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.

Why America’s Founding Secretly Influences You

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You don’t have to be an American to say you’re an American. That was the whole idea of the American Experiment – it was meant for all nations, not just those uppity Tea Partiers who frolicked in Boston Harbor a few centuries back. But this experiment didn’t start with the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence or even the United States Constitution. It began with a collection of oppressed runaways and an accidental metaphor that endures to this day.

After reading a perhaps too rosy account of the Plymouth Colony by the Pilgrims Edward Winslow and William Bradford, excitement grew in England to establish more companies to Continue Reading “Why America’s Founding Secretly Influences You”

The Italian-American Triumvirate: #1 – God

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Each October we celebrate Italian-American Heritage Month. The month is obviously chosen in honor of the Italian that most influenced America: Christopher Columbus. Of course, Columbus’ discovery of the New World predated the creation of the United States by about three centuries, but our country long ago adopted his journey as an inspiration for the nation.

Columbus has since been joined by many Italian immigrants who would become Italian-Americans.

That’s an important distinction: “Italian-American.” It recognizes that you are, in fact, an Continue Reading “The Italian-American Triumvirate: #1 – God”

Home, Sweet Home: The Joy of Our Return to Space

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I sat fixed in front of what seemed a massive TV screen, my eyes glued to the shreds of white steam shooting from the rocket’s body.

My own body remained tense. “Would the mission be scrubbed at that last minute?” “Would there be an in-flight ‘anomaly’?” “Is there any Tang left?”

What year is it?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

1968? It was a terribly bad year.

1969? It was a joyful year of ascending achievement.

Today? Well that’s an interesting idea.

Let’s return to the beginning. If you’re a member of the “space age” generation (like me), you’ll enjoy (and reflect) on this brief trip down memory lane. If you’re too young to remember the 1960s, you’ll appreciate the eerie similarities that might have you question Continue Reading “Home, Sweet Home: The Joy of Our Return to Space”

Declaration of (Italian) American Independence

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“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus/When he said the world was round…” So begins the lyrics of Ira Gershwin for brother George’s 1937 composition “They All Laughed.” The Gershwins wrote the song for the movie Shall We Dance, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra famously included the tune in his masterpiece Trilogy album, where he sings the closing lyrics “Who’s got the last laugh now?” with a knowing wink.

From Christopher Columbus to Frank Sinatra, it’s clear that Italians and Italian-Americans have had a tremendous impact on America. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on those names history books seem to have neglected.

Did you know Italian-Americans played a prominent role in the founding of America? For example, three of the first five American warships were named after Italians. These were Continue Reading “Declaration of (Italian) American Independence”

The Virtues (and Vices) of Deadlines

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What kind of student were you? The kind that got all your homework done before school ended so you could play guilt-free the whole weekend, or the kind that played all weekend and crammed your homework assignment in that space of time between Sunday dinner and bedtime?

Sorry if I just caused tonight’s nightmare for you. No doubt these questions bring up horrible memories for those who the phrase “no more pencils, no more books…” was last uttered decades ago. Similarly, those still subject to the school bell probably wish to avoid these questions the same way they want to avert their eyes from the coming weeks’ advertising circulars trumpeting all their “back to school” sales.

It could be worse folks. I could write just another ad nauseum piece on the latest hearsay Continue Reading “The Virtues (and Vices) of Deadlines”

What The University of Chicago Can Teach Yale

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nathan_hale_statue_flanked_by_two_soldiers_yale_university_1917They took all incoming freshman on a special tour within a day of our arrival at the campus in New Haven. Those were ancient times, when many (like me) had neither the time nor the treasure to visit colleges prior to matriculation (let alone application). To this day, one fact from that introductory outing stands out in my much more crowded brain – the visit inside and around Connecticut Hall. Completed in 1757, this last remaining survivor of Yale’s “Old Brick Row” served as a dormitory for nearly two centuries. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

But that’s not what I remember.

Here’s what I remember: First, there was some obscure graffiti left on an interior wall. Supposedly more than a century old, I don’t remember what it said. All I remember feeling upon hearing this story is that college students have always been rascals and Yale apparently didn’t mind – and even glorified – these youthful misdemeanors.

The second memory carried far greater weight. Outside of Connecticut Hall stands a Continue Reading “What The University of Chicago Can Teach Yale”

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