Friday, August 7, 2009

George Washington: Traitor to the Revolution?

This morning, a post on Christopher Hodapp's excellent blog, "Freemasons for Dummies," alerted me to an article appearing in the online newspaper, The Scotsman -- an article that reports startling revelations about the plot of The Lost Symbol.

The Scotsman interviewed Robert Cooper, curator of the Scottish Masonic Museum and Library at Freemason's Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland. Cooper, a well-regarded authority on the history of Freemasonry, reported that he had received important information from an unnamed source regarding the premise of The Lost Symbol: the idea that George Washington was actually in league with the British during the Revolutionary War, and that he planned to betray the American Colonial rebels and hand American forces over to the British, until the exposure of Benedict Arnold as a traitor led Washington to embrace the Revolutionary cause.

All of this leads us to ask two questions:
  1. Is Cooper's source likely correct? That is, could this really be the direction that The Lost Symbol is taking, based on what we know from the clues?
  2. Could this possibly be true, in real life? That is, could Washington really have been on the brink of betraying the Revolution?

Is a "Traitorous Washington" Plot Element Consistent With the Twitter Clues?

Short of a peek at the manuscript for The Lost Symbol--which, I assure you, I have not had--the best source we have for the plot of The Lost Symbol is the set of clues being posted by Doubleday on Twitter and Facebook. Is the "traitorous Washington" plot consistent with the Twitter clues?

As a matter of fact, yes, it is.

Consider, for example, Clue #39: - Who is this Redcoat commander?

The URL (a hot link, above) leads to the earliest known portrait of Washington -- a jarring image to modern American eyes -- showing Washington as a British officer during the French and Indian Wars. The more subtle message here may be that Washington remained a British officer, secretly, during the beginning of the Revolution.

(I would also point out that the very numbering of this clue may be a sort of subtle joke on the part of the clue's author. This being the 39th clue may be an homage of sorts to Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film about a foreign espionage network stealing military secrets in England, "The 39 Steps.")

The idea of Washington being a British agent would make sense of Clue #47 (" "), which shows the real-life headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)--caught on a surveillance camera!

The clues are full of references to real-life double agents and betrayals, including Aldrich Ames (Clue #55: "Market mailbox, 37th and R. He wants a meeting"), Robert Hanssen (Clue #51: "Betrayer of double agents: "), and, of course, Benedict Arnold himself (Clue #30: "Braced Indolent was the Revolutionary War's most famous Can Trout": that is 'Benedict Arnold was the Revolutionary War's most famous TurnCoat').

In light of the leak about the novel's plot, perhaps the most interesting reference is Clue #42 ("An agent to France, + his host's "colors". VLODVGHDQH"), which decodes to SILAS DEANE, the name of an American emissary to France during the Revolution. Deane, of course, was spied upon by his own assistant, Edward Bancroft, who reported everything Deane did to the British. Bancroft's role as a double agent was not discovered until long after Bancroft's death, when the British declassified some intelligence papers that revealed his wartime activities. The subtle message in the clue may be that some people's two-faced nature is not discovered until years after their deaths -- perhaps many, many years after . . . .

In summary, the idea that Washington was secretly a British agent during the Revolution is entirely consistent with the clues. But how about real life?

Could Washington Really Have Been a British Agent?

There is absolutely nothing in the real-life history of Washington that is remotely consistent with the notion that he could have been an agent for the British during the Revolutionary War.

George Washington is one of the most intensely scrutinized figures in all of human history, a man who has had many biographies written about him over the course of over two centuries. (See, for example, Joseph J. Ellis's 2004 biography, reissued in 2008, His Excellency: George Washington, published by Knopf; this book made use of recently catalogued Washington papers at the University of Virginia.) No one--and I mean, no one--has ever mentioned the hint of a shadow of a rumor about this kind of duplicity on Washington's part.

In addition, we need to keep in mind that the British of Washington's era and afterwards had no special love for the United States or Washington's legacy, and would have revealed Washington as a British agent if they could have. In our day, after the U.S. came to Britain's aid in not one but two World Wars in the 20th century, after almost a century of comradery-in-arms, it is easy to forget that Britain was quite opposed to the U.S. for decades after the end of the Revolutionary War. Remember the War of 1812--when the British Empire actually invaded the United States, captured Washington, DC, and burned the White House?? In that era, there is nothing that the British would rather have done than demoralize the United States by revealing that Washington himself had been a British agent during the Revolution. The fact that the British did nothing of the sort would suggest that they simply had nothing on Washington.

I realize that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence": that is, the lack of evidence that Washington was a British agent does not prove that he was not one. However, let us consider another principle of evidence: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (Marcello Truzzi's notion, as popularized by Carl Sagan). Anyone who wants to make a claim about Washington as a British agent had better be able to cough up some very solid evidence for that idea -- and, right now, there's bupkis, nada, zilch, nani mo nai wa, and so forth, all euphemisms for the fact that there is absolutely nothing in existence to support this notion.


It may well be the case that The Lost Symbol has, as a plot device, the idea that George Washington was himself secretly a British agent. This idea is entirely consistent with the clues that have come forth so far. However, this idea is completely at variance with everything we know about Washington in real life.

[The image above shows Rembrandt Peale's portrait of George Washington, painted sometime during the period 1795-1823; it it currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. The image was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, which states that the image is in the public domain.]



    This could be another way of looking at it. and it is by a 32degree scottish rite mason.

  2. The article for which Brett Foster provides a link--"George Washington, Spymaster Extraordinaire"--is an excellent article by a former CIA officer, published in the February 2000 issue of the Scottish Rite Journal. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning about Washington's role as the first American master of spies. Thank you very much, Brett.

  3. I doubt that Brown would seek to portray Washington as a downright "traitor". The plot leak, if true, may just have indicated that Brown posits some secret negotiations between Washington and the British and the receivers of the plot leak have overreacted. A secret negotiation, especially at the end of the Revolutionary War need not be a stain on Washington's character, especially, if, for instance it resulted in King George finally giving up his stubborn resistance to American independence and the cancelling of the final secret British offensive (noted by Franklin June 1782: "besides the orders given to General Carleton, to propose terms of re-union to America, artful emissaries were sent over to go through the country, and stir up the people to call on the congress to accept those terms").

  4. Brett: It may well be the case that what is actually being leaked is something about Washington as a spymaster, which he certainly was.

    deetective: You may well be right; it may be the case that the real issue here involves secret negotiations. Then again, this is an author who has no trouble hinting that Jesus was not the real Christ; from that point of view, de-throning Washington as the ultimate Patriot would be small potatoes.

  5. haha, I love small potatoes!

    maybe its about aliens :P like what good old Wayne Herschel is hitting at!! haha.

    Just over a month to wait now!

  6. Good point Mark, but I think Brown would prefer alienating Freemasons rather than every patriotic American (think of the impact on sales). Perhaps Cooper's trusted source is a Freemason who is more upset about portayal of loyalist masons than about Washington's secret negotiations with them.

  7. deetective: I'll see you, and I'll raise you.

    Could it not be that false leads--that is, disinformation--could be leaked by the Doubleday publicity machine? I mean, what better way to up sales than by creating controversy?

    All's I'm saying is, a rumor might be from a true source, and yet not be true.

    Trust no one. (Yes, I'm a big X-Files fan from 'way back.)

  8. Mark,

    Given Cooper's statement in the comments on Chris Hodapp's blog, I'm not sure even how much of an "inside source" he has. His clarification talks more about a quick 10 minute call in which he gave his opinion and guesses.

    I think you are right in your points about the Twitter clues backing up the traitor plot. However, my question is: is Cooper's "source" just basing it on these Twitter clues in the first place?

    I'd agree with others here, that I would find it very surprising if DB took on the aura of Washington. I can't see Americans reacting well to that at all - he's already got plenty of Christians off-side, he'd have to be a glutton for punishment to take on the population of the United States as well.

    Unless the plot is about GW being 'set-up' to look like a traitor. Although would DB really copy even more of the plot of National Treasure 2...? ;)

  9. maybe it will say that washington was a traitor or spy during the french and indian war, so he was on the french side?? and spying against the british then?

  10. Hi everyone, Regarding the comments above. I have to confess that I am not really up on Twitter and such stuff - I now wish that I had been! In short the piece in the Scotsman was all mine save a casual exchange with a fellow Freemason at the begining of the year. I come to the conclusion I simply asked the question what would be the most outragous thing Brown could claim about Washington? A criminial? Not pwerful enough. A womaniser? Nothing really sensational about that. An alien? Too extreme. A traitor? Ah... If you told the average US citizen that Washington was a traitor, that the founding father of the USA was a liar, cheat and a traitor I think that you can imagine the reaction. It is that kind of reaction that Brown wants. Outrage = sales. But then, you have to remember that I am an arch cynic and so could be misleading myself! In any event I will read The Lost Symbol as soon as it comes out - I have reserved a copy with my local public library!

  11. To Bob Cooper: Glad to see you here. I do just want to achieve some clarity, though. Do we understand you, then, to be saying the following? To wit: The idea that Dan Brown might be portraying Washington as a traitor to the Revolution was a _guess_ on your part, rather than something from a source who had seen Brown's manuscript?

  12. So now it looks like "false leads--that is, disinformation", being spread by freemasons!
    unless Bob is falling on his sword to protect the reputation of the press (or some other worthy cause?!).

  13. As someone who has spent an hour on the phone with journalists, to see it distilled into 3 completely incorrect lines in a short article, I think it's likely that Bob's thrown out his thoughts, and the journalist has run with it into some 'exclusive leaks' blow-up.

    However, it would be good to hear his version of what he told the reporter, as a few supposed direct quotes from Bob do suggest he is claiming privileged information (e.g. "Of course I could be the victim of a double bluff").

  14. Bob wrote:

    "If you told the average US citizen that Washington was a traitor, that the founding father of the USA was a liar, cheat and a traitor I think that you can imagine the reaction. It is that kind of reaction that Brown wants."

    I can't disagree more. He stirred up controversy with The Da Vinci Code, but in that case it was putting out a number of assumptions which resonated with people somewhat - most notably the dispossession of the feminine in modern religious orthodoxy. Even with the alternative religious history, he still didn't "slander" Jesus.

    Branding Washington a traitor is a whole other kettle of fish, especially if he has no (or hardly any) supporting evidence. That would just get the bulk of 300 million possible readers in the U.S. offside with him. It has no resonance, if anything it dispossesses people of something that is truly a cornerstone (pardon the pun) of their worldview.

    I guess DB could prove me wrong, but IMO that would be professional suicide.

  15. I have asked both Robert Cooper and The Scotsman to clarify this story. The Scostman's reporter, Kath Gournay, clearly tells us that Cooper claimed a "reliable source" for a leak of the Lost Symbol plot. Cooper's comment above seems to be saying that he never claimed a reliable source, but was merely engaged in fanciful speculation about the plot. This would make the reporter either inaccurate or inventive.

    Because George Washington was indeed attended by Freemasons at his death and his burial was according to a Masonic ceremony presided over by the same people, it certainly makes possible the plot device of having the Masons slip something into the lead-lined coffin.

    But the true tale of Washington's death is so amazing that it almost seems like fiction. I relate it in an appendix to my 2005 book, "Secrets of the Widow's Son."

    I called the appendix "Death and Resurrection" because this is a theme that runs throughout ancient cultures and carries on into the very heart of modern Freemasonry.

    Beyond the allegory of death and rebirth, Washington himself entertained a theory of "reanimation." In fact, according to one source, he believed that the story of Jesus involved reanimation. On his own plantation, he witnessed a case of a slave being "brought back to life." And it was a widely held "urban legend" of those days that people sometimes got buried alive.

    Therefore, as he spoke his final words, Washington told his brother Masons/physicians, "Do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead."

    In a bizarre development, Dr. William Thornton, otherwise famous as the first architect of the Capitol, arrived a day late, by which time Washington's body had been frozen. Thornton seriously proposed a reanimation using lamb's blood, but Martha Washington wisely declined the plan.

  16. There are really two points at issue here.

    First and foremost, I look forward to Bob Cooper's clarification, as I've asked for above. Sure, if this was just his guess, then that would conflict with other parts of the article--but I'm a blogger, not a cop; I just want to know for absolutely sure and clear whether or not Bob Cooper is claiming inside information.

    Second, as a matter of opinion, I agree that it would be utterly suicidal for Dan Brown to mess with the Washington mythos. That does not mean he would not _do_ it, of course; people make catastrophically bad career or business decisions all the time. (Two words: New Coke.) However, I certainly agree that it would be a phenomenal mistake for Dan Brown to do this--and to what end? In his Langdon novels, Dan Brown is writing theology as fiction; portraying Washington as a traitor does not further that agenda.

    It is gratifying to have such a conversation going on this blog. Thank you all for participating; please continue to do so.

  17. Dave, should you happen to hear anything further from The Scotsman, its reporter, or Robert Cooper, please feel free to let us know, if you feel that would be appropriate. I'm sure we'd all be grateful.

  18. I'd just like to point out that Bob is too cheap to buy his own copy and has reserved one from the library. If that's not perpetuating a Scottish cultural stereotype, I don't know what is.

    Albert Pike said "Place no trust in borrowers of books."


  19. I'm beginning to suspect that Cooper's "source" was actually the Scotsman's original source, a source who refused attribution. The Scotsman could then have got Cooper to agree to talk on the record (after disclosing their unattributable source to Cooper). This could explain why Cooper now cannot disclose the identity of the (Scotsman's) source. The source may have talked only of "secret negotiations with the British" and Cooper elaborated it into treachery by Washington (almost on a par with Benedict Arnold's).

  20. So what's new? You're five months late! I said all this back in April when I posted to Publishers Weekly and other outlets. Robert Cooper got his story from me. See my blog:

  21. Sorry 'Lapu', your game is busted. You can stop posting this nonsense now. Just goes to show how many of us had read Paul Maier's book...

  22. Unless Lapu Marie is Paul Maier he has plagiarized the book by Hank Hanegraaff and Paul L. Maier "The Da Vinci Code: Fact Or Fiction? : A Critique of the Novel by Dan Brown":
    Either way, this makes his described knowledge of the plot, via editing extracts from the manuscript, of The Lost Symbol, a blatant lie, since his posts contain almost verbatim quotes from the above book.
    E.g. compare his quote:
    "reason for the American reverses early in the Revolutionary War. Washington, a true and clandestine Tory, was secretly communicating Colonial war plans to the British via Benedict Arnold, Washington’s secret illegitimate son"

    and the passage from the above URL:

    "reason for the American reverses early in the Revolutionary War was that Washington, a true but clandestine Tory, was secretly communicating Colonial war plans to the British via Benedict Arnold, Washington’s secret illegitimate son"

    IDENTICAL except for three words ("was that" instead of a period, and "but" instead of "and")!

    He cannot plausibly pretend that with the pseudonym, Lapu Marie (an anagram of Paul Maier), he was unaware of the above book that Maier co-wrote and published in 2004.

    in reply to my accusation on SEPTEMBER 9, 2009 5:34 PM at his blog,
    Lapu Marie then said...
    You really have to ask Professor Maier about that. It looks he and Dan Brown have been working together on the plot.

    SEPTEMBER 9, 2009 5:38 PM
    As deetective I then said...
    No, I dont need to ask Maier anything. You need to explain your quotes from his book, and your pretence that they come from a Dan Brown ms. Otherwise, no one is going to believe a word you
    say, given your ill-chosen pseudonym.

  23. He is not a traitor he do what is right.


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