This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Some incidents in history seem to attract more than their fair share of legends; for instance, whilst the Crusades in general constituted a massive and pervasive disruption in the histories of Europe and the Middle East alike, people seem to get especially fixated on the Knights Templar, a sect of Christian warrior-monks, and the so-called Assassins, the militant arm of the Nizari sect of Ismailis (the Ismailis themselves being a splinter sect of Shia Islam). The idea that these organisations concealed a secret doctrine that has been transmitted to subsequent secret societies is a godsend when it comes to speculative historical fantasy, or if you want to give your particular occult group a bit of extra gravitas, but it has resulted in the accretion of all sorts bits of questionable scholarship around the subject penned by authors at times more interested in pushing an ideology or promoting a legend than making a credible historical argument.
Take, as an example, The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of Heaven by James Wasserman. Wasserman is a long-standing member of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), an initiatory society primarily associated with Aleister Crowley and his Thelemite religious teachings. Wasserman assures the reader that he is going to start off by laying out the facts about the historical background to the Crusades and the development of Islam, and the recorded facts about the Assassins and the Templars, before providing his more opinionated conclusions. However, right out of the gate he ends up promoting a range of personal opinions that became evident to me even though I’m no professional historian myself.
For instance, Wasserman isn’t even able to finish the first chapter without making his particular political stance extremely clear – namely, that he’s a NRA-supporting hardline libertarian prone to spouting hard-right Republican talking points. He talks about “Statism” in a way which fairly clearly indicates his libertarian political outlook (if the citation of Atlas Shrugged as a useful reference on political conspiracies in the bibliography wasn’t enough of a giveaway), and he openly buys into the CFR-Bilderberg-Trilateral Commission conspiracy theories of the John Birch era. (I swear, 700 years from now when those institutions are long dead we’ll have secret societies claiming descent from them). He also seems to be not keen on democracy either, basically equating it with mob rule and lynchings – a position regularly taken by libertarians who resent the ability of a majority-supported government to place restrictions on them.