On January 16, 1991, as American aircraft bombed Baghdad in the early hours of the first Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush gave a speech proclaiming a “New World Order,” in which an alliance of industrial nations would counter military aggression on the part of Third World countries worldwide. Catchy phrases of this sort have long been a staple of American political speechmaking, and Bush and his speechwriters were doubtless startled to find that within months this phrase had turned into an element in conspiracy theories around the world.

The phrase “New World Order” actually surfaced years before in the writings of John Birch Society founder Robert Welch. Once a fervent anticommunist, Welch saw conservative Republicans turn against his organization and embrace measures that, at least in his opinion, surrendered America to communist rule. His encounter with the writings of eighteenth-century Illuminati hunters Augustin de Barruel and John Robison, and their early twentieth-century followers such as Nesta Webster, explained why: conservatives no less than liberals were dupes or willing participants in an all-encompassing conspiracy. The mysterious “Insiders” who directed the plot, he believed, aimed at a global police state in which marriage, religion, private property, and individual freedom would be abolished. In 1972, he began using “New World Order” to describe the Insiders’ goal. See Bavarian Illuminati; John Birch Society.

Under Welch’s leadership, the John Birch Society became a major seedbed of conspiracy theory and played a central role in disseminating the distinctive secret society mythology of the late twentieth century: the belief that a single omnipotent secret society already controls the world’s governments and economic systems, and is simply waiting for the right moment to cast aside the illusion of democracy and wield openly the power it currently exercises covertly. These ideas derive from the Theosophical belief in the Great White Lodge, the benevolent secret government of the planet. Antisemitic circles in late nineteenth-century Europe fused this with the conservative fear of liberal secret societies to create the myth of a single conspiracy for world domination. This provided the central theme to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the most notorious work of antisemitic literature in the twentieth century. Welch himself rejected antisemitism, but most of his claims about the Insiders simply repeat material from the Protocols. See Great White Lodge; Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Writers who helped Welch put this mythology into circulation included Gary Allen, Des Griffin, and A. Ralph Epperson among others, and most got their start in the John Birch Society’s magazine American Opinion. Gary Allen, a frequent American Opinion contributor, was particularly influential in the development of the New World Order idea. He argued in his None Dare Call It Conspiracy (1971) that the “world supra-government” behind the approaching global police state was headed by international banking families and controlled through the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a New York-based think-tank founded in 1923 and supported by Rockefeller money. Allen’s theory was quickly adopted across the far right and became the basis of dozens of books exposing the alleged machinations of the CFR and its members. See Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Unexpectedly, these claims also found a hearing at the other end of the political spectrum, where the collapse of the New Left in the early 1970s left many activists looking for a new ideology to replace Marxism. They found it in books such as Laurence Shoup and William Minter’s Imperial Brain Trust (1977) and Holly Sklar’s Trilateralism (1980), which pinpointed the CFR and its offshoot, the Trilateral Commission, as the hidden hands behind corporate imperialism in the post-Second World War world. Later works from both sides of the political spectrum drew in other familiar conspiracy theory names, such as the Committee of 300. See Committee of 300; Trilateral Commission.

Well before 1991, then, the phrase “New World Order” had become a buzzword among both left- and right-wing conspiracy theorists. Many books published in the 1980s even claimed that the phrase could be found on the back of the US dollar bill. The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States shows a pyramid topped by an eye in a triangle, and the Latin words NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM beneath; the phrase actually means “A new order for the ages” but can easily be misread “New World Order” or “New Secular Order” by those with a shaky grasp of Latin.

Thus when President Bush chose that phrase to frame his ambitions for a Pax Americana in the wake of the Soviet collapse and Iraq’s defeat, the conspiracy-minded took it as confirmation of their worst fears. Bush was himself a member of the CFR and past director of the CIA. Their suspicions were heightened when Francis Fukuyama, a State Department employee with close ties to the administration, published The End of History?, a manifesto proclaiming the permanent ascendancy of corporate capitalism and Republican politics as the culmination of human history. To believers in conspiracy theories, Fukuyama’s country club Utopia looked like a propaganda release on the part of the long-awaited global dictatorship.

Meanwhile a growing number of Christian fundamentalists were jumping on board the New World Order bandwagon. The overlap between John Birch Society political conservatives and religiously inspired social conservatives had always been large, and numerous figures on the radical fringe of the fundamentalist movement had adopted Welch’s analysis in the decades before 1990. After Bush’s speech, however, such talk quickly moved out of the fringes into the fundamentalist mainstream. See fundamentalism.

Fundamentalist minister (and presidential candidate) Pat Robertson led the way with a bestselling book, The New World Order (1991), that fused the John Birch Society theory of “Insiders” with Christian apocalyptic mythology. In Robertson’s view, Adam Weishaupt and the Bavarian Illuminati were Satanists who initiated the Rothschild banking family into occultism and used their money to launch the French Revolution as the first move in a plot against Christianity in preparation for the coming of the Antichrist. In this way Robertson imported the entire body of twentieth-century conspiracy theory into the fundamentalist subculture. See Antichrist.

Even before Robertson’s book made it popular, a growing number of fundamentalist writers had embraced modern conspiracy theory and adapted it to fit their religious beliefs. The huge alternative-history publishing industry, with its passion for reinterpreting Christian origins, was tailor-made for this project. Bestselling books such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail argued for the existence of a secret underworld of noble families concealing a religious tradition at odds with Christian orthodoxy; in the hands of fundamentalist authors these became the “black nobility,” an alliance of aristocrats in the service of the Antichrist.

The fundamentalist adoption of New World Order rhetoric was far from the strangest reworking of the New World Order theory. David Icke, a former BBC football commentator and Green Party candidate turned conspiracy hunter, burst onto the scene in 1995 with the first of a series of books claiming that the New World Order was under the control of alien reptiles. According to Icke, a cabal of aristocratic families, descended from lizards from another dimension, controlled the world in secret. See Reptilians.

As this last example suggests, the belief in an approaching New World Order has long since passed beyond the realm of history into the worlds of theology and mythic symbolism, where the mere fact that the New World Order never quite manages to arrive cannot quench the conviction of the faithful. It has also come to play an economic role as an effective marketing gimmick to boost sales of assault rifles and survival gear. These factors make it likely that the New World Order mythology will continue to unfold in the decades to come.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006


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