By: Nisha Krishnan
Someone who is a proponent of the Illuminati conspiracy theory believes that there is an elite and secret organization called the “Illuminati” who is seeking to create a dominant world totalitarian government (Bergara & Medej, 2016). This “New World Order,” so named, involves a single government (made up of Illuminati members) that would rule over the entire planet. According to a survey done about the Illuminati, 23% of Americans believe in the Illuminati and New World Order (Bergara & Medej, 2016). There also seems to be a link with conservative beliefs, as many conservatives are unhappy with the amount of involvement of the government in private affairs. There are many different theories as to who runs the illuminati, but the general consensus is that celebrities and government officials alike are part of it. Information about the illuminati is heavily prevalent on the conspiracy theories section of Youtube, in documentaries, and on websites such as www.illuminatiofficial.org. This theory enjoys popularity today, as most people are somewhat aware of the Illuminati, even if they don’t believe in it. This theory is extraordinary because its claims are extraordinary—they go against everything we know about our world currently. As far as we are taught, different countries have different governments, and America especially has safeguards against authoritarianism. The idea that there is a group who will control everything defies the Founding Fathers’ wishes of freedom for citizens—what our country is founded on.
There are many different forms of evidence that people use to justify the existence of the Illuminati. For instance, there are certain symbols such as the Eye of Horus and pyramid (both on US currency), and when people see this in popular media, they believe it is evidence for that company/organization’s involvement in the Illuminati (Hahn, 2018). Another reason people believe that the Illuminati exists is because it did exist in the past (Santoro, 2018). It was created by Weishaupt in Germany, who wanted to have a group where people could have discussions about secularism (Bergara & Medej, 2016). However, during this time period, the Illuminati was about anti-religiosity and free thought. But many people believe that when the Church shut down Weishaupt’s group, it continued underground and exists today under the New World Order plan. Another piece of evidence that supporters use is that cops have become more heavily armed than ever, which is indicative of the government militarizing the police (Santoro, 2018). Under a New World Order, we would have to have a strong police force to control citizens. Finally, there are many claims that the illuminati is “killing celebrities and replacing them with clones” in an attempt to brainwash society (Bergara & Medej, 2016). These claims are backed up by video footage showing certain celebrities looking confused or staring off into space, to suggest that they are “glitching”. For example, there are clips of Beyonce, Eminem, and Al Roker staring off into space or freezing for prolonged periods of time in news clips (Bergara & Medej, 2016).
There is also a laundry list of evidence that questions the existence of the Illuminati. For one, there is not conclusive evidence that definitely shows that the Illuminati exists (Hahn, 2018). Much of the evidence touted for the Illuminati relies on theories made by proponents, or video clips interpreted by proponents. However, there isn’t a way to test that the Illuminati exists, because it is impossible to prove that it doesn’t exist (since it is supposedly a “secret society”). Additionally, many people have questioned why a society that is supposed to be so secretive would put out so many “hints” that they exist for followers to interpret (Hahn, 2018). If the society was real, and their primary goal was to hide their existence, it would make more sense for them to erase any videos or online content discussing the Illuminati, and not show any proof to the world (currently there are thousands of Illuminati conspiracy videos on Youtube). Finally, there is the point that in our capitalist society, the ability to make money by any means necessary is very important. Skeptics point out that if people put occult or illuminati symbolism in their content, it will help them gain popularity because people love to talk about conspiracies (Hahn, 2018). If influencers are purposefully including this material in their content, it would falsify at least some of the claims of the “proof” of the illuminati.
There are two major cognitive contributions that are influential in people’s propensities to believe in the illuminati—confirmation bias, and the error of logic discussed in FiLCHeRs. For confirmation bias, much of the proof that is used to verify the existence of the illuminati is popular culture—videos, news, celebrity behavior, etc. When people see these ambiguous sources of information, they will often find a way to construe the evidence in a way that supports their belief. For example, there was a clip of Beyonce at a basketball game where she was zoned out for 30 minutes and moving her head from side to side. This video was used as proof that celebrities are killed and then replaced with clones that sometimes “glitch”. This was an ambiguous source—Beyonce could have simply been zoned out and moving her head because her eyes were tracking the movement of the game of basketball she was watching. However, illuminati conspiracists interpreted this video to mean that Beyonce is a part of the illuminati and she was glitching. When every piece of ambiguous information shown to you is interpreted by you to be evidence for the illuminati, this reifies the strength of the belief you hold. In the lines of the example discussed, these conspiracists would be ignoring all of the times Beyonce was behaving “normally” because it didn’t fit into their narrative. Another cognitive contribution is the issue of logic. Ryan Bergara and Shane Medej (2016) interviewed a professor of conspiracy theories who discussed how many illuminati supporters use a “trail of evidence” to support their beliefs. They start in small steps where their logic sounds rational, and then suddenly make a crazy leap to where their evidence starts to sound irrational (Bergara & Medej, 2016). This fits into an issue with logic because while the premises may be true, the conclusions do not follow from the premises. For example, they may start by discussing how the government is overly involved in people’s lives (rational, especially after the Patriot Act) and then make the jump that all of government is made up of lizard people that control the world. I believe that those who believe the theory are misinformed because they believe that there are these complex meaningful patterns in randomness (apophenia), and it is easy to fall into this level of mistakenness when the information starts small as a “foot in the door” and spirals into these huge unbelievable conspiracy theories.
I wouldn’t say there is one specific community that illuminati believers come from, but there are certainly characteristics that are common between subsets of the population. One characteristic is conservative beliefs. As mentioned above, the illuminati and conservatives share the critical belief that the government is heavily involved in the lives of its citizens. Many of the current Illuminati theorists are right wing, incuding Mark Koernke, David Icke, Pat Robertson, and Donald Marshall (Bergara & Medej, 2016). Another characteristic that stems from right-wing extremism is anti Semitism. The Illuminati conspiracy is inherently anti Semetic because a large part of the population of believers think that Jews control the world (similar to the propaganda touted during Nazi Germany). To believe that any one group controls the world is in line with the idea of the illuminati and the New World Order. Finally, I would say that generally, Illuminati proponents are people that have a great deal of cynicism and mistrust of the world around them. To believe in conspiracies is to believe that what you see around you is not objective reality, but rather a reality created to somehow dupe you. The social influences that help sustain their beliefs involve a sense of community. When you have a deep mistrust of the world around you, this ideology goes against our major beliefs of reality. This may isolate you from the larger community, but when you find people who are like you and who believe what you believe, this justifies your commitment to the belief. If you were alone in your belief, you might give into the pressure of societal norms. But with a strong community of believers, you have people to back up your point of view.
Whether you believe in the Illuminati or not, you cannot deny that it is one of the most popular conspiracies out there currently. The problem with this belief is that it reifies stereotypical beliefs of Jews controlling the world, and it creates a sense of fear and panic in society to propose that we will all be controlled in an authoritarian government some day. The psychological explanations for the belief system, including confirmation bias, logic errors, stereotype heuristics, and herd mentality help to create a more holistic view of this conspiracy theory. By understanding why people have this belief and how it is maintained psychologically, we can attempt to educate the world to think more critically about unverified conspiracy theories, as well as analyze the world around us in a more scientific way.
Bergara, R., & Madej, S. (2016, July 29). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C9wZf88y4Q
Hahn, J. D. (2018, September 27). So, What Exactly Is the Illuminati Conspiracy? Are the Illuminati real? Retrieved February 7, 2019, from https://www.complex.com/pop- culture/2018/09/what-is-the-illuminati-conspiracy-and-who-are-its-members/are-they- real
Santoro, M. (2018, July 28). Retrieved February 07, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYBT1yOdWb8&t=294s