`Treasure' trove: Conspiracy theorists strike it rich with Freemasonry
By Christopher Cox
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Forget the Mafia, Skull and Bones or even the United Nations. When it comes to worldwide conspiracies, the go-to group is the Masons.
The fraternal organization plays a role in Dan Brown's bestseller ``The Da Vinci Code.'' And in the new blockbuster film ``National Treasure,'' Nicolas Cage follows a string of clues cloaked in Masonic imagery to uncover a multibillion-dollar cache squirreled away by the Founding Fathers, many of whom were lodge brothers. Coincidence?
``Freemasonry is a popular target for conspiracy theorists,'' sighed Richard Fletcher, executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association of North America. ``Every nutcase out there links the Freemasons and the Jews and the Trilateral Commission and the Federal Reserve. It makes a good story.''
But long before black helicopters, the New World Order and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, suspicious minds had their doubts about the Masons.
``These guys go back way before the grassy knoll,'' said Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean of Boston University's College of Communication.
Mark Tabbert, curator of Masonic and fraternal collections at Lexington's National Heritage Museum, traces wariness about the group to the French Revolution. Freemasons, who formed their first grand lodge in London in 1717, espoused ideals of the Enlightenment, the 18th century philosophical movement that prized reason and individual freedom.
``The Freemasons spread ideas about democracy,'' said Tabbert, also the presiding master of Arlington's Mystic Valley Lodge. At least nine men who signed the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons.
The backlash reached a fervor in 1826, when Freemasons in Batavia, N.Y., kidnapped William Morgan, who'd written a book detailing secret Masonic rituals and recognition signs. Morgan disappeared as completely as Jimmy Hoffa; his book, ``Illustrations of Masonry,'' remains in print.
The Masons would recover - U.S. membership peaked at 4.1 million in 1959 - but the mystery and doubt remains.
Last March, terrorists bombed a lodge in Ankara, Turkey; two died and six were injured in the suicide attack. And a Web site, freemasonrywatch.org, rants about the group's rituals and obsession with obelisks. (The cornerstone of the Washington Monument was donated by a Mason. Coincidence?)
So it was ``refreshing'' for Freemasons such as Fletcher to see their organization positively portrayed in ``National Treasure.''
To their critics, however, that pro-Mason spin is just one more conspiracy.