What most people don't know about the Illuminati

Nobody expects the Illuminati until it's already much too late. They meet in secret to orchestrate scandals, plot assassinations, fake moon landings, and hire "crisis actors" for false flag operations. They will stop at nothing to bring their plans for a New World Order to fruition. Never mind that the actual Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, a secret society for fans of democracy, had completely disbanded by 1790.

So, how did the Illuminati go from being a secret club in a small corner of the Holy Roman Empire to being the Information Age's Satanic version of the Inquisition, Thought Police, and Gestapo all rolled into one? Who knows the secret history of the Illuminati? We do, and we're ready to talk.

The origins of the Illuminati

In 1775, a man named Adam Weishaupt became a professor at the Bavarian University of Ingolstadt, which until very recently, had been run by devout Catholic Jesuits. Although Weishaupt had been educated by Jesuits, he was into rationalism and democracy, big, potentially heretical no-nos from the Church-defined Jesuit point of view. His Jesuit co-workers missed the good ol' days when they'd had more power. You can imagine how they felt when this secularist troublemaker joined the faculty. 

On May 1, 1776, Adam Weishaupt founded the Illuminati, a secret refuge for Germans in search of "freedom from church domination over philosophy and science," according to Trevor W. McKeown's research. Think of it as a secret club for (wealthy, male) fans of democracy and tolerance. The secret society was a hit, attracting membership numbers estimated to be between 650 and 2,000. Soon its lodges appeared elsewhere in Europe, and the secret got too big to hide.

As you might expect, non-democratic authorities were none too pleased to learn of Weishaupt's secret club. From 1784 to 1787, Duke Karl Theodor of Bavaria cracked down on secret societies, outlawing the Illuminati. His reputation in ruins, Weishaupt lost his job in 1785, skipped town, and retreated into writing about the Illuminati.

From Illuminism to Jacobinism

So, why do people still worry about this secret club that was probably defunct centuries ago? How did the legend start? It all goes back to one paranoid Jesuit priest.

In the 1790s, Abbe Augustin Barruel nearly singlehandedly invented the modern idea of the evildoing Illuminati. Barruel was a paranoid French abbot living in England basically against his will. He was a man without a country, stuck in England while the dastardly Jacobins burned his beloved France. Like other displaced Jesuits, he'd fled the Revolution to avoid literally losing his head. Unlike other Jesuits, he would change conspiracy theory culture forever by blaming the Illuminati for the French Revolution.

The Jacobins hadn't acted alone, according to Barruel. They had help from the Freemasons, who had been infected with democratic revolutionary ideas by the Bavarian Illuminati. The Freemasons were, and are, the oldest fraternity in the world — an exclusive society, but not a secret one. Adam Weishaupt himself had become a Freemason in 1777, a year after he'd founded the Illuminati.

It all made a kind of terrible sense from Barruel's devout Jesuit perspective. According to his theories, after Duke Karl Theodor outlawed secret societies, the Illuminati didn't disband. They just went underground, spread around European Freemasonry like an undetected, deadly infection. Barruel explained all his theories in his four-volume Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797-1804). According to Barruel, the Illuminati didn't care about "democracy" and "freedom." They were medieval Satan-worshipers, opportunists on a quest for ultimate power.

From Illuminism to Satanism

Why do some conspiracy theorists say the democracy stuff was a Satanic ruse, that Weishaupt's crew was actually a Satan-worshiping instrument of evil? That's Barruel's doing. He turned Weishaupt into evil incarnate. Abbe Barruel's claims were undercut by the fact that Adolph Von Knigge, co-designer of the Illuminati's structure and Weishaupt's right-hand man, was in truth a devout Christian.

Abbe Barruel's Memoirs were undeniably scandalous. Scandal fueled interest, and soon Barruel was meeting other paranoids just like himself. Based on the new "info" he gathered, he put out three more volumes adjusting and expanding his theory.

In its final form, Abbe Barruel's writings implicated the Jacobins, the Freemasons, the Knights Templar (who had been found guilty of heresy and sodomy by the Medieval Inquisition), the Islamic Assassins, the Jews, and the (secretly Jewish) bishops of the Catholic Church in the Illuminati's global Satanic conspiracy that merely pretended to want democracy. If Barruel didn't like you, then you were under suspicion of being a Devil-worshiping Illuminatus witch.

Former Freemason weighs in

Abbe Barruel's theory might have been the craziest theory about the French Revolution, but it was not the only Illuminati-related Masonic conspiracy theory about the French Revolution. The same year that the Memoirs came out (1797), Englishman John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy was published, warning English Freemasons to beware of the Illuminati's influence. 

You know how sometimes two movies seemingly about the same thing come out at the same time, so you go to see both of them so you can compare them? It was like that, only instead of Armageddon and Deep Impact, it's Memoirs Illustrating the History of the Jacobins and Proofs of a Conspiracy. Each book fed on the other's popularity. 

Like Abbe Barruel and modern Illuminati-obsessed paranoids, Robison took the pseudo-historian's approach to contradictory evidence, "[using] contradictory evidence … to support rather than refute [his] notions." That said, Robison's take was more measured but it affirmed three basic ideas. First, the Illuminati were secret agents of chaos. Second, they had hijacked Freemasonry in France. Third, the Illuminati were a threat to governmental stability everywhere, since the Freemasons had lodges all over the world, including the United States. Satanists or not, the Illuminati had to be stopped before it was too late.

Aleister Crowley, the Satanic Illuminatus

Over the years, the Illuminati's alleged ties to Satanism refused to go away. In the early 1900s, the most messed-up Satanic elements of Abbe Barruel's theory returned, thanks to "Scientific Illuminatus" Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Crowley (pronounced "croh-lee") called himself an Illuminatus and seemed to be a Satan worshiper.

At the peak of Crowley's notoriety, the media at the time called him "the wickedest man in the world." He certainly was a controversial figure who "delighted in frightening, baffling, and playing sadistic jokes on the orthodox and gullible," according to Robert Anton Wilson in Everything is Under Control. He was an original troll a century before the internet. In the secret history of the Illuminati, Crowley is important because he turned being an Illuminatus into a cool, rebellious idea for weirdos on the fringes of uptight society-at-large.

From Satanism to Communism

In conspiracy theory culture, what actually happened doesn't matter as much as the stories people tell themselves. There's one big piece missing from the Illuminati conspiracy story — Communism. Communism wasn't a thing in 1797. If it had been, you can bet it would've featured in Abbe Barruel's theory. Where does Communism fit in the big Illuminati scheme? For the answer, we need to go back once again to Bavaria at the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

Once secret societies were outlawed, the Illuminati had to go somewhere, right? They couldn't just disappear. It isn't like every Illuminatus was rounded up and killed. So where'd they go? Some conspiracy theorists believe that, in Germany, the Bavarian Illuminati "survived in the form of … 'reading societies' devoted to literature and self-improvement," according to Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier by Brad and Sherri Steiger. According to these conspiracy theorists, Germans Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were under the influence of ideas spread through those Illuminati "reading societies" when they wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. 

The mad tinfoil hatters allege that the historians got it wrong. Communism isn't some idealistic critique of Industrial Capitalism's inherent cruelty. It's simpler than that, and much, much worse. Communism is Illuminism, they say, and Communists are Illuminati by any other name. By this logic, the Cold War wasn't about fighting Communism. It was about about resisting the Illuminati plan for a New World Order.

Jewish Illuminati bankers and Henry Ford

On the ugly side of the internet, Illuminati memes claim a Jewish banking dynasty called the Rothschilds own and run the world. The patriarch of the Rothschilds was a court agent and a member of the Illuminati. If you believe the memes (please don't), the Rothschild fortune is $500 trillion. According to financial experts, that's just not even close to right. An investigation by Snopes pointed out that there was only one Rothschild on Fortune's list of billionaires and he's way down on the list. So is it just simple, run-of-the-mill anti-Semitism that's generated these memes? Not entirely. Henry Ford had a hand in it, too.

In 1921, Ford reprinted an English translation of the Russian forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his newspaper The Dearborn Independent. Borrowing hateful ideas from Abbe Barruel's Memoirs, The Protocols purported to be the minutes of a secret meeting of evil Jewish men, commonly understood to be Illuminati. The meeting's purpose was simple — world domination. How would they do it? They'd use the banks.

So why does it matter that Henry Ford, creator of the Ford Motor Company, chose to publish The Protocols in his newspaper? Ford's newspaper didn't just revive false claims about the Illuminati's connections to Judaism. It gave "both wide distribution and global credibility" to anti-Semitic lies, according to The Washington Post. Those same anti-Semitic lies show up constantly in today's Illuminati-obsessed conspiracy theory culture.

20th-century Illuminati

Some paranoids believe that the U.S. Federal Government was infiltrated by the Illuminati in the 20th century. Was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover an Illuminatus — or an unscrupulous sworn enemy of the Illuminati, willing to use their dirty tricks against them? One thing's for sure: from 1935 until his death in 1972, administrations came and went, but Hoover never left his position. Hoover was rumored to be connected to the American Mafia and to have dirt on every U.S. president.

Beginning in the 1950s, Hoover's COINTELPRO domestic surveillance program monitored and harassed radical activists. Its purpose was to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate" political groups that opposed the establishment. Around the same time, another U.S. government agency, the CIA, was toying with U.S. citizens' minds. Project MKUltra was a program that dosed soldiers with LSD in the hope of developing supersoldiers. Were these programs a response to the evil work of the Illuminati? Or attempts to beat the Illuminati at their own clandestine game?

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech that some corners of the internet call his "Illuminati speech." "We [Americans] are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies," he said. What "secret societies" was he talking about? Probably the Communists, maybe the Mafia, but that wasn't really the point of the speech. It was about the freedom of the press, the same freedom that allows today's conspiracy buffs to claim he was killed by the Illuminati.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy

In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, paranoia and conspiracy theories went mainstream. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea sought to capitalize on the widespread interest in conspiracy theories. Editors by trade, Wilson and Shea co-wrote The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975), three psychedelic, certifiably insane Illuminati-themed novels released as one volume. Based on the most outlandish conspiracy theories the authors learned while editing the Playboy Forum, The Illuminatus! Trilogy established the subgenre "conspiracy fiction" and continues to drive interest in all things Illuminati. Following the success of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Shea went on to write novels of the more traditional variety, while Wilson became an ambassador of Illuminati-related paranoia in American conspiracy theory subcultures.

Are they still around?

If evidence exists that the Illuminati are still around, then it's on the internet, but good luck finding it in all that smog. Why is the truth about the Illuminati so hard to come by? Why does uncertainty continue to reign? 

In theory, all of human history is permanently accessible to anyone with access to the internet, so we should be able to type in a query and find the truth, right? Well, according to some conspiracy theorists, the Illuminati invented the internet for the purpose of mass-market mind control using misinformation, propaganda, passive-aggressive trolling, and fake news. 

Illuminati conspiracy theories get more convoluted with each passing minute. Did the Illuminati perpetrate 9/11? Did they "manufacture" the mass murders of children at Sandy Hook Elementary? Are they enormous Satanist Reptilians who live inside the hollowed-out Moon? Is it all part of their plan for a New World Order? You can ask the internet. But you probably shouldn't.