracy, by Chip Berlet

Chip Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with "Freemasonry Unmasked! Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives", on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.

 

The man accused of killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., warned of a conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons to control the world and keep White Christians subjugated while at the same time elevating Blacks to under-served positions of power.

 

How could such a bizarre and bigoted claim make any sense?

 

The alleged shooter, James W. von Brunn, wrote a book that was like a catalog of historic conspiracy theories, including references to the infamous antisemitic hoax document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His website included links to White Supremacist and Holocaust denial sites. According to von Brunn, between 1881 and 1914 a series of political assassinations were “traceable to Bolshevism, Freemasonry … and other ILLUMINATI sponsored terror groups.” Czar Alexander II of Russia, King Humbert of Italy, U.S. President McKinley, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and others were killed in order to provoke World War I.

 

 


BerletBlog_collage-2 copy The library at
Political Research Associates, where I work, has shelves full of books making the same false conspiracy claims in elaborate detail. These conspiracist tracts and volumes trace back to the late 1700s. Now many of these false claims are posted on the Internet and available worldwide. The exhibit "Freemasonry Unmasked!", now at the National Heritage Museum traces how these conspiracist allegations often include the demonization of Freemasonry.

 

The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd, but nonetheless influential, conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets. The political right blames sinister plots on a vast conspiracy supposedly run by liberal secular humanists and Democrats, portrayed as running a covert network of subversives. Scratch the surface of these stories and commonly scapegoated groups emerge: Jewish bankers, Freemasons, civil rights activists, labor union leaders, community organizers.

 

On the political left, conspiracy theories portray conservatives, neoconservatives, and Republicans as staging the terror attacks on 9/11 as part of an elaborate scheme to justify war in the Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home.

 

These are not legitimate criticisms of public policy or the institutions of power in our society; they are populist anger and anxiety exploited by demagogues to undermine the democratic process. Democracy requires informed consent. When conspiracy theories enter public debates, they are toxic to democracy.

 

Conspiracy theorists use the same four “tools of fear." These are: 1) dualism (the division of the world into a good "Us" vs. a bad "Them"); 2) scapegoating; 3) demonization; and 4) apocalyptic aggression. The basic dynamics remain the same, no matter the ideological leanings of the demonizers or the identity of their targets.

 

Meanwhile, our ability to resolve disputes through civic debate and compromise is hobbled. It is the combination of demagogic demonization and widespread scapegoating that is so dangerous. Some angry people already believe conspiracy theories in which scapegoated groups are targeted as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action is mandatory and you have the conditions for a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States. Historically, the violent attacks target marginalized groups, especially people of color, immigrants, and Jewish institutions. In the last decade, the list has expanded to include Muslims, Arabs, and people in the gay community.

 

We can stop this. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That's not a police problem, that's our problem as people responsible for defending and expanding democracy and building a free and just society.