I was surprised to see this article on the front page of Yahoo!, with the title being the same as above.
The reporter walked into his office expecting a normal day at work: cup of coffee, call some sources, the usual routine.
But this wasn’t going to be an ordinary day at all.
His editor had other ideas. Darker ideas.
The editor wanted an article on the new Dan Brown novel called “The Lost Symbol”, about a conspiracy by Freemasons in Washington.
The long-awaited book features Robert Langdon, the hero of Brown’s previous smash hits “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons,” on a dramatic quest in and around Washington’s most famous landmarks to find a secret hidden long ago by the Masons.
But the editor was intrigued by a real-world question: How many present-day members of Congress are Freemasons? And is any member of Congress also a Knight Templar — a famous subgroup of Masons that traces its lineage to the medieval crusaders?
In a flash, the reporter realized he had spent years acquiring the skills needed to complete the quest to find the Freemasons on Capitol Hill — and finish it before the looming deadline.
I am the only man in this cubicle who can write this story.
The reporter turns to the same exotic and arcane research tool Langdon uses in the book: Google. There, he finds a clue.
A YouTube video shows a member of Congress accepting an award from his fellow Masons in 2008. It’s Joe Wilson — the South Carolina Republican who shouted “You lie!” at President Barack Obama this month. He says he is a member of the Sinclair Lodge of West Columbia, S.C.
“For over 250 years, Masons have been a part of the fabric and leadership of the United States,” Wilson says on the video. “The grand tradition of brotherhood is a reflection of the very framework this nation was founded upon.”
No answers there, and Wilson’s office declined to elaborate.
Next, the reporter dialed the number of Dick Fletcher, executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association, a sort of national clearinghouse for Masonic information.
But Fletcher said Masons don’t keep records of government officials who are members — and wouldn’t release them if they did, for privacy reasons.
Deadline approaches. There were forces at work that no one could comprehend.
The reporter turned to an even more eminent figure, Senate Historian Don Ritchie. But Ritchie said there’s no list of Masons in Congress. Politicians have long been drawn to the group, he says, because of its grass-roots political organizing power.
The reporter heard a chime and looked up at his computer screen in astonishment. An electronic message has appeared there, as if by magic.
These are words. And they’re written in English, an ancient language I happen to speak.
It was an e-mail, from a hidden and well-placed source. And it contained a list of names of members of Congress. Hidden among them was the Knight Templar.
But which one was it?
The reporter raced to the one place he knew he could find answers: the U.S. Capitol. Dashing into the building, he found the first of the names on his list — House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican offered a few cryptic words as he ascended the grand House stairway just beneath an enormous painting of George Washington.
Cantor’s fellow Virginian was perhaps the most famous American Mason, but nine signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Ben Franklin, and 13 signers of the Constitution were Masons. As many as 14 presidents have been Masons.
Legend has it that the fraternal organization descended from medieval stone masonry guilds. Its membership is open to men of any religion, so long as they profess faith in a supreme being.
It has long attracted conspiracy theories that Masons seek to control the world. Its members, though, say it is simply a social and charitable organization, albeit one with secret handshakes and codes.
“I joined the Masons about 20 years ago, because my dad and uncle were members of a lodge down in Richmond,” Cantor said as he climbed the stairs. “But I haven’t participated in a long time. I’m just too busy.” He says he doesn’t know anything about the new Dan Brown book and continues down a hallway.
The reporter quickly moved to a subterranean portal: the Senate subway. Soon enough, a figure emerges from the long tunnel. It’s Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. He, too, is a Mason.
“I really like the ceremony,” he says. “That’s what drew me to it.” He says his father-in-law invited him to join the Masons in the mid-1980s. “A lot of our Founding Fathers were Masons. Maybe because they liked to be so rebellious and nonconformist.”
But Tester hasn’t read the Dan Brown book, either. And when the reporter prods him about the conspiracy theories, he says simply: “I don’t put a lot of stock in all that.” Tester disappears onto the Senate floor.
Maybe Tester’s fellow Mason, Sen. Chuck Grassley, can offer enlightenment. The Iowa Republican says part of the appeal is the fraternity’s egalitarian worldview. “There are Masons in every country and in countries like Iran, where they are probably underground. Hitler didn’t like Masons,” Grassley said. And although the elaborate rituals may seem silly to outsiders — including the red fez worn by Shriner Masons — he said, “Don’t judge us by the funny hats we wear.”
The reporter was beginning to panic. He still hadn’t found the Knight Templar.
He vowed to press on.
It was going to take an even more exalted personage to solve the mystery. The reporter dialed the phone number of Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), a 33rd Degree Mason. “It’s a real first-class organization,” Coble says of Masonry. “If people conducted their lives along the way the Mason code is spelled out, there would be far fewer problems, far more solutions and far less chaos,” Coble says.
Ordo Ab Chao: Order out of chaos. He’s alluding to the Masonic credo. Now we’re getting somewhere.
The reporter presses for explanation. Coble demurs. “I can’t speak more openly than that,” he said. “I don’t want to get drummed out of the lodge.”
He explains that his Masonic brothers have already been lenient with him — since he’s too busy to get to meetings very often, he forgot the password to the lodge in North Carolina recently. A fellow Mason had to vouch for him.
"I’m proud to be a Mason,” Coble said. “But I’m not proud of my attendance record.”
The reporter raced through the other congressional Masons on his list. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.): Recently injured in a boating accident, he doesn’t respond to the reporter’s summons. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.): unavailable. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.): recently hospitalized.
The reporter stood in the opulently carpeted speaker’s lobby just off the House floor, peering through the glass doors into the chamber.
There, he spotted the object of his pursuit.
It was so obvious. How could he not have known?
The Knight Templar was standing in the back of the House chamber, chatting amiably with his fellow Democrats.
This was it. The moment the reporter had been working for.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) emerged, briefly, from the chamber. A genial 60-year-old with bushy eyebrows, the diminutive Rahall didn’t look anything like a medieval crusader. In fact, his family roots are in Lebanon, not Europe.
But Rahall is also a 33rd Degree Mason, who joined the secretive society about five years before he ran for Congress in 1976. “When I joined, there were a great deal of older individuals who helped me along the way and to whom I am deeply indebted to this day,” he said.
“We call each other ‘travelers,’” Rahall explained. “To become a 32nd or 33rd Degree Mason, there are a whole slew of degrees before that, and it’s a long road we’ve taken together.”
Rahall said he achieved his 33rd Degree status by two routes: through the Scottish Rite and through the York Rite, where he participated in the Commandery. That’s the portion of the Freemason tradition that makes Rahall a Knight Templar.
And although he hadn’t read the Dan Brown book, Rahall says he understands why the Masons attract so many conspiracy theories.
“It’s because, particularly in the early days, there were code words to get into the lodge, and everything is done by rituals,” Rahall said. “The Masons themselves helped perpetuate the myth, knowing it was just that — a myth.” The reporter screwed up his courage to ask one final question.
So is there a global conspiracy?
But you wouldn’t tell me if there was, would you?
“That’s right,” Rahall said with a smile.
Chuckling, the Knight Templar traveled back though the portal to the ancient floor of the House of Representatives.