Alternative-Right Claims to March in Step with the Knights Templar – This is Fake History
When market trader Tina Gayle was banned from selling mugs featuring Knights Templar logos in a Loughborough Market, Charnwood Borough Council ruled that they were offensive to Muslims. A story in the Daily Mail reported that Gayle had “previously been warned by the council for selling Nazi memorabilia”.
A subsequent report said that the council had not been concerned about what was depicted on the mugs, only that they were new products being sold on a vintage market. But the inclusion in the coverage of this little reference to the stallholder’s Nazi products highlights the regular association of the Knights Templar with right-wing extremism.
Drinking vessel for mugs. Amazon
Of course, the Knights Templar symbology recalls the crusades – and is associated with medieval Christian fanaticism – but other prominent crusade iconography, such as the cross of the Knights Hospitaller, used by St John’s Ambulance is overlooked. So why does Templar imagery garner a similar reaction to Nazi symbols, while another equally significant crusader image hardly registers with the wider public – except with positive connotations?
- The Mysterious Stories of Castle Ponferrada: Knights Templar, the Camino de Santiago and the lost Sword of Jacques de Molay
- Greed and Decline: The Treasure of the Knights Templar and Their Downfall
- Mystery of the Knights Templars: Protectors or Treasure Hunters on a Secret Mission?
Soldiers, doctors and bankers
The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as The Knights Hospitaller, was founded after the first crusade to provide hospital care for pilgrims sanctioned by Pope Paschall II in 1113. The infamous Order of The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as The Templar, was founded in 1119 by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman, as a revolutionary monastic order, that would escort and protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.
Escutcheon of the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes (1305-1523) in Athens War Museum. Dimitris Kamaras via Flickr, CC BY-SA
These two orders grew to become the premier Christian fighting forces in the Holy Land, due to the large amount of wealth gifted them by the European nobles. The Templars and the Hospitallers were major forces right up until the Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. Despite the prominence of their military roles, the Knights Hospitaller provided medical care for pilgrims, while the Knights Templar grew richer by acting as bankers for crusading nobles.
While both orders played major roles within the crusades, their respective icons evoke different sentiments – these days, the Hospitaller cross represents the charitable work of St John’s Ambulance but the Templar cross is deemed offensive and worthy of a ban.
Hatred on the streets
The red cross upon a white background, a symbol of the Knights Templar, carries connotations of nationalism within the UK due to its resemblance to the cross of St George on the English flag. The iconic cross has been thematically appropriated by extremist right-wing group the English Defence League (EDL), and the group has been known to dress in quasi-knightly garb.
The English Defence League has appropriated the Cross of St George. Gavin Lynn via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
The most infamous and horrific association with Templars in recent times would be the claims made by the right-wing extremist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who in 2011 carried out terrorist attacks in Norway. Following his attacks, a manifesto appeared in which Breivik claimed to be a Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe.
Breivik is not alone in asserting a Templar identity within right wing views. The modern Templar community, The Knights Templar-UK, also forgets the monastic lifestyle of the order and uses it as a platform for the right-wing views outlined on its website. On a page called “Our Aims” it states:
With the advent of mass immigration, this balance can be swung in many directions, including ones where extremists of particular faiths, may wish to dominate and control other’s beliefs.
The site also offers a review of the British political parties, stating which ones the Templars would identify with most closely. According to the website, these parties are the English Democrats, Ukip and the BNP – ironic, when you think that the Templars were an international organisation that spanned Europe.
In the frame
Popular culture often paints the Knights Templar as villains within a medieval setting, most notably in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, which depicted the Templar as racist murderers who hate Muslims and openly mock religion. Scott’s film depicts a Hospitaller knight as a pious man who counsels the film’s protagonist Balian and condemns the violent acts of the Templars.