Special Report

The World's Most Powerful Secret Societies

Source: Public Domain / White House photo by Shealah Craighead / Wikimedia Commons

6. Knights of Columbus
> Founded: 1882
> Mission: Catholic fraternal organization
> Well-known members: Mike Ditka, Floyd Patterson, Jeb Bush

The Knights of Columbus, named in honor of the explorer, is the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world with 1.9 million members on three continents. It was founded on the tenets of charity, unity, and fraternity. The organization focuses on issues affecting Catholic life. The knights advocated for tolerance of African Americans and Jews in the early part of the 20th century but have been recently criticized for funding efforts that oppose same-sex relationships and gay civil rights.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. Knights of Maccabees
> Founded: 1878
> Mission: Provides social interaction and aids society
> Well-known members: N/A

The Knights of Maccabees were named after the Jews who rebelled against the oppressive Seleucid Empire in the second century B.C. The group was originally formed in Canada to help provide low cost life insurance for members. More recently, the Knights of Maccabees, mostly active in Michigan, have taken a position against consumerism and emphasized greater interaction within communities.

8. Knights of Malta
> Founded: 1048
> Mission: Nobility of spirit and conduct
> Well-known members: Nelson Mandela, Frank Sinatra, Henry A. Kissinger, Frank Capra

Among the most storied of the secret societies, the Knights of Malta was founded to care for those making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, regardless of religious faith, and were given the responsibility by the pope to defend Christians going to the Holy Land. The organization numbers more than 13,000 members today and sponsor charitable endeavors in 120 countries.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

9. Knights of Pythias
> Founded: 1864
> Mission:Fraternal order based on friendship, charitable works
> Well-known members: Franklin Roosevelt, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding

The Irish poet John Banim wrote a play based on the friendship of ancient Greeks Damon and Pythias and from that work the organization began. Members take a vow of friendship on a Bible given to founder Justus H. Rathbone by his mother. Rathbone believed the principles of the group could help heal the nation’s wounds after the Civil War.

Source: Library of Congress / Corbis Historical via Getty Images

10. Ku Klux Klan
> Founded: 1866
> Mission: Advocates white supremacy
> Well-known members: Robert Byrd, David Duke, Hugo Black

The Ku Klux Klan was founded by Confederate Army officer Nathan Bedford Forrest and was violently anti-African American, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic. After dying out in the 1870s, it was reborn during the Prohibition era and had another resurgence after World War II in its opposition to civil rights. Though its power is greatly diminished, the KKK remains a formidable hate group in the United States.

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