Scott Wolter and the producers of America Unearthed, Andy and Maria Awes, owners of Committee Films, have been interested in the Templar connection to ancient America for a very long time, and each of their History/H2 projects pushes the exact same ideas in slightly different packages. Today, I’d like to look at Scott Wolter’s appearance on The Holy Grail in America, a program produced by Committee Films in 2009 for the History Channel.
The thesis of the documentary was that the Kensington Rune Stone was carved by the Knights Templar in order to claim the entirety of what later became the Louisiana Purchase as well as much of the Midwest and Deep South. According to the documentary, the Templars, who started a new society in America, became the Freemasons who in turn secretly infiltrated the fledgling United States government in order to perpetuate their dissenting view of the “sacred feminine” in Christianity. According to the film, the “separation of church and state” (a concept not actually found verbatim in the Constitution but interpreted from the First Amendment) was of “Masonic design” to protect Templar interests.
Colonial-era women would probably be surprised to know that Committee Films feels that they were living in a society that thrilled to the sacred feminine and the power of women.
Maria Awes stated that she became interested in the Templar-America connection after meeting Scott Wolter, the driving force behind the documentary and the later America Unearthed series. In fact, in 2009, the Awes asserted in press materials for Holy Grail that they intended it as a pilot for a future series, and they explicitly claimed that their film could tie in with the then-current Dan Brown Da Vinci Code prequel movie, Angels and Demons. The concepts laid out in the film exactly match those developed at length in America Unearthed.
Holy Grail had a budget of more than $360,000 and received $19,468.57 in funding from Minnesota Film and Television, of which 50% came from tax dollars and the rest from privately-donated matching funds.
Since most of the material in the film was covered in my America Unearthed reviews, I’d like to look at an instance in the film where Scott Wolter betrayed his naïve acceptance of the demonstrably untrue.
This involves the so-called Burrows Cave, an “ancient” site that dates all the way back to 1982, when Russell Burrows began hawking artifacts in a faux-Egyptian art style that he claimed to have found in an Illinois cave. When investigators from the Early Sites Research Society tried to pin down the location of the cave and its supposed wonders, they came up empty handed. Burrows refused to tell anyone where the cave is, despite regularly producing phantasmagorical new “artifacts” in a range of ancient art styles. Thousands of such artifacts appeared, and Burrows asserted that $60 million in gold was buried in the cave, which he worried that the Illinois state government would “steal” from him.
Even Barry Fell recognized that at least one Burrows Cave artifact was a poor copy of an illustration from his own America B.C. (1976), including Fell’s own transcription error!
Investigators found evidence that the Burrows Cave hoax had ties to Mormon cult archaeology, and some fringe groups suggested that the objects were the fabled Temple Treasure of Solomon, lost when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem in 568 BCE. This aligned with Mormon claims that Jews fled Jerusalem and came to America. Among supporters of this view is the neo-Nazi pedophile Frank Joseph, who edited articles about the cave in his magazine Ancient American with funding from Mormon extremists. Ancient American also published some of Scott Wolter’s only non-self-published reports using his “new science” of archaeopetrography. Another supporter of this view is Arnold Murray, a Christian extremist, who believes that the British were some of the Lost Tribes of Israel and therefore Anglo-Saxons in America are God’s chosen people, and America His chosen kingdom.
Other fringe writers differed from the Mormon/Evangelical-influenced view, however, concocting a conspiracy whereby the Knights Templar found the treasure buried in Jerusalem while headquartered on the Temple Mount and spirited it away to America after the suppression of their order in 1307. The treasure was meant to be the patrimony for a new state, one celebrating the “sacred feminine” and ruled by the Bloodline of Christ, a state represented by the Kensington Rune Stone, the major land claim to the entire Mississippi watershed.
Here’s how the story played out in Holy Grail in America:
Narrator: Legend says the cave lies somewhere along a branch of the Little Wabash River in Illinois, in an area known as Little Egypt.
It is interesting that in 2009 the Awes maintained enough journalistic sense to present the mainstream point of view, while Wolter (in the edited remarks shown in the program) betrayed not a hint of doubt that the obviously fake material was anything but legitimate. (Wolter would later revise his opinion after discovering evidence of a hoax.) How different America Unearthed is! (Note, though, that Burrows Cave is attributed to an unnamed “legend” rather than the actual facts to give it a patina of age and mystery it does not deserve.)
But what is deeply disturbing is the broader claim implicit in the discussion in Holy Grail and its successor, America Unearthed. In the reading of history that Scott Wolter and the Awes endorse, there is a deep need to “prove” the illegitimacy of the U.S. government’s claim to the Mississippi Valley, as we saw in the episode “A Motive for Murder.” (Two different ways of challenging America’s sovereignty over the heartland!) By delegitimizing the (secular) American government, one could “restore” the pure religion of the sacred feminine, the right and true religion a corrupt secular world and the Catholic Church had worked to destroy. How interesting that it is the central United States, not the east or west coasts (the most likely landing site for any trans-oceanic travelers) that these claims seek to single out for special treatment. Is it entirely a coincidence that these same lands are those occupied by the cultural and religious groups with the greatest interest in challenging federal (secular, liberal) authority?
While this reading is not explicit in the documentaries, it is implicit. I’m not sure I see a significant difference between longing to return to some New Age, pseudo-Gnostic “original” Christianity and the Evangelicals, who also think they have possession of the one truth about the original teachings of Christ. In both cases, the groups see the world as fallen from grace and seek to replace secular government with more palatable versions tied to their religious values. You can choose which brand of faith you want the new heartland empire to brandish, but either way it’s still a weird longing for cultural revitalization through a return to “pure” religion. As the Christian Nation website claims, “It’s all about living your traditional Christian faith in all aspects of your life, without worrying that you might offend someone. That’s the way it use [sic] to be. That’s the way it will be again.” Or, as Christian broadcaster Joni Lamb said after the 2012 election, “If you live in America and you understand that we are a Christian society then you can’t be offended by things like that or you shouldn’t live here.”
I’m not paranoid enough to think that anyone seriously intends the “rune stone land claim” to be the foundation of a secessionist movement for Christian extremists, but it does seem to appeal to a certain theocratic fantasy percolating beneath the surface of American culture, whereby Christian government (of whatever flavor) marries heaven and earth and rains down God’s grace into the unsatisfying lives of humble sinners.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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