Earlier this week, FBI agents arrested Samy Mohamed Hamzeh who was allegedly planning a mass shooting inside the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Downtown Milwaukee.
Hamzeh had taken a tour of the 1883-built building earlier in the month, and it is believed he did so to understand the floorplan.
The high-profile story has people asking many questions, including who exactly are the Masons?
Briefly, they are a fraternity of men – and there are about 11,000 Masons in Wisconsin – that was once made up of stonemasons (craftspeople who cut and built with stone). Masons are required to show tolerance, respect and kindness, as well as practice charity, care for the community and maintain high moral standards in their personal life.
This evening, I had a phone conversation with Frank Struble, the Grand Master of Masons in Wisconsin and asked a litany of questions, including what the Masons do in Milwaukee, why there are so many conspiracies about the group, if women will ever be inducted and why his group was allegedly targeted by Hamzeh.
OnMilwaukee: So why do you think the Masons were targeted?
Frank Struble: I have no idea. You can’t understand a twisted mind or try to make sense of it. We are a society of men who believe it is our job to practice brotherly love and make the world a better place.
OnMilwaukee: Do you think it had anything to do with religion?
Struble: If it did, that doesn’t make sense, either. Every Mason believes in a Spiritual Being, but it is a non-denominational organization. Masons are Christians, Jews, Muslims. In fact, the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons in Minnesota is a Muslim and an Iraqi vet.
There is a "G" in the center of our logo, and it stands for Geometry and God. How you choose to worship God is up to you. We do not have a pathway to heaven. We are simply concerned with men’s behavior while they are here on earth, and we promote well-being and happiness.
OnMilwaukee: Are African Americans welcome to join the Masons?
Struble: Absolutely. At one time, they were required to join a separate group, called the Prince Hall Masons, which still exists. However, black men today are allowed to choose either group and are welcome in both.
OnMilwaukee: What about women? Think we’ll ever be welcome to the group?
Struble: The Masons are a fraternity, not a sorority. There is a group for women called the Eastern Star.
OnMilwaukee: Why do you think there are so many conspiracy theories or misconceptions about the Masons?
Struble: Freemasonry has been around since 1717 and untruths about the Order started around the same time. The United States was consumed by anti-Masonic hysteria in the late 1820s, and the Internet has resurrected a lot of these myths.
Freemasons do not ride goats in our lodges. Originally, we referred to the Supreme Being as God Of All Things, which may be where this started. But the goat is considered a symbol of the devil by some, and they have used this myth to say we worship the devil which is simply not true, either. There are a lot of urban legends, but that’s all they are.
OnMilwaukee: Is there a secret Freemason handshake?
Struble: You have to understand our history in order for me to answer this. We grew out of European traditions during the Dark Ages. At that time, freemasons were building cathedrals and temples, and because of the need for their skills, they were allowed to travel from country to country which most people were not allowed to do at the time. There weren’t any records of anything, so in order to prove who they were, they used signs and grips to ensure they were who they said they were and not an imposter. There were also different levels of workers, based on knowledge and skill, and this is how they identified their rank as well.
You can find a lot of "secret" information on the Internet, but as a Mason, you are not going to find them out from me. I took an oath. So you could say there are things that are private, but not secret. People like to make more out of it, though. Our lodges are clearly marked, and addresses and phone numbers are available.
OnMilwaukee: What are some of the things the Masons do in Milwaukee?
Struble: We are very supportive of public schools, veterans, medical research, our own widows and orphans, and we operate senior care facilities. We have multiple dyslexic learning centers for kids with dyslexia. We also train public school teachers how to teach dyslexic kids. There is a dyslexic learning center in the temple on Van Buren, which is one of the most chilling aspects of what could have happened if the FBI had not caught that guy. There could have been children present in the building.
OnMilwaukee: Has it been difficult to attract younger Masons?
Struble: Actually, we’re seeing a surge with millennials. I couldn’t have told you that five years ago, but I can now. They want to find something bigger than themselves.
OnMilwaukee: Is the Milwaukee Mason community rattled over what almost happened?
Strubel: I wouldn't say rattled, but there is concern. We’re all asking the same question you are: Why would someone target an organization that’s dedicated to making the world a better place?
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.