Economists and historians might have complicated answers about why gas prices rise, the stock market goes down or who shot JFK. But others know better. "It's the Illuminati, stupid," they'll tell you. Listening to them, you'd think the Illuminati is the theory of everything. It explains events from American history, pop music, the weather, even the mermaid logo on the Starbucks cup.
Conspiracy theorists believe the Illuminati is a sinister league of secret power brokers, whose membership over the past several centuries has amounted to a who's who of the powerful, rich and influential, from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson to rapper Jay-Z [sources: Knight, Obias].
As the story goes, the Illuminati has co-opted governments and banks, manipulated stock markets and energy prices, staged assassinations and cover-ups, and in myriad ways quietly tugged on the puppet strings that control the unwary masses. They've even tricked us into participating in their secret rituals based upon ancient Egyptian mysticism, and carrying currency emblazoned with their symbolism in our wallets [source: McConnachie and Tudge].
And it almost sounds plausible, doesn't it? As Scientific American columnist and author Michael Shermer has noted, we are "pattern-seeking animals," neurologically hard-wired to seek explanations and put the pieces together – even when there isn't a connection, and the pieces don't fit [source: Kiger].
There are enough conspiracy theories about the Illuminati to fill a book, or even a library. Here are 10 of the most outlandish and entertaining.
This belief contains a few grains of actual reality. In 1776, Bavarian university professor Adam Weishaupt founded a club called the Order of Perfectibilists, aka the Illuminati. Basically, they were a bunch of guys – no more than a few hundred, at the movement's peak – who copied some of the mystical symbolism from the more popular Masonic lodges. They sat around kvetching about the German nobility and the Jesuit religious order, and waxing philosophical about egalitarianism. They were fairly harmless, but even so, in 1785, Bavarian Elector Prince Karl-Theodor – apparently a bit thin-skinned – ordered the Illuminati and other secret associations to disband [source: McConnachie and Tudge].
But the Illuminati name was too cool to fade away. When arrested in Rome in 1789, an occultist and faith healer named Cagliostro appeased the Inquisition by confessing to knowledge of a secret group that, among other things, was plotting to overthrow the papacy [source: McConnachie and Tudge].
The story was so fascinating that it mutated and jumped the Atlantic. In 1798 in Massachusetts, the Rev. Jedidiah Morse denounced the Illuminati from the pulpit, and when pressed, fingered conspicuously secular Thomas Jefferson as its U.S. leader. A pamphlet that accused the imaginary group of being "indefatigably engaged in destroying the religion and government of the United States" soon followed [source: Knight]. In the years after, the Illuminati became conspiratorial fodder for everyone from the John Birch Society to author Dan Brown, whose 2000 novel "Angels and Demons" uses them as villains.
Yale University's Skull and Bones Society was founded in 1832 by William Huntington Russell, the offspring of a New England slave-owning and opium-trafficking family, and Alphonso Taft, the father of future president William Howard Taft [source: Goldwag]. Since then, the secret club has initiated scores of Yalies who, after reportedly engaging in rituals such as kissing a skull and wrestling naked in a crypt, have gone on to positions of great power in society, including Time magazine founder Henry Luce and former President George W. Bush [sources: Associated Press, McEnery, Goldwag].
That combination of secrecy, weird practices and influence has proven irresistible to Illuminati conspiracy theorists, who see Skull and Bones as something akin to an Illuminati training ground, where after being recruited, members just happen to end up in positions of vast influence. Prominent Illuminati conspiracy theorist author Robert Hieronimus claims that Skull and Bones founder Russell even modeled his group after a German Illuminati offshoot called the Brotherhood of Death, which "is said to have plotted an underground conspiracy to dominate the world."
So what is this organization really? Though members are sworn to secrecy, an Atlantic magazine article reported that 15 campus leaders are tapped each year for the society; in recent years, an effort has been made to attract diverse students. Skull and Bones members meet in a mausoleum-like structure called the Tomb twice a week, once for socializing and once to debate current affairs. They have no master plan to take over the world, apparently.
To listen to Illuminati conspiracy theorists, the fiendish clandestine cabal has had its malevolent fingers in violent events ranging from the French Revolution to the Sept. 11 attacks, and plotted numerous assassinations in the process.
So it's not that much of a surprise that they've also discovered what the Warren Commission somehow overlooked, that the Illuminati was behind the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. But according to The Week, a British-based news magazine, there are different schools of thought on the motivation. One theory is that the Illuminati put out a hit on JFK because he wanted to end the Vietnam War, a burgeoning conflict that promised to be profitable for Illuminati financiers of the Military-Industrial Complex. An alternative explanation is that the Illuminati was upset about what it saw as JFK's intent to limit the power of the Federal Reserve System, which of course also happens to be controlled by the secret group.
In September 1990, President George H.W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress to announce that the U.S. military and allies would go to war to evict Iraqi troops who had invaded Kuwait. But Bush said the mission had a greater objective – establishment of what he called a "a new world order" in which nations of the world would live together in harmony. "A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace," he proclaimed [source: Miller Center].
Bush's attempt at soaring rhetoric, however, was a dog whistle to Illuminati conspiracy theorists. (Bush senior was also a member of Skull and Bones, like his son!) Theorists saw the speech as portending the eventual elimination of national borders, governments and currencies. All those would be replaced by a global dictatorship under the United Nations, which would send shock troops in black helicopters to enforce its dictates and imprison dissenters in concentration camps. After that, the Illuminati-led new world order (NWO) would implant microchips in helpless citizens to control their minds [source: Barkun].
Conspiracy theorist John Coleman predicted that the NWO also would employ "human-like robots," which conjures up an image of a future that would resemble the "Terminator" movie franchise. Consider yourself warned.
It's often said that the U.S. dollar bill is filled with secret signs from Freemasonry, rather than the Illuminati. But as an article on one anti-Illuminati website maintains, there's a sort of Venn diagram connection between the two secret societies, in which high-ranking masons also are members of the Illuminati. Therefore, masonic symbols also can be Illuminati symbols.
Numerous self-published Illuminati exposé authors point out that the dollar bill bears the unmistakable signs of an evil plot to dominate humanity. Many of these are contained on the back of the bill, which shows the Great Seal of the U.S., the pyramid and the eagle. The pyramid topped by a glowing eye is a representation of the Illuminati's supernatural power and penchant for surveillance. There's also the "1776," which just coincidentally happens to be the date of both America's independence and the Illuminati society's founding. And the Latin slogan Novus Ordo Seclorum ("A new order of the ages") really cinches it [sources: Holt, Popovich, Lett, Springer].
It's just as telling that the Great Seal was added to the currency in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt, a freemason and an obvious candidate for the Illuminati if ever there was one. Conspiracy theorists aren't likely to buy the alternative explanation offered on a Federal Reserve System website, which is that FDR liked the Latin phrase because he and Agriculture Secretary and fellow freemason Henry Wallace mistakenly translated it to mean "A New Deal of the Ages."
As for the pyramid, it stands for strength and duration, according to one of its designers, Charles Thomson. The 13 rows of building blocks in the pyramid represent the 13 original colonies. And the eye "alludes to the many signal interpositions of Providence in favor of the American cause," he wrote in 1782 [source: Goldsmith].
As Illuminati watchers warn us, the members of the secret sect are so devious that they're not content merely to put their coded messages on U.S. money. They also put them on the stuff we buy with it. According to YouTube videos posted by conspiracy theorists, the original 1971 Starbucks logo, which featured an innocuous, playful-looking twin-tailed mermaid, was actually a ruse. Turned upside down, it became a goat's head, an occult and satanic symbol associated with the Illuminati.
The latest, streamlined version, adopted in 2011 is filled with subtler but equally insidious symbols. The mermaid's crown, for example, has a star on it, which takes the place of the all-seeing eye on the pyramid that that the Illuminati inserted in in the Great Seal of the U.S. And let's not forget that mermaids themselves are actually malevolent supernatural creatures who lure unwary humans to their deaths, which makes them an apt symbol for the sinister aims of the Illuminati [source: FreemasonWorld].
On its corporate website, Starbucks naturally offers a more innocuous explanation, saying the mermaid actually is based upon 16th-century Norse woodcut that company officials stumbled upon while looking for nautical motifs, and is intended to be the "true, welcoming face of Starbucks." But what else would you expect "them" to say?
As recent revelations by former government contractor Edward Snowden detailed, the National Security Agency (NSA)'s ubiquitous eavesdropping network spies on hundreds of millions of people across the world – collecting information "about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days, and where they spend their nights," as the New York Times described it in a 2014 editorial. To Illuminati watchers, the connection seems so obvious – how could an agency with such far-reaching tentacles not be a player in the Illuminati plan for world domination? Even more suspicious is the fact that when you type the domain name Itanimulli.com – "Illuminati" spelled backward –into your browser, it takes you to the public website of the NSA!
Just before you get nervous, do a domain search for this website name, which would reveal it's owned by a Utah man named John Fenley who bought it in 2002. Fenley later revealed he had his website rerouted to the NSA just for a prank and doesn't believe the Illuminati exists. "When I had the idea to forward the domain to the NSA I couldn't pass it up, and couldn't stop laughing," Fenley wrote [source: Goldwag].
OK, it may seem a little implausible that a society could remain secret and yet have a vast membership roll that is rumored to include high-profile figures ranging from Queen Elizabeth II to Jay-Z. But if you look at in a different way, that could just be another sign of how diabolically clever the Illuminati truly are.
Notice, for example, the eyeball singer Miley Cyrus has tattooed on her finger, which seems suspiciously similar to the Illuminati all-seeing eye [source: Primeau]. And then there's Kanye West, who rapped with Jay-Z while wearing a shirt emblazoned with the goat-head symbol that also just happens to be associated with the Illuminati [source: BeginningandEnd.com]. To make matters worse, Beyonce and Jay-Z's child, Blue Ivy's name just happens to be an anagram for "Born Living Under Evil – Illuminati's Very Youngest" [source: Schwartz].
And who could ignore the Illuminati connection to Katy Perry's halftime performance at the 2015 Super Bowl, which was filled with the sort of Egyptian mystical affectations also favored by the secret conspiratorial group, and took place in a stadium allegedly located at the same latitude as the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre, another object of Illuminati fascination [sources: Illuminatiwatcher.com, Infowars.com]. On her 2015 "Rebel Heart" CD, Madonna brazenly even included a song, "Illuminati," in which she listed various rumored celebrity members and sang that "the all-seeing eye is watching tonight ... it's like everybody in this party, shining like Illuminati" [source: Miller]. Maybe she was kidding. But, maybe not.
You've probably noticed those wispy white trails that sometimes appear across the daytime sky. NASA's website says that these are man-made clouds, formed when water vapor condenses around tiny particles of pollution from the exhaust of jet aircraft, and forms streams of short-lived ice crystals that eventually vanish as they return to a vapor state.
But to conspiracy theorists, that explanation seems a little, too, ah, convenient. They maintain that the contrails are actually "chemtrails," which are deliberately released from aircraft as part of a sinister, secret plot to alter the weather. As an article on the website Illuminati Agenda explains, one suspicion is that the man-made clouds help to concentrate energy weapons that manipulate electricity in the ionosphere, a part of the atmosphere. Another possibility is that the clouds may be part of some larger plot to block sunlight and/or poison the soil to reduce farm yields, forcing humanity to become dependent upon genetically modified food crops that, of course, the Illuminati control.
Most likely, the anonymous author argues, all of these things are happening at once: "It makes obvious sense to the illuminati to make use of all potential avenues instead of just one as it allows them to bombard us from numerous angles which gives us little room for maneuver." Obviously.
You might think that the Beatles were four lads from Liverpool whose catchy reinvention of American-style rock 'n' roll and irreverent, playful charisma inspired teenage adulation on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1960s. But that would be naïve of you.
"The Beatles were an Illuminati creation," David Richards explains in a 2014 article on the website Humans Are Free. "Their songs were written for them and handlers scripted their actions and words." As Richards and other Illuminati expos-writers detail, these musical Manchurian candidates were coached by experts employed by the Illuminati's Committee of 300, a shadowy group within the British aristocracy, who then conspired with TV host Ed Sullivan and other media outlets to popularize the Beatles' songs [sources: Coleman, McConnachie and Tudge, Van L uling]. And all this time you thought Lennon and McCartney were genius songwriters!
No, sir. The lyrics were designed by psychologists to plant "trigger words" in youthful minds, encouraging them to rebel against conventional values and experiment with drugs –whose production was also secretly controlled and financed by our overlords. All this, Richards explains, was intended to accomplish the Illuminati mission of dismantling traditional social values and furthering "formation of a corrupted Brave New World-style slave populace." Since the Beatles changed the course of music forever, the only explanation must be that the Illuminati wanted it that way.
HowStuffWorks presents 10 stories of people who experienced really bad luck, like Pete Best, Ron Wayne and Richard Jewell.
Author's Note: 10 Things People Believe About the Illuminati
I enjoyed this assignment because I've been writing about conspiracy theorists since the late 1980s, when I did a newspaper feature story about the legions of amateur JFK assassination researchers who spent their nights and weekends looking for holes in the Warren Commission report and perusing the Zapruder film for clues that other investigators had missed. That subculture seemed kinder and gentler than the 9-11 Truthers that I've written about more recently, who seemed to view anyone who didn't immediately embrace their overarching suspicions as part of the conspiracy.
More Great Links
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