One of the more universal themes of conspiracy theorists is that the world is being run by secret societies that permeate every aspect of political, economic and social life, and whose intention is to create a New World Order. The actual details may vary from theorist to theorist, but the one group whose name appears above all others is that of the Illuminati.
The Illuminati was a secret society in late 18th Century Bavaria. Founded by one Adam Weishaupt at the University of Ingolstadt in 1776, the society's aims were closely linked to ideas from the Enlightenment; to combat religious thinking and promote and encourage rationalism. The subterfuge deployed by Weishaupt, and extrapolated beyond credibility by conspiracy theorists, was necessitated out of the fact that Weishaupt was a secularist (and anti-monarchist) in a previously ecclesiastical university post. The Illuminati attempted to disseminate ideas by infiltrating other organisations; however, the society lost momentum and died out within fifteen years of its conception.
The society is believed by conspiracy theorists to have secret signs on the United States dollar. These signs are from the reverse of the Great Seal, which is used on official legislation. Both the obverse and reverse designs were incorporated into the dollar bill in the nineteen thirties. The Latin phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" has been quoted as meaning "New World Order", and despite actually meaning "New Order of the Ages" is still cited as "evidence" that a master plan has been in operation for some two hundred plus years. The pyramid and eye symbol, which can also be seen, has been linked by some sources to the Freemasons, who have been accused of having an Illuminati cabal. The actual chronology of how the seal was initially developed is quite straightforward:
The truth is probably much more mundane. The United States' seal has never been a Masonic or Illuminati symbol. Its design was submitted by Pierre Du Simitiere to the committee of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. Of the four, only Franklin was a Freemason, but his ideas for design were not accepted by the committee. The all-seeing eye was a classical symbol of the time, but the eye atop a pyramid seems to be an invention of Du Simitiere, and approved by the committee.
The eye, which theorists tend to see as a metaphor for an Orwellian Big Brother, is in fact a symbol of "divine providence" and can be seen in both Renaissance and biblical sources. Even if the theorists' assertions were true, it is difficult to see the relevance of putting a secret symbol on a nationally circulated dollar bill.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the Illuminati exist today, either directly linked to the original group, or based on that original model. To look into all the individual assertions of the theorists would be, as Robert Carroll, author of Skeptic's dictionary suggests, to "enter Bedlam". From both extreme religious fundamentalists through to extra-terrestrial enthusiasts, a unifying idea is that the Illuminati want to subjugate the masses through mind control and mass identification techniques. The end of the world is apparently nigh.
A key figure in the conspiracy theory movement, Myron Fagan, devoted his latter years to finding evidence that a variety of historical events from Waterloo, The French Revolution, JFK's assassination and the communist plot to hasten the New World Order by infiltrating the Hollywood film industry, were all orchestrated by the Illuminati.
It is to be noted that the main groundswell of interest in the Illuminati and the assertions that it exists today began after the publication of The Illuminatus trilogy, written in the 1970s by two then Playboy associate editors, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. A post-modern science fiction work, the trilogy looked at the Illuminati's plot to rule the world, whilst fighting opposition, one of the chief protagonists being the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.
Modern theorists have incorporated these fictional ideas, with ever more bizarre twists. One Dr. John Coleman in "Targets of the Illuminati and the Committee of 300" asserts that the Illuminati's intentions include:
- The establishment of a One World Government with a unified church and monetary system
- Further advancement of their ideas through mind control
- Encouragement of the use of drugs and pornography
- Suppression of all scientific advancement unless they considered it acceptable to their aims
- Causing the death of 3 billion people by 2050, through wars and starvation
- Creation of mass unemployment
- Fracturing of the nuclear family by encouraging teenagers to rebel
- Use and promotion of rock music to facilitate this rebellion "which include rock gangsters such as the Rolling Stones (a gangster group much favored by European Black Nobility)"
The shadowy world of secret signs and societies; a world where every major political event, high-profile disease, celebrity assassination and international agreement are woven together into one mass blanket of "truth" is one that has found a natural home on the Internet. Bolstered by their peers in what has been sometimes termed "communal reinforcement", the theorists continue to fantasise that there is a grand plan at work and that they are part of the righteous fight against it. Considering that the Illuminati is apparently such a secret society, it is difficult to ascertain how the theorists have so many notions about their aims and objectives. Supposition abounds on Internet forums and conspiracy websites, with ever more interwoven fantasies proliferating. One of the major "authorities" on this and other conspiracy related matters is the one-time sports presenter, David Icke. Icke has addressed the Oxford Union on how the students are being treated like sheep by the Illuminati controlled education system, which begs the question: why did the said Illuminati system allow him a platform to disclose their existence? Icke draws upon quite diverse sources in his claim that the Illuminati exist, including H.G.Wells' early science fiction and political quotes from the 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Rationalists who are aware of the aggressive power of international governments yet refuse to believe that every world event has been controlled by a bloodline, be it largely Jewish or extraterrestrial, have been apparently brainwashed into such microcosmic thinking.
The Illuminati's supposed omniscience and omnipresence is not dissimilar to the notion of the all-seeing God that the religious fundamental conspiracy theorists perceive as being under attack from this immoral New World Order. The conspiracy theorists tendency to concentrate on eschatological (the end of the world) matters is a theme which can be linked to their close references to the Book of Revelations and fear of prophecies becoming reality.
Despite the proliferation of theories, drawn from a build-up of supposition and published works of fiction, there is absolutely no empirical evidence to suggest that the Illuminati exist. In the mind of the conspiracy theorist, every internationally drawn up piece of legislation, every UN deployment of troops, every economic trade agreement, is evidence that the world is moving towards a single global governance. Every major event from the death of Princess Diana to the attack on the World Trade Centre is now routinely traced back to the Illuminati. With the Internet-using conspiracy theorist in operation, no future atrocity, accident or event will happen that will not be attributed to the Illuminati.
As The New England Skeptical Society's research into the Illuminati and conspiracy theorists concludes:
"They are responsible for every evil and every unjust act that ever occurs anywhere; the fact that absolutely no evidence of their existence can be found only serves to make them stronger and more frightening."