10 People Who Shaped The Illuminati Conspiracy Theory
It has been said that cats rule the Internet, but there’s an even more sinister power you’ve probably heard of: the Illuminati. Said to be lurking behind the scenes of every important human endeavor since man was first genetically engineered by space aliens, the Illuminati are certainly giving our feline friends a run for their money as supreme rulers of cyberspace.
There are countless bizarre and contradictory theories circulating online regarding the shadow organization. Although the Bavarian Illuminati was a real secret society during the late 18th century, the subject has become something of a running joke among skeptics, as tales of extraterrestrial politicians and Satanic pageantry during award ceremonies have spread throughout the Internet. But all stories have to start somewhere, and you can thank the people on this list for the current golden age of Illuminati paranoia.
A French Jesuit during the late 18th century, Augustin Barruel holds the dubious distinction of being the first author to publish a book attributing a conspiracy to the Illuminati. In the third volume of his Memoirs Illustrating The History Of Jacobinism, Barruel explained how the Freemasons had been infiltrated by the Bavarian Illuminati, with the new hybrid organization playing a key role in the French Revolution. To build his case against the Illuminati, Barruel extensively cited original Illuminati documents seized by the Bavarian government during the 1780s.
Radical politics and anti-religious sentiment were certainly primary concerns for Barruel. The Jesuit order he belonged to had been suppressed in much of Western Europe, including his native France, by rulers who viewed their international power and allegiance to the Papacy as a potential threat. Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Bavarian Illuminati, frequently came into conflict with the Jesuits and founded the Illuminati at least in part to combat their influence in Bavaria, where he was the first non-Jesuit professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt.
Today, the theory that the Illuminati played a part in the French Revolution is contested by most historians, and it’s widely believed that Barruel’s work was the product of ulterior political motives. However, it remains one of the more plausible theories about the Illuminati, at least comparatively.
John Robison was a Scottish physicist, mathematician, and professor of philosophy, who worked closely with such illustrious figures as James Watt. It could be argued that his greatest contribution to the world was his invention of the mechanical siren, although his work on the Illuminati has earned him greater notoriety.
In 1797, Robison published the aptly titled Proofs Of A Conspiracy Against All The Religions And Governments Of Europe. The book came out in the same year as Barruel’s Memoirs, and presented near-identical claims that Freemasonry had been infiltrated by the Bavarian Illuminati as part of a plot to bring about the French Revolution.
Naturally, historical scholars were quick to investigate these allegations, soon coming to the conclusion that they were unfounded. By 1830, it was “pretty generally acknowledged that [Barruel and Robison], and other authors, were induced to ascribe to this institution an extent and an influence which in reality it never possessed.” Additionally, many Freemasons have taken it upon themselves to clear their name and refute any connection to the Illuminati, and a great deal of evidence has been amassed online to that end.
Even George Washington, who was a Freemason and is now often accused of having been a member of the Illuminati, would be made aware of the conspiracy theory when he was sent a copy of Robison’s book. From his reply, it is clear that Washington didn’t agree that Freemasonry had been affected by the Illuminati. Interestingly, he did believe that the principles of the Bavarian Illuminati were widely shared in the United States:
It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am. The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a separation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.
8Nesta Helen Webster
Since Adam Weishaupt explicitly banned Jews from joining his organization, it might be considered odd that Illuminati conspiracy theories have often been used to further an anti-Semitic agenda. One of the early examples of this can be found in the writings of Nesta Helen Webster, a radical right-wing British political activist and member of the British Union of Fascists.
Nesta Webster played a key role in resurrecting the Illuminati conspiracy theories after a century-long hiatus. Webster first became aware of the Illuminati through her interest in the French Revolution, which introduced her to the work of Barruel and Robison. Webster proceeded to twist their work to support an anti-Semitic worldview based largely on the infamous Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, a Russian forgery designed as anti-Semitic propaganda.
Interestingly, Winston Churchill was quite taken with Webster’s theories, and in an Illustrated Sunday Herald article wrote:
This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxemburg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing. It played, as a modern writer, Mrs. Webster, has so ably shown, a definitely recognizable part in the tragedy of the French Revolution.
7Gerald Burton Winrod
Known as “the Jayhawk Nazi,” the Kansas preacher Gerald B. Winrod can be considered a stateside counterpart to Nesta Webster for his work in reviving Illuminati conspiracy theories during the early 20th century. Like Webster, Winrod’s belief in a Jewish Illuminati was incongruent with the real Bavarian Illuminati’s policy of denying Jews membership. Winrod also followed Webster in using the hoax Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion to support his theories. In the 1920s, Winrod founded a fundamentalist Christian publication called The Defender, which would be his primary platform for disseminating his extremist views.
With Roosevelt’s New Deal threatening his belief in a limited government, Winrod decided to run for the Senate in 1939. He established a seven-point platform encouraging a stronger religious base and advocating for state’s rights. He also called for an end to New Deal legislation. During the election, Winrod tried to tone down his anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic rhetoric in a bid to win more voters. In the end, he failed to gather enough support from the Republican Party and former Kansas Governor Clyde Reed took the seat
In 1942, Winrod was indicted for sedition due to his pro-Nazi views. The case ran until 1944, when the presiding judge suddenly died, which Winrod attributed to an act of God. The Justice Department decided against holding another trial, dismissing the charges in 1947.
While Alice Bailey never mentioned the Illuminati in any of her writings, her contribution to the New Age movement has made her one of the most influential individuals in modern Illuminati mythology. Although originally a Theosophist, Bailey’s reworking of Theosophist material resulted in a worldview distinct from that of Helena Blavatsky, which would provide a structure for many modern New Age cults.
Within the conspiracy theory community, Bailey is something of a polarizing figure. Many who subscribe to New Age mysticism admire her, while Christian fundamentalists often consider her a Satanic, subversive figure bent on ushering in the New World Order. Many aspects of Bailey’s teachings have been misinterpreted or exaggerated by her detractors, and there also appears to be a great deal of outright misinformation about her on the Internet. Much of the online discourse concerns her so-called “10 Point Plan,” which is said to have been implemented by the Illuminati or the UN and reads like a cartoon of the supposed ultra-liberal desire to destroy Western tradition. In reality, there’s absolutely no indication she ever composed such a plan.
While much of the vitriol leveled at Bailey is certainly unfounded, that’s not to say she isn’t worthy of criticism. She was heavily critical of the Jewish people and disseminated the myth of Aryan superiority. As a result, Bailey is often referenced by contemporary New Age writers who subscribe to a more overt form of anti-Semitism. On this point, at least, her teachings are not far removed from many of her critics.
5William Guy Carr
Today, the image that probably comes to the average person’s mind at the mention of the Illuminati is the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the back of the dollar bill. The “all seeing eye ” on the pyramid has become synonymous with a variety of shadowy, poorly defined conspiracies. As the originator of the theory that Illuminati symbolism has infiltrated our daily lives, William Guy Carr has had one of the greater impacts on modern Illuminati lore.
A Canadian naval officer who served in both World Wars, Carr’s postwar output as an author was divided between submarine warfare and conspiracy theories. He took a Christian fundamentalist approach to the topic of the Illuminati, and his writings have often been interpreted as anti-Semitic. Despite the care he took to distinguish between Hebrews and those he identified as belonging to the “Synagogue of Satan” (a term he borrowed from the Book of Revelation), his referencing of a speech by a nonexistent rabbi fabricated by renowned anti-Semitic author and Nazi apologist Eustace Mullins is perhaps indicative of his sentiments.
Carr identified liberalism, Communism, and the occult as the three prongs of the Illuminati’s attack on Christianity. According to Carr, “people who wish to remain free can follow only one plan of action. They must support Christianity against all forms of atheism and secularism.”
One of Carr’s key claims concerned the existence of a plot by Confederate general Albert Pike to bring about three World Wars to facilitate the Illuminati’s goal of world domination. Supposedly, World War I was a means to establish atheistic communism, World War II was intended to strengthen the Zionist cause, and World War III will be a war between the Zionists and the Muslim world. Additionally, Carr claimed that Pike made use of a radio communications network, supposedly invented by the Illuminati years before such technology officially appeared. In referencing the three World Wars, Carr cited a letter of correspondence between Pike and Giuseppe Mazzini, which was in fact written by admitted hoaxer Leo Taxil.
As the founder of the radical right-wing John Birch Society, Robert Henry Winborne Welch Jr. was a vehemently anti-Communist political activist who believed Americans fell into four categories: “Communists, Communist dupes or sympathizers, the uninformed who have yet to be awakened to the Communist danger, and the ignorant.” Following his retirement as a candy maker (Welch invented Sugar Babies and Junior Mints), he started the John Birch Society, which soon claimed 100,000 members, including such notable industrialists as Fred Koch.
Despite Welch’s strident anti-Communist rhetoric, he soon managed to attract the derision of fellow conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr., who described Welch’s theories as “drivel.” His extremist politics would eventually draw the attention of the FBI.
The Illuminati figured prominently in Welch’s worldview. In his mind, Communism was simply a front for the “insiders” of an Illuminati organization bent on establishing a totalitarian government. Agents he identified as working for the Communists were Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and of course the Rothschild and Rockefeller families. Welch’s book, The Politician, came under fire for declaring Eisenhower a traitor, and he ultimately removed the most controversial paragraph before publication. Support for the John Birch Society eventually waned due to conservative opposition.
In recent times, several people have claimed a personal connection to the Illuminati, usually as self-described defectors and whistleblowers. The vast majority are obvious frauds, ignored by even the most impressionable conspiracy theorist. But John Todd is still taken seriously by many in the conspiracy community, despite the dubious circumstances of his life.
In 1973, Todd hit the evangelical circuit with a fanciful tale detailing his early life as a witch born into a Satanic Illuminati family, and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. The facts of his early life are difficult to verify, although the general consensus is that he simply made up the outlandish claims about his youth. Perhaps Todd’s most memorable story concerned serving as personal warlock to a perfectly healthy post-Dallas John F. Kennedy, although the time his sister caused a rash of UFO sightings by summoning demons is a close second (you can listen to it above). The profusion of absurd claims made by Todd can be heard in lengthy recordings available on YouTube or read in online transcriptions. Though his allegations were taken seriously by individuals such as Jack Chick (Todd was a primary source of material for Chick’s widely circulated pamphlets), the Christian community was mostly unimpressed.
In 1979, the magazine Christianity Today published a scathing rebuttal of Todd’s work. Evidence used against him included his military discharge papers, which contradicted his account of having been protected by the Illuminati after he murdered his commanding officer. But perhaps most telling in assessing Todd’s character are his criminal convictions for sexual crimes. Allegations about Todd’s behavior began surfacing as early as 1973. In ’74, Todd made a short venture into Wicca, where he was subsequently expelled from the community for having underage girls perform sexual acts as part of initiation ceremonies—he was eventually convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In 1988, Todd was convicted for the rape of a college student and was charged with molesting two children. He was released from prison in 2004 and died in a mental institution three years later.
In 2008, an individual with the username “Hidden Hand” held a Q and A session on the forum of conspiracy theory website abovetopsecret.com. Claiming to be a member of the Illuminati, Hidden Hand stated that it was his duty to make contact with the public and answer their questions pertaining to his organization. Apparently, the “Law of our Creator” requires the Earth’s secret rulers to occasionally break their impenetrable wall of secrecy to answer questions on Internet forums.
Over the course of two days, Hidden Hand related his fantastic tale in no less than 27,567 words over 154 posts. While many users were incredulous, the punctual manner in which the answers were posted, as well as the complexity and continuity of the narrative, led others to conclude that Hidden Hand was the real deal. It’s very likely Hidden Hand will be a staple of contemporary Illuminati lore for the foreseeable future.
Of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Though a great deal of what Hidden Hand wrote was original, anyone with a passing familiarity with New Age cults would identify a number of direct references to dubious fringe beliefs such as “Star Seeds,” the “Confederation of Planets,” and the December 21, 2012, “Ascension” mythos. In fact, it was because ascension was imminent that Hidden Hand claimed he was directed to divulge his information. (The fact nothing much has changed since December 21, 2012, has certainly impacted many people’s belief in a number of interrelated New Age religious beliefs and conspiracy theories.)
It’s hard to imagine someone going through all the trouble of researching these topics and concocting such a story simply to hoax the online conspiracy theory community, but stranger things have happened on the Internet. No one is entirely certain what Hidden Hand’s agenda was, and it’s highly unlikely we will ever find out.
The quintessential bogeyman of modern Illuminati conspiracy theories, Michael Aquino’s work in Psychological Operations (PSYOP) for the United States military would have undoubtedly drawn attention from conspiracy theorists without his ties to the Church of Satan. In fact, Aquino did not agree with the atheistic views of the original Church of Satan, eventually founding the Temple of Set for true believers in the power of Satan. Not surprisingly, he became a prime target during the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and ’90s.
In his professional career, Aquino worked on PSYOP for the Army. In 1980, he co-wrote a document titled “From PSYOP To Mindwar,” which speculated about such techniques as electromagnetic weaponry designed to interfere with neurological systems. The document was eventually leaked and many conspiracy theorists now insist that this technology is being used against American citizens.
In 1987, Army chaplain Lawrence Adams-Thomas leveled allegations of Satanic ritual abuse and sexual molestation at Aquino and his wife. No charges were ever brought against the Aquinos, although many conspiracy theorists dismiss this as evidence of a cover-up. It’s important to note that there is no indication that the accusations were any more credible than the countless other groundless claims of Satanic ritual abuse at the time.
In 2013, Aquino published Mindwar, a book detailing his experiences in the military and the Temple of Set. In conjunction with the release of his book, Aquino granted a rare interview to the forum members of abovetopsecret.com. Although this did nothing to improve his reputation among his most die-hard detractors, it is a fascinating discourse between conspiracy aficionados and a man often equated with the devil himself.