“I just cleaned 3 satanic club houses and nobody could do anything,” Ben Kohlman posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning.
Kohlman, 42, has been charged with arson in one of the three blazes, and is expected to face similar charges in the attacks on the other two buildings, the Vancouver Sun reported. And although police have not announced a motive in the arsons, Kohlman’s Facebook page contains anti-Freemason attacks that he shared from conspiracy pages, particularly pages about flat earth theory.
The incident wouldn’t even be the first time in recent years that a flat earther attempted to burn down a Masonic lodge. An Australian flat earth convention went off the rails in 2018 when an organizer was accused of the same crime.
Flat earthers believe—wrongly—that the planet is shaped like a disk and that malevolent figures are trying to trick people into believing they live on a globe. But the conspiracy movement has not reached a consensus about who, exactly, is behind the nefarious plot. While some flat earthers blame the government or invoke anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, others falsely accuse the Freemasons (a fraternal society) of concealing the earth’s true shape.
Conspiracy theories about groups like Freemasons are not without consequence. The group has been falsely accused of secretive schemes, leading to Freemasons’ persecution by the Nazi regime, during which fascists linked the fraternity to Judaism in order to allege a “Jewish-Masonic” plot.
Mark Sargent, a prominent flat earther who does not advocate arson, told The Daily Beast that Freemasons had attracted some flat earthers’ attention because the group had the reputation of being a secret society, while still maintaining a public presence.
“A large section of Flat Earth members are grounded in the general conspiracy world, which means they are always aware of different societies that have been accused of keeping world secrets,” Sargent told The Daily Beast via email. “I feel bad for the Masons because they are by far the most public of the secret societies. The lodges in the U.S., for example are usually large, stone, easy to spot buildings, and are in just about every town you can think of.”
Also easy to spot were the three buildings around Vancouver, all of which burned in the early hours of March 30. Although no one was injured, one building was completely destroyed. Approximately 40 minutes after the last fire, Kohlman wrote his Facebook post bragging about “cleaning satanic club houses,” CTV News first reported.
It was unclear on Thursday whether Kohlman, who was arrested in Burnaby, has a lawyer.
Kohlman’s Facebook contained multiple recent attacks on Freemasons, including a post from a flat earth meme page that falsely implied the small fraternal organization actually controlled the world’s large tech companies, or that they were involved in plots to harm people with vaccinations. He also repeatedly promoted a large flat earth Facebook group and is Facebook friends with Mak Parhar, a prominent Canadian flat earther.
Parhar, who did not return a request for comment, made headlines in 2020, first when his yoga studio was shut down after he falsely claimed that yoga could cure COVID-19. Soon thereafter, he became the subject of a criminal investigation after he filmed himself entering a hospital’s COVID-19 area without authorization. Parhar was eventually arrested in November after he allegedly traveled to the U.S. for a flat earth conference and failed to quarantine after his return to Canada. (He is currently fighting the case using a bogus legal theory that claims he doesn’t have to follow certain laws or pay taxes.)
Incredibly, the Tuesday arsons were not the first time a flat earther was accused of burning a Masonic lodge. In 2018, as CNET reported at the time, a lodge fire upended Australia’s first attempted flat earth conference.
While the conference was still in its planning stages, its two organizers reportedly got in an argument, prompting one (nicknamed “Tigger”) to get drunk and set fire to a Masonic lodge.
“Tigger just lost the plot,” his co-organizer told CNET that year. “He tried to burn down a Masonic lodge and got arrested.”
In actuality, the incident could have been worse. Tigger allegedly doused the door with a quick-burning fuel that burned out before it could spread to the rest of the building, his associate said. (Tigger confirmed the broad strokes of the incident to CNET, blaming drunkenness for the arson.)
The Masonic lodge in question posted on Facebook that they’d experienced an attack, but that members didn’t know whether the arsonist was angry at their specific building, or Freemasons in general.
“We don't have any idea why he carried out this act,” the lodge told CNET. “It would be nice to know why.”
In Canada, a Freemason organization condemned the fires. Dave Goddard, spokesperson for the region’s Grand Lodge of B.C. and Yukon, told CTV News that Freemasons were not what Kohlman seemed to believe they were.
“We as Freemasons don’t outwardly express hate toward anybody,” Goddard said. “This individual obviously has issues he needs to deal with.”
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