Freemasonry in Popular Culture

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.

Twelve Mighty Orphans

Looking for an engaging yet quick read this summer?  How about something that combines sports and Freemasonry?

Sportswriter Jim Dent covered the Dallas Cowboys for 11 years. While in Texas he never heard of the Masonic Home, in fact he first learned about them half-listening to a story about an old football player on ESPN.  Something about it got his attention though and the next day he headed for Fort Worth and began researching the recently closed Masonic Home, Hardy Brown, coach Rusty Russell and and an entire team of underdogs that played in some of the biggest games in Texas high school history.

Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Might Mites Who Ruled Texas Football tells the story.  Dent details how this small band of orphans in the middle of the Depression, a bunch of underweight, under-equipped kids went on to beat larger, better funded, and much better-equipped schools during the 1930's and 1940's.  It's a great, true story.

Masonic_homeAdditional background information about the Masonic Home and School of Texas may be found in our copy of Robert L. Dillard's 1973 history of the orphanage (image at left is from the cover).  Dillard, a former President of the Board of Directors there, provides a detailed history of the institution that opened its doors in 1900.  While there is only brief mention of sports of any kind and a short note in the chronology for 1942 that "H.N. "Rusty" Russell, long-time Principal and coach, left the Home", it provides some background for Dent's more focused story.

Full information for both books follows:

Dent, Jim.  Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007.
Call number: 42 .D46 2007

Dillard, Robert L.  History of Masonic Home & School of Texas.  Fort Worth: Masonic Home and School, 1973.
Call number: 42 .D578 1973

And, as suggested by the comment below, see also an interesting look at the Masonic Home and the integral part athletics played in it, in

Vaughn, William Preston, "Masonic Home and School of Texas, 1920-1940: The Glory Days" in A Daily Advancement in Masonic Knowledge: The Collected Blue Friar Lectures.  Bloomington, IL: The Masonic Book Club, 2003.  Call number:  61 .D133 2003

The 1964-65 World's Fair and Freemasonry

Masonic_brotherhood_center_web Lots of folks have memories of the 1964-65 World's Fair, held in the borough of Queens in New York City, and recognized by the Fair's memorable icon, the Unisphere. There were lots of popular pavilions and attractions at the Fair, ranging from the memorable - like General Electric's Progressland (developed by Walt Disney and later transplanted to Disneyland as the Carousel of Progress) - to the perhaps less-than-memorable, like the AARP's Dynamic Maturity pavilion.

But did you know that there was also a Masonic pavilion at the 1964-65 World's Fair? The theme of the Fair was "peace through understanding," and so it seems a natural fit that the Grand Lodge of New York decided to sponsor The Masonic Brotherhood Center, with its theme of "Brotherhood: the Foundation of World Peace."

Outside, the pavilion featured 50-foot tall (and very space-agey) square-and-compasses. Inside the building, items on display included the bible that George Washington used when he first took the Presidential oath of office, as well Simon Bolivar's 32nd degree Scottish Rite apron and his 32nd degree Scottish Rite collar.

If you go to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens today, you can still see the Unisphere as well as the Tent of Tomorrow, but you won't find too much of the 1964-65 World's Fair beyond that - certainly not those huge square-and-compasses. (Although I'm happy to report that our colleagues over at the Livingston Library at the Grand Lodge of New York inform us that those great space-age square-and-compasses still survive.)

If you've got memories of The Masonic Brotherhood Pavilion, we'd love to hear about them - just share them in the comments below.

Pictured above is a small booklet produced by the Grand Lodge of New York for the World's Fair:

The Masonic Brotherhood Center at the New York World's Fair, 1964-1965. [New York: Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1964.]
Call number: 52 .M4125 [1964]