New Yorkers Against Religion-Based Bigotry
NYARBB's position against "Illuminati" claims
"Illuminati" claims are very similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, except that, instead of Jews, "the Illuminati" are usually alleged to be atheists, “Satanists,” occultists, or Pagans. They are alleged to be the secret rulers of the world, and they are alleged to practice human sacrifice and other ritual atrocities on a massive scale.
Progressive political movements, such as feminism, the gay rights movement, and the environmentalist movement, are alleged to be plots by “the Illuminati” to destroy civilization. Thus, “Illuminati” claims are an attack on the humanistic values of modern society, as well as an attack on the specific religious minorities that are scapegoated and demonized - in much the same way that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery by the Russian secret police back in the 1890's, were intended as a royalist attack on democracy, as well as an attack on Jews.
Although "the Illuminati" are not usually alleged to be Jews per se, "Illuminati" claims are often accompanied by other false claims, e.g. about the Federal Reserve System, based on writings of notorious Jew-haters such as Eustace Mullins, in addition to claims similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The original, real-life Bavarian Illuminati were a secretive group of mostly atheists, plus some Deists and occultists, back in the late 1770's. They were not a world-ruling elite; they were outlawed and suppressed. Back then in Bavaria (a part of what is now Germany), religiously nonmainstream folks had to be secretive, because they were persecuted back then. While the Bavarian Illuminati still existed, they advocated many principles that most educated people in the West now consider axiomatic to modern civilization, such as the separation of Church and state. Their secrecy led to much paranoia on the part of royalists and other reactionaries.
For more information about the real-life Illuminati, see the following:
- The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, and The Illuminati by Conrad Goeringer
- Other resources listed in the section about the Bavarian Illuminati on our page of Resources for debunking grand conspiracy claims
“The Illuminati” have long been demonized in anti-democratic and other right wing propaganda. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were plagiarized from earlier polemics against “the Illuminati,” as well as from other literary sources such as Maurice Joly's Dialogues in Hell.
In the 1960's, accusations against "the Illuminati" were revived by the John Birch society. "Illuminati" claims were then popularized among evangelical Christians, in the 1970's, by fraudulent "ex-Satanists" such as Mike Warnke, and then further popularized by major religious right wing leaders such as Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye.
More recently, "Illuminati" claims have spread out into other political movements, most notably the Alex Jones sector of the 9/11 Truth movement, and into pop culture as well, e.g. some hip hop lyrics and some popular novels and movies. "Illuminati" claims are now a means of influence by the extreme right wing on otherwise unrelated political movements, and on the popular imagination.
We're not aware of any good evidence that the Illuminati still exist, let alone that they secretly rule the world, or that they are guilty of all manner of nefariousness. There are other secretive fraternal groups which most likely do serve as part of the ruling class's social glue, sometimes to nefarious ends, but no evidence of a single overarching cabal which controls and micromanages almost every significant event in the entire world, as both the "Illuminati" and the "Elders of Zion" have been alleged to do.
There is indeed such a thing as the international ruling class. And there is indeed such a thing as the U.S foreign policy establishment, whose activities are often duplicitous and should be watched carefully. But to talk about them as an alleged religious (or anti-religious) conspiracy serves little purpose except to incite religion-based hatreds.
There is no good reason to believe that the Anglo-American ruling class practices "human sacrifice" in a literal, religious sense. War can be said to be “human sacrifice,” but only in a metaphorical sense. It is highly unlikely that the American ruling class wages war for religious reasons, as a literal offering to some god. War is horrible enough without complicating the issue with claims of literal "human sacrifice," thereby defaming modern Pagans, occultists, and law-abiding Satanists - most of whom are not elite.
Alex Jones has made a lot of noise about the symbolic human sacrifices, using an effigy, performed by the Bohemian Grove, an elite men's club in San Francisco, at the beginning of its annual summer retreat. But to argue that symbolic human sacrifice implies real, literal human sacrifice is precisely the same fallacious argument that some ancient Romans made against the early Christians. After all, Christians practice symbolic divine/human sacrifice and symbolic cannibalism, a.k.a. "Holy Communion." Does this imply literal human sacrifice and cannibalism? Only if you believe in Transubstantiation. Given the Bohemian Club’s prohibition on discussing business matters during its retreat, the “cremation of care” ceremony is most likely just a dramatic way of saying, “No more talk about anything serious now; let's just party!"
The American elite is religiously diverse but predominantly not-very-religious WASPs. It is unlikely that most members of the U.S. elite are serious Pagans, occultists, or Satanists. Conversely, the vast majority of Jews, atheists, occultists, modern Pagans, feminists, gays, etc. are not elite, nor part of any elite conspiracy.
There is indeed a secretive religious group that many high U.S. officials do belong to - but it's not a Pagan, occultist, or Satanist group. It's a Christian group, "The Family," led by Doug Coe. See:
- Hillary's Nasty Pastorate - The Nation magazine, March 19, 2008
- Page on Douglas Coe in Time magazine's photo essay 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America, Feb. 7, 2005 (date obtained here)
- Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America's secret theocrats - Harper's magazine, March 2003
- Meet "The Family" - Theocracy Watch, June 13, 2003
Anyhow, while the U.S. foreign policy establishment is very powerful, it and the wealthy cliques who dominate American politics are not all-powerful and should not be assumed to control or micromanage everything that happens in the world.
To many non-believers, "Illuminati" claims may seem like harmless kookery. After all, it's less harmful to scapegoat a totally imaginary group like "the Illuminati" than to scapegoat real people like Jews, right?
In fact, "Illuminati" claims do scapegoat lots of real people too, such as gays and modern Pagans. And there are, now, more and more people and political groups who seriously believe that "the Illuminati" (and various real-life categories of people who are equated with "the Illuminati") really are the root of all manner of evil. Furthermore, given who and what the real-life Bavarian Illuminati actually were and what they actually stood for, it is only natural that people who vilify "the Illuminati" would tend to be opposed to the humanistic values which most people in the modern West take for granted, such as democracy, the separation of Church and State, and equal rights for women.
"Illuminati" claims have already caused plenty of real-life harm to real people in recent decades. "Illuminati" claims played a major role in the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of the 1980's and early 1990's. Hundreds of probably-innocent people were charged, and in some cases even convicted, of the most horrific crimes against children, as an unfortunate side-effect of the otherwise beneficial trend of taking child abuse more seriously as a crime. In one of the books that helped to launch the "Satanic ritual abuse" scare, The Satan Seller by Mike Warnke, the author claimed to have been a high priest of a "Satanic coven" that was part of a larger network run by the Illuminati. (See the numerous references to the Illuminati on this page of The Cornerstone series on Mike Warnke, in which Warnke's book is exposed as a hoax. For more about the SRA scare in general, see the pages about "Satanic Ritual Abuse" on the Religious Tolerance site, and see also Against Satanic Panics.) In the SRA scare, most of the better-known probably-false accusations were against ordinary mainstream folks, not even members of controversial religious minorities. But the SRA scare created an especially dangerous situation for law-abiding Satanists and for people of other religious minorities popularly confused with Satanists, such as modern Pagans.
Today, "Illuminati" claims are still used to scapegoat minority religions, etc. (For a recent example, see this post in the thread We Are Change - September threads on right wing views in the Truth Action forum, quoting a post in the We Are Change forum which alleged that the 9/11 attacks were really a "Wiccan" human sacrifice! Worse yet, the We Are Change forum administrator enthusiastically agreed! (But see also NYARBB's position on 9/11. Note that, although we criticize various claims that have been spread within the 9/11 Truth movement, we do support the goal of a new investigation of 9/11.)
There is no good reason to equate the Bavarian Illuminati with the wealthiest members of today's ruling class. There is even less reason to equate the Bavarian Illuminati with some alleged millenia-old world-micromanaging cabal.
The "Illuminati" have also been associated with an alleged conspiracy involving both Freemasons and the Catholic Church. The idea of an alliance between Freemasons and the Catholic Church is absurd, given that Catholics have long been forbidden to be Freemasons. The idea of a conspiracy involving both the Catholic Church and Freemasons seems to be based primarily on (1) the shenanigans of the Italian P2 Lodge (not a regular Masonic lodge, and considered a fake lodge by most Masons) and (2) the name "Knights of Malta," which happens to be the name of both a Catholic lay organization and a degree in the Masonic York Rite. Both the Catholic lay organization and the York Rite degree are named after the original Knights of Malta, a medieval order of knights who participated in the Crusades and provided medical services to the wounded. This does not imply an organizational link; any group can name itself after anything.
There have been many legitimate criticisms of the Catholic Church hierarchy, including its participation in politics. There is no need to complicate such criticism with questionable conspiracy claims.
Although the Bavarian Illuminati themselves were outlawed and suppressed, it can be said that they won, in the long run, insofar as all Western governments subsequently became much more tolerant of nonmainstream religions and worldviews. But the Bavarian Illuminati were not, themselves, the originators of their ideals, and there is no good reason to attribute the success of their ideals, e.g. in the United States, primarily to the workings of the Bavarian Illuminati themselves. However, insofar as the Bavarian Illuminati did succeed in furthering the ideals of the Enlightenment, their victories benefited all who value religious freedom.
Because of who the Bavarian Illuminati actually were and what they actually stood for, demonization of "the Illuminati" is an affront to the values of modern secular society. Some well-known advocates of "Illuminati" conspiracy claims, such as Alex Jones, present themselves as defenders of constitutional liberties against an evil elite, whereas other, more consistent "Illuminati"-bashers have claimed that the U.S. Constitution itself was written by a bunch of evil Illuminati-dominated Freemasons. However, even Alex Jones attacks the values of modern secular society too, by vilifying feminists, environmentalists, gays, and religious minorities such as "occultists," and by airing scary radio shows about "Satanism."
It should be noted that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are not just anti-Jewish. The Protocols were originally intended, also, as royalist anti-democratic propaganda, "Illuminati" demonization too was originally anti-democratic. There are also many other similarities in detail between "the Illuminati" and "the Elders of Zion." For example, both are alleged to control the Freemasons.
But the most worrisome similarity is this: In the exactly same way that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion did and still do pose a grave danger to Jews (in those countries where the Protocols are still popular, or again popular), so too the spread of "Illuminati" claims poses at least a potential grave danger to atheists, Pagans, occultists, law-abiding Satanists, gays, feminists, environmentalists, and "secular humanists," in addition to being a weapon against the humanistic values of the modern secular West in general. Such severe danger is far from imminent at the present time, but could become a more serious threat if the economy goes kerplunk. "Illuminati" claims may seem laughable to most educated people, but many educated people laughed at Hitler, too, before he became powerful.
Even in the absence of such severe danger, the demonization of religious minorities is always bad news.
Note: It is inaccurate to say, as some anti-conspiracist writers have claimed, that "Illuminati" claims are inherently "antisemitic." It is probably true that, for some advocates of "Illuminati" claims, "Illuminati" is code for "Jews." But there are many other "Illuminati" conspiracy believers who are genuinely unaware of the anti-Jewish sources of many of their beliefs. Still others believe that Jews were framed by "the Illuminati," e.g. that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion contained the genuine plans of "the Illuminati," disguising themselves as Jews. It is reasonable to assume that some, though not all, of the people who say such things - or who otherwise believe in "Illuminati" claims without an explicit anti-Jewish component - are sincere about rejecting hatred of Jews. For example, John Hagee is a believer in "Illuminati" claims (as noted by Sarah Posner, Chip Berlet, and Bruce Wilson) and is also a believer in various other claims with anti-Jewish roots (e.g. some wild claims about the Federal Reserve System), yet, on the other hand, Hagee is not only pro-Israel but goes much further than most evangelical Christians in rejecting traditional anti-Jewish Christian beliefs. (See this article by an evangelical Christian critic of John Hagee.)
Nevertheless, people aware of the history of anti-Jewish conspiracy claims are right to be creeped out by "Illuminati" claims and their close parallels to Nazi-style anti-Jewish conspiracy claims. Even when "Illuminati" claims and accompanying "banker" claims are not deliberately anti-Jewish, they still tend to exaggerate the historical role of Jewish banking families (such as the Rothschilds and Warburgs) relative to non-Jewish banking families (such as the Rockefellers and Morgans). In any case, the anti-Jewish roots of many "Illuminati"/"international banker" claims are understantably offensive to Jews aware of the history of Jew-hating, even when the proponent either is unaware of those roots or believes that Jews have been "framed."
Another important concern is that nearly all the leading advocates of "Illuminati" claims are indeed bigoted against gays, atheists, Pagans, occultists, and/or assorted other categories of people that have been vilified by the religious right wing, even if they are not bigoted against Jews. Bigoted scapegoating is a bad thing no matter which group is being scapegoated. And the many parallels between "Illuminati" claims and Nazi-style anti-Jewish claims should be taken as an indication of how dangerous "Illuminati" grand conspiracy ideology can potentially be, even when it scapegoats groups other than Jews. We already have direct evidence that "Illuminati" claims can indeed be dangerous: the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of 1980 to 1995.
One of NYARBB's aims will be to educate the targeted groups, such as Pagans, about the sources of "Illuminati" claims, and to work with the targeted groups in counteracting the demonization.
We will also make a point of objecting both to "Illuminati" claims and to classical anti-Jewish myths wherever we happen to come across them while doing other political activism.
[Last edited November 5, 2008.]