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Friday, October 28, 2016

Addressing Clandestine Freemasonry: Why It's Important

Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 October 2016 Festive Board with Oscar Alleyne

I'm going to be a blatant fanboy with this post about a Brother each and every one of you needs to know.

WB E. Oscar Alleyne made a whirlwind trip to Oslo, Norway, Rochester, NY, and then Indianapolis earlier this week - an astonishing feat that is frankly exhausting to even contemplate for most of us. Despite little sleep over those several days (and having to be back in New York by 9AM for a meeting on Wednesday morning), he gave a remarkable presentation at Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 on Tuesday night (above). His topic was Clandestine Freemasonry.


I will not exaggerate: Oscar's presentation needs to be heard far and wide, in lodges, districts, and grand lodges. Far more important, it should be seen and heard at the Conference of Grand Masters in North America, AND the Conference of Grand Masters Prince Hall Masons, no matter how uncomfortable the subject may be to some. And I mean that with all sincerity and insistency. If you are reading this and are involved in the programming for either of those national conferences, I strongly urge you to put him on the program next February for all attendees.

"Clandestine Freemasonry" is probably one of the most misunderstood terms we casually sling around in the Masonic world, and in many corners, it results in a highly charged confrontation. We mention it obliquely in our obligation, and then never officially refer to it, or even define it, ever again. As Oscar's presentation made evident Tuesday night, while it is overwhelmingly an artifact in the African-American community, it is by no means just isolated there (he showed a list of no fewer than 70 such groups in the US that are predominantly made up of caucasian or Hispanic men).


What makes his talk of such importance to us all is multi-layered. He explains the breadth and ancestry of the situation starting with the initiation of Prince Hall and his 14 compatriots and the issuing of a regular charter to them by the premiere Grand Lodge of England, up through the various schisms within that sphere, their National Compact experiment and breakaway groups, and finally what has become the many self-created national, state, and local organizations and individual, independent lodges. So, for those Masons who know little or nothing about this world, he goes from zero to 60 in less than an hour.



But he also shows how all of this is extremely important to each of us. The Internet in particular has made it all too easy for these clandestine groups to sign on to LegalZoom, file a proper notice of incorporation with the Secretary of State's office with the correct paperwork, pick up a copy of Duncan's at the bookstore, buy a blank charter and a stack of very impressive grand officer aprons and jewels from Macoy's or an online Pakistani embroidery company, pick out dazzling Masonic rings, start a lavish website, and print out posters inviting folks to come on down to the rented Masonic lodge (once owned by a legitimate lodge or even grand lodge, but sold years ago) on Saturday with their $1000 check and be a 33° Mason that night. They'll have a dues card, and they'll have all of the right words and signs. (Just as an aside, what makes their process any different from one of our own One Day Classes that take them "from sidewalk to Shrine" in a dozen hours, I'm not entirely certain. But I digress.) 


Only after those men try to interact with regular, recognized Masons do they discover, too late, that no, they cannot visit lodges all over the world (or town), and their dues card won't really get them out of jail.

Many of these groups often engage in severe hazing practices, such as punching blindfolded candidates, branding, actual blood letting, and far worse. Petitions that contain releases to hold the organization harmless from liability if the candidate is injured are common. Their members frequently tell of fees, dues, insurance premiums and fines costing thousands of dollars a year. When they encounter mainstream and PHA lodge members and are rebuffed, or if they complain about the hazing, they are told that "those regular guys" will do a whole lot worse to them if they try to join us instead. 



One of the largest, the International Free and Accepted Modern Masons, Inc., is principally an extremely successful money-making scheme (as are many others). They are frequently depicted as wearing a Masonic apron along with a Shrine fez. The Internationals pay their members a bounty for bringing in new recruits and require payment into what is a massive pyramid scheme. Like many of the larger clandestine groups, they have a board of directors and officers like President and CEO, instead of grand lodge line officers and trustees. They have a large and active Eastern Star "Department" and youth groups. They do often operate very visible charities in some communities. 


After numerous lawsuits, they were forced to change their trademark from a standard S&C by adding a key underneath it. It is not uncommon for their members (and many other clandestine "Masons") to shake hands with an unsuspecting regular Mason while "trying" him with a ritual question, then snatch the Masonic ring from his finger, telling him he's "not worthy."

How pervasive is this problem for us all, ultimately? Well, the Master of Vitruvian went to the Indianapolis airport to pick up Oscar Tuesday, and because they didn't know each other, he wore a ball cap with a S&C on it. Before Oscar arrived, two men walked up to him and started openly displaying due guards and signs at him, giving him the grip. For a moment, he thought perhaps Oscar had sent them ahead just to fool with him. But no, when he asked their affiliation, it was an organization he had never heard of.

Oscar fully understands this situation. He spent 14 years as an active member of a clandestine New York "grand lodge," a town (and state) that is filled with these groups. It was only when he started asking questions and investigating that he found out just what he had joined. Oscar is not some bumpkin, by anyone's metric. He just simply didn't know, and no one ever explained it, in person, in lodge, or online. And there are thousands of men just like him all over the country. It is a vast underground culture that uses our symbols, our literature, our rituals, and our reputation, to make money and defraud unsuspecting men. 

One of the principal reasons they have gotten away with it is our historic institutionalized racism. For over two centuries, state grand lodges openly said black men couldn't be Masons at all (that whole "freeborn" business made it easy to pervert the meaning). And even if they let it slip that black men could be Masons, well, that Prince Hall lodge downtown was where they had to go. Likewise, PHA lodges often told white men looking for Masonic membership to go elsewhere.

I'm not flogging anyone over the past, but the future starts right now. Even in the 42 US jurisdictions that share recognition with their PHA counterparts, there is a prevailing attitude on the part of BOTH organizations that if you are a "man of color," the Prince Hall world is really their "proper" destination. Lodges on both sides have not largely desegregated, and joint recognition has in its own way been harmful by simply enforcing our separation, generally unknowingly and with the best of intentions, and most often out of our own confusion and discomfort in addressing the complex question of race in this country.

As Oscar points out, the African-American clandestine groups thrive, in part, by turning our own past history on its ear now. When their members are turned away by a local mainstream lodge or rebuffed by regular Masons on Facebook and elsewhere, it must be because of "racism," not their lack of regularity, and the "I told you not to go there" admonitions fall trippingly from the tongue. Their Masters and Grand Masters will ask their members, "If you're drowning and give a distress call, will those so-called Masons come and save you? If you are broken down by the side of the road and give a sign, will they stop for you?"
But what is more concerning are the outward signs of this phenomenon. 


In New York City, it is common for literally a dozen or more of the phony Masonic groups to march in parades, proudly sporting their flashy regalia, and carrying banners to draw in potential members. They sometimes operate charities that are highly regarded in the community.

In a photo (right) released by his attorney when he was accused of complicity in Michael Jackson's death, Doctor Conrad Murray was wearing a grand lodge jewel that proclaimed him to be the "Grand Medical Director" to prove he was somehow "connected" and a "high-ranking Mason" to the outside world. His Masonic background was explored by news sites like Fox and People Magazine. Never mind that he held that position in a phony "grand lodge" that solely encompassed the metropolitan area of Houston, Texas. Such distinctions are ignored or simply never spotted or known by non-Masons (and even by many Masons themselves). The Jackson family alleged Murray was part of a Masonic cabal that controlled the music business who had ordered Jackson's murder, and the jewel in the picture "proved" that. Because many hip hop stars refer to Masonic symbolism or use it in their stage shows and album artwork, it becomes harder to just shrug off this nonsense.


Starting in 2015, a story hit the news from southern California about the arrest of three people in connection with impersonating law enforcement officers, and proclaiming themselves to be part of a "Masonic Police Department." In their trial appearance (below) that was covered by the Associated Press and other news outlets, "Absolute Supreme Sovereign Grandmaster" David Inkk Henry, Brandon Kiel, and Tonette Hayes proudly sported their Masonic regalia. Hayes wore a jeweled Shrine pin and a minister's collar, while Kiel and Henry wore their grand officer collars. 


In a bizarre video released by Hayes around the same time (that has since disappeared from YouTube), he defended his activities from the criticism by other Masons and said that anyone who did not understand his actions needed to consult their own grand master for clarification.





In neither case did reporters, prosecuting attorneys, or law enforcement contact the regular, recognized grand lodges of their states for information, or even to check their claims of association. They don't largely because Freemasons are all thought to be just part of just one, same, big, happy, secretive, global treehouse. Regularity and recognition are arcane and meaningless to everyone but us.

Starting in the 1980s and 90s, the late historian and author Joseph A. Walkes, Jr. helped to establish the Phylaxis Society to specifically research issues and history surrounding Prince Hall Freemasonry. At that time, much misinformation and even less authentic research material existed about their unique and historic branch of US Freemasonry, and the Phylaxis Society under Walkes' early leadership provided a haven for Masonic scholarship. 


As part of their mission, they embarked on a daunting task that was astonishing in an age before computerized, online public records. They went state by state, and often into municipalities, and researched the incorporation records for what became the Joseph A. Walkes, Jr. Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices to identify the hundreds of phony organizations in the US claiming to be Masonic. 


The list is now ten years out of date, and hasn't kept up with the most recent proliferation of these instant lodges and grand lodges, but it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to get a taste of just how massive the problem really is. Check your own state. Illinois and New York have in the several hundreds, and there are thousands nationwide.


At the very least, EVERY SINGLE regular, recognized grand lodge in the U.S. should have a menu item on its website defining "clandestine" Freemasonry (and acknowledging its existence in the first place), explaining why regularity is important for potential petitioners, AND if a man is ALREADY a member of a clandestine group, how he can join a regular, recognized one. If your grand lodge has a specific process for such men (retaking the obligations of all three degrees, a simple "healing" by the Grand Master, a committee hearing with the candidate, or even completely starting from scratch and retaking the degrees completely - or some other option), your website should openly spell it out. We need to address the problem, not ignore it, because this is a much larger and more widespread phenomenon than most of us understand - more such organizations pop up every week, in every state. Members of these groups CAN be brought into our fraternity family, and we make a big mistake by not telling them how. And if your grand lodge does NOT have a process, you should formulate one. 

If you happen to be in one of the nine PHA jurisdictions left that is not recognized by its mainstream counterpart, you STILL need to address this problem - maybe even more than everyone else, because these groups use the historical racism of the past to flourish in your own backyards. The lack of joint recognition only bolsters their arguments, and they cannot be as easily refuted, solely becuase of the current situation there. If for no other reason, BOTH of the regular grand lodges in each of those states need to stop ignoring each other, finally leave the old bigotry and distrust in the past where it belongs, and find common ground.

I'll wrap this up, but I strongly urge all regular, recognized jurisdictions to invite Oscar to present, and more important, to invite members of their state or PHA counterparts, as well as the general public to that event. Cast a wide net and make special attempts to encourage attendees from these clandestine groups to attend, as well. It can open their eyes, as Oscar's own eyes were opened. Moreover, consider the very important demographic he represents: he is young, African-American, extremely educated (a doctor of epidemiology in New York) and well traveled, he was once a member of a clandestine Masonic lodge himself, and is now extremely active and respected in the Grand Lodge of New York. He has walked a path that many of these men have themselves. He will appeal to the very men we seek in our own lodges, and who most of our grand officers freely admit they do not fully understand. Oscar does. 


I'm not his shill or booking agent. I get nothing by promoting his message. But please consider adding him to your upcoming Masonic program. It's vital to us all to pay attention to his message and to fully understand an issue we are all obligated to fight.

28 comments:

  1. Excellent post Bro. Christopher. I hope that your platform can reach the masses who are blinded by misinformation and unsupported ideals.

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  2. This problem is compounded by the existence of numerous grand lodges that have historical roots in the Prince Hall tradition but are not recognized by the Prince Hall grand lodges that have been recognized by the mainstream or George Washington grand lodges. One such group are the so-called Hiram grand lodges. They do not appear to be money making schemes, go back in some cases many years, and have standing in the community. There is no apparatus for evaluating them.

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    1. You are partially incorrect in your assumption Mr. Rich.

      The Grand Lodges that are rooted in PHA are minimal in comparison to the myriad number of "pop-up" organizations claiming to be Masonic. Are you basing your assumptions on the fact that most of the spurious organizations are predominately African-American? I ask because the spurious bodies number in the thousands and I have enough fingers to account for those that sprang from Prince Hall jurisdictions.

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    2. Brother Aaron, of course the spurious bodies would claim Prince Hall descent in some cases, so we are left with trying to determine which in terms of their history are descended. I am though not alleging that the majority are African American as there is no factual survey. I do think that a great many apparently are.

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    3. Paul Rich you stated "This problem is compounded by the existence of numerous grand lodges that have historical roots in the Prince Hall tradition but are not recognized by the Prince Hall grand lodges that have been recognized by the mainstream or George Washington grand lodges. One such group are the so-called Hiram grand lodge"

      Can you name for me the State Grand Lodge that recognizes them? This statement has my full attention.

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  3. I also wrote about this in my book , Spurious State of Confusion, detailing with photos of injuries sustained through these brutal initiation practices, testimony from victims which also mirrored my own experience in this clandestine world, and financial documentation of these clandestine enterprises. Brother Oscar was one of the reasons I left clandestine freemasonry, beginning in 2004, and joined a regular lodge in 2010. My book can be found on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Spurious-State-Confusion-Freemasonry-Black/dp/1500461849

    Fraternally,
    Brother Charles Harper
    Past Master
    Pleiades Lodge no. 478
    Grand Lodge of Illinois

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    1. I bought that one, and I bought Freemasonry in Black and White. I'm very glad I did so. Thank you for writing them.

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    2. Charles, yes you did, and I should have mentioned that. The direct link to the book is here:

      Spurious State of Confusion

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  4. Brother Oscar is an excellent speaker, regardless of topic.
    This topic is critical for the education of our newer Masons and for a focus effort of awareness building vis our websites, etc.

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    1. @ Paul Rich please name any Non- Prince Hall Grand Lodge that has been recognized by the Grand Lodge of State in the U.S. At least name the State. Thanks!

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    2. I would be surprised if any were. I dont know of any -- but I am assuming you are actually asking if there are any predominantly African American grand lodges that do not assert a Prince Hall patrimony are recognized.

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  5. This needs to be addressed by all as soon as possible! We have these bogus groups popping up everywhere. We need to dispell this anomaly now. I made the same mistake fifty years ago. I came over to PHA in 1968.

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  6. W:. Bro:. Oscar is an excellent speaker. We had him as a speaker in August at our annual Masonic Lecture series at Hibiscus Lodge No275 in Miami, FL (the southern capital of Irregular & Clandy Masonry). All present were impressed with the depth, erudition, and clarity of his presentation. I could not agree more with Bro:. Hodapp, this information should be common knowledge at the various Grand Lodges. It would be a great idea to present it at CGNMA.
    W:. Adrian Castro
    Worshipful Master, Hibiscus Lodge No275 F:.& A:.M:. GLofFL

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  7. I agree that there are totally bogus groups that are truly set to defraud and hurt their members bringing a disdain to the members that practice true freemasonry. All bogus members do not just pick up a Duncan or get paraphernalia from foreign countries and pretend to be masons. Some of the lodges actually help build up their communities by making "good men" better and contributing to many worth causes. Today...because of the landmarks, constitutions and edicts no one can meet on the level of understanding. Those who are not recognized are demonized called names on social media and given a scarlet letter to be condemned by a group that just because you are not us you must be destroyed type mentality. We now live in a society that being negative is the new positive. There is an old expression that states you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. Mainstream and PHA could maybe rebuild if they would just be nice. But to ridicule individuals publicly is slippery slop that you may not be able to climb out of with everyone's numbers declining as far as active members in their own respective organizations. Those who choose to do better can probably do so by using the working tools that were given to us. Progression cannot be made if we are separate forever.

    Signed

    Independent Mason

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  8. Great post, and a very good brother...Had the pleasure of meeting the Brother in New York, and he is the editor of my book...

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  9. what is a george washington grand lodge?

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  10. Excellent article, Christopher. I wish much success to Bro. Oscar and his efforts.

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  11. The term, "George Washington Grand Lodge" is a form of Masonic slang (if there is such a thing) sometimes used in place of the more popular term of "mainstream Grand Lodge".

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  12. This post was highly exaggerated. It's a shame that people who claim to deal with truth would flat out lie on others to try to get a point across. Also the same people trying to sell books didn't even want to debate some of the people they called Clandestine.

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    1. What is exaggerated?

      Are there not hundreds of these organizations in the United States (not to mention internationally) that are not recognized by the mainstream grand lodges?

      Are there not tens of thousands of men calling themselves Masons who are regarded as irregular, clandestine - and most important from the practical standpoint - unrecognized by the millions of regular, recognized Freemasons all over the globe?

      Can a member of one of these groups deemed irregular, and/or unrecognized by the mainstream either visit or affiliate with the vast, overwhelming majority of Masonic bodies around the world?

      In order to be able to properly interact legitimately with the majority of the Masonic world, is it not a requirement that their grand lodge must be either sovereign in its jurisdiction, or in amity with any other grand lodge(s) that share that jurisdiction with them?

      And is not the following of, and adherence to, proper Masonic protocol between grand lodges a requirement for interaction between Masons in those jurisdictions?

      If someone joins a Masonic lodge and they have been deliberately deceived by its members or leadership or literature into believing they can travel the world and visit any lodges outside of their own comparatively small and isolated lodge, organization, or territory, then that's important. Those men have been duped. And their organization can shout from the rafters that "they" are the real, authentic Freemasons and the rest of the world has it all wrong, if they like. The truth remains that regularity and recognition are meaningful terms in this fraternity, all over the world.

      I don't know if the seller of books you refer to is me, but I for one don't have any real desire or reason to 'debate' with clandestine members, in a public forum or privately. The rules for recognition and standards for regularity have been in place for a very long time, they developed over time for a reason, you may not like those reasons or the conclusions, and little that you or I may say can change those rules in a meaningful way.

      If the conversation is about how to resign from a clandestine organization and join a regular, recognized one, I'll be happy to talk all day long to you. If the conversation is about how to seriously approach a recognized grand lodge and discuss a way to merge or achieve joint recognition, again, sure I'll talk about that, regardless of how unlikely it would be that such a conversation would lead to anything meaningful.

      But I'm not going to debate why a modern-day, clandestine grand lodge or a spontaneously created individual lodge is somehow more legitimate or authentic Masonically than the regular, recognized ones around the world. That's a waste of your breath, my time, and is more appropriately the subject for COGMMNA or COGMPHM commissions on recognition or grand lodge committees on foreign fraternal relations to take up. Write them a letter, not me.

      I did say this in the very first and subsequent editions of Freemasons for Dummies:

      "Most people who join a lodge are not aware that there are competing organizations in the world that call themselves Masonic, but are not considered to be legitimate by the majority of Freemasons...

      "None of this is a huge issue until he starts to travel and visit other lodges, or encounters other Masons. An irregular Mason will not be welcomed into a mainstream lodge, and his degrees and documents will not be considered legitimate. He will not be entitled to the honors, benefits, and fraternalism enjoyed by millions in the Masonic world. This is not to say that unrecognized Masonic groups have nothing to offer. It's simply a warning so you're certain that the lodge you join will provide what you are looking for."

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  13. The non recognized groups in those states that do not accept people of color or gays are not likely to be brought into the mainstream, and indeed provide Masonry to those who are otherwise excluded.

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  14. I personally found the YouTube video by former International Mason, Marcus A Brown, entitled; "My Experiences with Freemasonry" to be rather chilling. It is the perfect example of why the West Gate of Regular FREEMASONRY must always remain properly guarded and why we must be very cautious and careful about whom we allow to gain admittance.

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  15. I'm not one to go back and forth. Some things you wrote on were inaccurate but was necessary to try to get your point across. Although you mentioned that other GLs exist where they are not predominately of African/Middle Eastern descent, this is nothing more than an attempt to use a person of that same descent to influence others to go against others. The teachings of Masonry are being ignored.

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    1. This has very, very, VERY little to do with race, apart from the historic causes of the separation of races that led to the formation of African Lodge No. 459 in the first place, and the creation of the entire US alternate universe of "separate but equal" society that was supposed to have ended in the 1960s. Freemasons were certainly not the first or only institution in America to develop that, but for some unfathomable reason I cannot for the life of me figure out, we may be the last to keep it.

      You said, "this is nothing more than an attempt to use a person of that same descent to influence others to go against others. The teachings of Masonry are being ignored.

      I'm not "using" WBro. Alleyne to influence anyone to "go against" anybody. I am saying these groups are overwhelmingly in the African-American community, and they are. That is undeniable. To be honest, the PHA lodges and grand lodges need to be hearing his message far more widely than the mainstream ones, because on the very real, practical side of day to day Freemasonry, the clandestine world is specifically drawing members who might otherwise be persuaded to joining a PHA for a whole range of reasons. I can rail all day long about how much I don't like the separated nature of the mainstream/PHA world we inhabit, but my air bending won't do a whit to change human nature and the desire of people who, left to their own choice, prefer to be around people most like themselves (which is why I say a united, merged grand lodge in a state would still fully allow for lodges made up of a specific ethnic or cultural group to flourish in them).

      Nevertheless, I'd be curious to know in just what part of Oscar's presentation were the "teachings of Masonry being ignored."

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  16. This was very interesting. I'm going to forward this to the next Master of our lodge and see if he might like to get him to speak, or if we can.

    My own lodge has made a serious effort to education and historical/philosophical research, and I think this brother would make an excellent addition to that.

    Fraternally,

    Charlie Larkin
    Norumbega Fraternity Lodge, Newtonville, Ma.

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  17. Bro. Hodapp,

    I believe this topic is important albeit not the most important thing for regular/recognized masonic bodies. I think the more important question is not how many clandestine groups we can count, but rather that we have to do a better job of distinguishing ourselves not only by our works but by our branding and marketing within our communities. If we were about the business of Freemasonry, we wouldn't have as much of a problem, because then the individuals would see their superiors to be scheming hustlers and they would want the true light of the Craft. Last month I saw nearly 20 men get healed into a PHA lodge near my home... These men were paying $150 a month to be so-called mason. Utterly ridiculous.

    James R. Morgan III
    Past Master
    Corinthian Lodge #18
    Worshipful Associate Grand Historian & Archivist
    MWPHGLDC

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    1. Brother Morgan,

      Oh, I agree that keeping a running tab of clandestine bodies at this point in time is a fool's errand. The work the Phylaxis Commission's researchers did in the 1980s and 90s was herculean but long obsolete by now, as these new groups pop up like weeds today. I really don't care how many there are—it only serves to drive home the scope of the problem.

      Better branding and marketing is meaningless when a man is convinced by his friends to join a clandestine lodge. A shinier web page or a bigger parade turnout won't go so far as to change anyone's mind if peer pressure is at work here. All I want to reiterate is that every grand lodge in the U.S. should have a menu item on its website defining "clandestine" Freemasonry, acknowledging its existence in the first place, explaining why regularity is important for potential petitioners, and explaining that to travel and visit elsewhere WILL require belonging only to a REGULAR, RECOGNIZED lodge. And it would be helpful to include on that explanation the requirements a clandestine lodge member will need to go through to join a legitimate body. And I might toss in a cautionary note about the financial shenanigans they might worry about when 'their' lodge expects over $100 a month from them...

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  18. I agree. Will do everything possible to address this issue. Thank you Brother Hodapp. Will speak to Brother Alleyne.
    RW Roger Quintana, Deputy Grand Master
    Grand Lodge of New Jersey

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