Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kill the Mason!

Spoiler: Nope!

For those who might be tempted to dismiss obsession with Masonic conspiracy theories as harmless nuttery, this story out of New Mexico should make it clear just how dangerous such obsessions can become. A man there has been charged with vandalizing a Masonic lodge and attacking a church choir director that he believed to be a Mason. He claimed that his actions were motivated by Masonic involvement in a far-reaching conspiracy, which almost certainly is related to the "Illuminati" nonsense that has recently been all over the Internet.

Lawrence Capener, 24, told police that he tagged the Sandoval No. 76 Masonic Lodge in Rio Rancho with spray paint on Sunday, authorities said. Police later found red and blue spray paint on signs, outside walls and a door. Investigators said he also left the message, "I hope you guess who I am." Capener is accused of attacking a choir leader at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church at the end of Sunday Mass services. At least two others were stabbed in the attack when they tried to stop Capener.

According to a criminal complaint, Capener vaulted over pews and lashed out at choir director Adam Alvarez, who had his back toward him. The complaint said church flutist Gerald Madrid saw Alvarez being attacked and attempted to "bear hug" Capener to try and stop him. Madrid was then stabbed five times in his back by Capener, authorities said. Capener later told police that he was "99 percent sure Alvarez was a mason" and that he thought Alvarez was involved in a conspiracy.

It's not so much that reasonable people believe in Masonic conspiracies so evil that the only remedy is murder, but rather that these imaginary plots provide a convenient framework for the delusions of unhinged individuals just like space aliens and CIA operatives can. However, unlike space aliens Masons are actually present on this planet, and unlike CIA operatives they have no intelligence agencies keeping their identities secret. In fact, many Masons are open about their affiliation precisely because the fraternity does not actively recruit members. You have to ask one to become one, which is pretty difficult if you have no idea who the Masons are, so we're not that hard to find.

As a past master of Braden Lodge #168 here in the Twin Cities, I can assure you that eavesdropping on a Masonic meeting would be incredibly boring. The "sinister resolutions" we vote on involve things like paying the rent, planning fundraisers, and allocating charitable donations. Aside from that, we vote on petitions for membership and plan degrees, the latter being the only "secret" part of the meeting - because as in all mystery traditions, an important part of the initiation experience is coming to the degree without any preconceived idea of what will happen. Knowing about things like parts and cast lists almost certainly would give some of what goes on away.

There was a time when a sort of Masonic "conspiracy" did exist, but those days are long gone. When the United States was founded Masonry took on some of the duties performed by the state religions of Europe, such as dedicating buildings. At that time it was difficult to become successful in politics without being a member of the fraternity, and this generated enough concern among the public that our nation's first major third political party was the anti-Masonic party. Likewise, soldiers who fought in the Second World War became Masons in large numbers because lodges overseas provided instant fellowship, and when that generation returned so many had joined that it was difficult to succeed as an independent businessman without being a member.

Today, though, the fraternity has been in decline for decades. When I joined the lodge in 1997 there were almost twice as many Masons on the state of Minnesota as there are now. That same World War II generation that exploded the numbers of lodges everywhere is in the process of passing away, leaving many lodges nearly empty all over the country. The Boomer generation had little interest in what they perceived as an organization associated with the status quo, and as a result until relatively recently few younger members joined. It should be pointed out that if we Masons are indeed so powerful, why is it that these lodges are having so much trouble keeping their doors open?

In fact, it's possible that much of the conspiracy mumbo-jumbo about Masonry has become so prevalent is because with our reduced numbers, most people don't have Masons in their circle of friends so the fraternity seems exotic and weird. At the same time, our lack of resources means that an effective public relations campaign on behalf of Masonry would be too expensive to carry out in a reasonable and efficient manner. Besides, the most obsessed conspiracy theorists are not going to be convinced by such a campaign, and those are the very people most likely to become dangerous.

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