In comments on an earlier thread, EP asked a great question: Who invented the conspiracy theory popularized by Scott Wolter that Oreo cookies contain Templar-Freemason symbolism, particularly the so-called Cross of Lorraine. I will confess that when I first read the claim in Wolter’s Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers (2013), I assumed that it was of his own invention, and he gave no indication otherwise. I should have known better than to credit him with an original conspiracy theory. It turns out that the story had been published in Time magazine and The Atlantic in 2011, based on still earlier internet sources.
Here’s how the Atlantic put it:
The circle topped with a two-bar cross in which the word "OREO" resides is a variant of the Nabisco logo, and is either "an early European symbol for quality" (according to Nabisco's promotional materials) or a Cross of Lorraine, as carried by the Knights Templar into the Crusades. Continuing the Da Vinci Code theme, the Oreo's geometric pattern of a dot with four triangles radiating outward is either a schematic drawing of a four-leaf clover or—cue the cliffhanger music from Jaws—the cross pattée, also associated with the Knights Templar, as well as with the German military and today's Freemasons.
If we follow the Atlantic’s link back, we are taken to a 2009 article from Ariive Business Solutions speculating on the Freemason (and, of course Jewish Banker) origins of the Oreo, but again taking us to a still earlier internet claim:
Then again, a conspiracy theorist's interpretation of that cross is the "Pontifical Cross of Lucifer which is linked with Satanism and [apparently] possibly Freemasonry" which is possibly partly true. Another video I've seen says Oreo cookies are "illuminati cookies" and shows the symbols of the crosses and connects them to masonic ceremonies. Upon my understanding of the bankers that rule this world, this assertion is possibly quite correct, as the founder of Nabisco was said to be a member of a banking family connected to the Rothchild [sic] family.
This takes us back to a 2008 YouTube video that claims that the founders of Nabsico, the original parent of Oreo (Nabisco is now owned by another conglomerate), was founded by Freemasons because the Nabisco and Oreo logos contain a two-barred cross similar to one used by Freemasons (and the pope, etc., etc.). But then the trail peters out.
All of this, in turn, seems to emerge from discussions on the Above Top Secret message board dating back to 2004. On April 24, a poster writing under the handle Stations Creation wrote that “I noticed that the Nabisco (makers of Oreos and many other treats) logo has an uncanny resemblance to the symbol known as the Pontifical Cross of Lucifer which is linked with Satanism and apparently freemasonry.” You’ll note that these words are the same ones linked in the 2009 Ariive Business Solutions article. The Above Top Secret Discussion involved discussion of Templar symbolism adopted by the Freemasons.
My efforts to find any mention of Templar or Freemason symbolism in the Oreo prior to April 2004 tuned up nothing, except in disparaging references to African Americans on some conspiracy websites. It therefore seems likely that the Above Top Secret message board posting was the origin of the Oreo conspiracy theory. Even if someone else made the connection earlier, all of the online sources for the conspiracy ultimately trace back to sources that in turn link to this single message board posting.
If find this rather astonishing. In 2004, one single internet poster looked at an Oreo and thought that the well-known Nabisco logo on it resembled the Patriarchal Cross, and as a result, a conspiracy theory grew up around it, adding more and more detail with each iteration until it made the Atlantic and Time. (A high school AP physics class collected a list of all of the Oreo conspiracies that grew out of this as of 2013.) Over time, the Satanism connection dropped out, and the Freemason connection morphed into a Templar connection by dint of the transitive property of fringe studies whereby the Freemasons are assumed to be Templars due to a misunderstanding of eighteenth century propaganda (which originally linked the Masons with the Knights of St. John). Scott Wolter’s contribution was to refine a random internet posting to the highest levels of conspiracy by then linking the Templars to the Holy Bloodline of Jesus and claiming that the Double Stuf Oreo was a picture of the tomb of Jesus, a claim unique to him.
However, there is a caveat to this. The claims specifically for the Oreo cookie seem to date back only to 2004, but they emerge from much earlier paranoia about the National Biscuit Company (Nabsico), which originates in conservative Christian panic over Satanic symbolism during the Satanism scare of the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1990s, early internet message boards for Christians speculated that the double cross on the Nabisco logo (the one used as a design element in the Oreo, borrowed from Nabisco’s logo) symbolized Satan, due to is similarity to the alchemical symbol for sulfur, the devil’s element (Rev. 20:10), which is topped with a double cross. In the early 2000s we have a proto-Wolter claim that “Nabisco and Exxon also both utilize the Cross of Lorraine in their design....providing yet another indication that occultism (Luciferianism) is a religion/cult for the elite, the rich, the powerful.” Going back further, we can find that an article by Scott Thompson in Executive Intelligence Review in 1989 asserts that the founding family of Nabisco has been working to create a New World Order to bring about the rise of Satan. Somehow this involves Theosophy and gays.
In 1974, Caspar J. Werkman noted in Trademarks: Their Creation, Psychology, and Perception that the Nabisco trademark was a conscious resurrection of “mason’s marks, freemason’s marks, [and] printer’s marks.” It seems, though, that with the sale of Nabisco to Mondelēz International, conspiracy theorists relocated the conspiracy from the no-longer-powerful National Biscuit Company to its most visible symbol, the Oreo, the place where individuals are most likely to encounter the Nabisco logo.
I find it fascinating, though, that Wolter has taken an idea that emerged as a conservative Christian conspiracy theory about efforts to impose Satanism and has reimagined it as a New Age conspiracy theory to encode the “true” history of Jesus and mystical dualism. The two ideas are rather contradictory (though they share the assumption that, for opposing reasons, traditional Christianity is under siege), but it’s testimony to how a conspiracy, once proposed, can be adapted and adopted for any number of purposes. And there are very few original ideas on the fringe.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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