How Banned Cartoonist Scott Adams Became The American Illuminati

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Johann Adam Weishaupt, Founder of the Illuminati Source: Art of Charm, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone loves a good mystery. Everyone loves a good conspiracy. And, if you happen upon a good mystery interwoven with a good conspiracy, then you’ve got a best seller on your hands.

Just ask Dan Brown. He’s made a career writing trendy books that allude to the mysteries of the Illuminati. These include The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both of which, along with Brown’s Inferno, have been made into movies starring Tom Hanks.

Brown writes of a popularized vision of the Illuminati. He is not alone in painting a picture of the clandestine group as a nefarious conclave set on world domination. Through the ages, many have used the Illuminati as their favorite punching bag. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Illuminati was “credited with activities ranging from the instigation of the French Revolution to the assassination of U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy.”

Josef Wages, author of The Secret School of Wisdom: The Authentic Rituals and Doctrines of the Illuminati and a board member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, explains the reason for this. He says, “There was a nice convenient vacuum and, until my book was published, there wasn’t a whole lot of concrete information about them. People could inject anything they wanted to about them. The Illuminati could be the founders of communism, they could be trying to overthrow the world, or they could be a nice convenient excuse for the problems in the world. In the absence of information, they could say anything, but we’ve now put a baseline in.”

The reality differs greatly from the fictional Illuminati. Although some scholars find inklings of early versions, the historic Illuminati began on May 1, 1776, when Adam Weishaupt, godson of a university book censor, formed a secret society known as the “Perfectibilists.” By 1785, the group had fully disbanded.

Why was it a secret society?

Wages says after Weishaupt’s parents died in his early youth, his godfather raised him. Rather than burning the banned books, his godfather kept them in a hidden storage. Curious, Weishaupt read the entire library. As a professor of canon law at Ingolstadt, he desperately desired to share this forbidden knowledge. To do so, he set up secret classes. Weishaupt guarded these covert meetings through the use of cyphers and special titles. He even went so far as to rename towns and provinces where the group would meet.

The so-called “Bavarian Illuminati” lasted only about a decade before it fizzled out. In a last-ditch effort to survive, it adopted many mannerisms of the more popular Freemasonry movement. Wages said they did this in an attempt “to take Masons for their money and their members.” The effort failed, and the Illuminati disappeared forever. At least the real one did. The imaginary one kept popping up as a go-to whipping boy.

“The Illuminati aren’t what you think they are,” says Wages. “It’s not the Dan Brown conspiracy version. It’s not the Jay Z/Beyoncé version. It was none of these things. These guys were benevolent by today’s standards. And we have already accomplished the reforms they were advocating for in society through universal education and a general application of morality and virtue.”

But the lessons of the historical Illuminati endure. Indeed, we may be witnessing them play out again before our eyes this very day.

The Illuminati emerged during an era of rampant book banning. You might call it an eighteenth-century version of “woke.” And banning something most often leads to unintended consequences.

Think about what you felt like as a kid when some adult told you that you couldn’t do something. It made you want to do it even more.

Such is the paradox of banning anything. It’s why book-burning never succeeded at any time in history. It’s why authors, musicians, and other creative artists desire for some authority to ban their works. Free publicity. More fame. More sales.

It’s simple. It’s math. It works.

Look at what happened to Scott Adams, perhaps most widely known as the creator of Dilbert, but who has ventured into other fields over the last few years. Forget about the details leading up to his personal Inquisition. Focus solely on the results.

Just like Weishaupt, Adams says he wanted to share his knowledge, a knowledge he understood wasn’t politically correct. While Weishaupt already had banned material to entice followers, Adams did not and chose hyperbole to accomplish this. That hyperbole got him banned in a spectacular way.

On the other hand, the ensuing free publicity increased his brand awareness dramatically.

Those familiar with Rosser Reeves will recall he used two metrics to determine the success of any marketing campaign (see “Should You Go Wide Or Go Deep,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, May 9, 2019). Reeves defined “penetration” as the measure of awareness—how many people now recognize the product.

Adams certainly pulled this off. He now has nearly a million followers on Twitter. Before his banning, his daily YouTube show “Real Coffee With Scott Adams” generally had a couple thousand viewers for each episode (with a few notable exceptions). Since his banning, he has regularly had multiple tens of thousands of viewers.

Additionally, and more important to Reeves, is the measure he called “usage pull.” In marketing, this is how many people purchase the product once they become aware of the product. For instance, it’s one thing to have a million followers on Twitter, but how many will actually take action if you ask them to? That’s usage pull.

For Weishaupt, while there may have been penetration, there wasn’t much usage pull. It’s one reason he tried to bring Freemasonry into his movement. As history shows, the lack of usage pull ultimately led to the failure of the Illuminati.

Will Scott Adams suffer the same fate? Something tells me, if he fails, it won’t be for the same reasons as Weishaupt. Adams knows a thing or two more than the average bear when it comes to persuasion (hence, marketing). He’s also probably wealthy enough, and his enterprise is low cost enough, where he can continue doing what he’s doing until fate releases him from his mortal coil.

But is that enough for him? If he truly wants to share his knowledge (and it appears he’s genuine about this), there are several different ways to rate his usage pull. The first, and more traditional measure, is to see how many new people join his premium online community at (and at $5 a month, most people can afford to join).

On March 13th, it will be the only place people can find his comic Dilbert (which Adams will newly christen as Dilbert Reborn). As of March 12th, the last day newspapers will publish Dilbert, Adams had 80,000 subscribers to his site. For those of you counting, after the platform and credit card fees are taken out, that’s about $4 million per year going into Scott Adams bank account.

You can see why he’s in a happy place. He’s free from the woke constraints of traditional publishers and still making millions. It may be a lot less than what he was making (he claims he’s lost 80% of his revenues), but $4 million dollars a year makes a nice retirement pension, especially if you can keep doing the things you love (after all, isn’t that what retirement is all about?).

You can also see why Adam’s efforts likely won’t suffer the same financial woes that visited Weishaupt’s Illuminati.

Regarding usage pull, the more difficult, yet more significant measure, is to see how many people actually implement some of his ideas. Adams seems to say getting people to learn and adopt his knowledge represents his ultimate quest.

Getting people to act on his ideas is the more interesting measure, because if Adams succeeds here, he won’t need to do what he’s doing anymore.


Because when everyone is a member of the Illuminati, no one is a member of the Illuminati.

Let’s check back in ten years to see how things turn out for Adams.


  1. […] historical conspiracy trope tell us about today’s news? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “How Banned Cartoonist Scott Adams Became The American Illuminati” to see if a cartoonist can succeed where a philosopher […]

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