July 31st, 2011
02:00 PM ET

What is the Knights Templar?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

The group has come to everyone's attention because of Anders Behring Breivik's killing spree in Norway, now just over a week ago. He claimed in his rambling manifesto to represent a modern-day "Knights Templar".

But who are they?

The name might ring a bell, especially if you've seen The DaVinci Code or National Treasure or one of any number of recent films. But these are, of course, all fictional. What are the facts?

The Knights Templar were a Christian military order founded in the early 12th century. Its members were said to be elite warriors who wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross. They made their reputation by winning a series of battles in the Crusades.

Ironically, the Knights' first headquarters were in a mosque - the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem - because they believed it was built on top of the ruins of Solomon's Temple. Their name, templar, comes from that legendary temple.

The Knights' main job was said to be protecting Christian pilgrims from Muslims (amongst others). To this day, the site of the mosque and the temple mount remains one of the most heavily disputed place on earth.

The order of the Knights Templar was dissolved in 1312, but its legacy lives on. Rumors still swirl that the group exists in total secrecy and guards the Holy Grail.

From what sounds like fiction, back to fact: We know that Brevik saw himself as a Knight Templar.

But get this: Halfway across the world from Norway, a new drug gang has recently arisen in Mexico. They call themselves quite simply "The Knights Templar".

And they claim to live by a religious code, a copy of which the Associated Press recently obtained. It says the drug-dealing knights will "defend the values of society...against materialism, injustice and tyranny" and that its members will be "honorable", "noble", "courteous" and "honest".

So they are "honest" drug dealers, selling marijuana, cocaine and whatever else in the name of God?

Anders Breivik's fascination with the Knights is less bizarre - in fact, he's part of a larger movement. People like Breivik are trying to resurrect the idea of a modern-day Crusade, a real clash of civilizations against what they see as an Islamic invasion of Europe.

In fact, Muslims make up only about 3 % of Europe's population and are likely to rise to between 5% and 8% by 2025 and level out at that point. But that doesn't change the reality of the anger, hatred and violence.

Ironically, in Breivik's nostalgic view of the medieval world, the Knights Templar resembles nothing so much as al Qaeda, a terrorist organization that is fundamentally opposed to the modern world.

We still don't know if Breivik's boast that there are more lone knights like him waiting to act is true. But if his depiction of the knight as a self-sacrificing assassin on a larger holy mission sounds familiar, it's because it too is mirrored in Islamist terror. That's exactly what a suicide bomber is: A lone fighter, often acting in the so-called interests of a larger movement and willing to kill innocents to draw attention to the cause.

While we have all focused on the dangers of radical Islam and of Muslim terror, the attack in Norway should remind us that there is actually a pretty large problem of other sources of terrorism in the West.

The European Union's 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report has some fascinating findings. It showed that of the 294 terror attacks committed in Europe in 2009, only one was conducted by Islamists. That's a third of one percent.

The most recent statistics show there were 249 terror attacks in Europe in 2010. Only three of those attacks were carried out by Islamist terrorists. Again, that's about one percent. Most of the attacks were by separatist groups or anarchists.

So perhaps that's the lesson we can learn from the events in Norway. Islamic radicalism is a real problem and Islamic terrorism a real threat. But if we ignore other kinds of threats we're likely to be blindsided by another Gabby Giffords shooting or another Virginia Tech massacre.

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soundoff (323 Responses)
  1. PositiveInfluence

    If you want to know the truth about how little Zakaria cares about you, just google "post democracy zakaria"

    He is a CFR goon an deserves to be filleted by the masses. I hope we can rub salt into every one of his open nerves. The time is coming soon. These people will meet their demise and we will cause it.

    July 31, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • Robrob

      I'm pretty sure threats of violence are a violation of CNN's terms of service.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  2. Robrob

    The order was dissolved 700 years ago. Anyone today claiming to be a member of the Knights Templar is a loon of the first degree. No different than the loons who play Druid dress up or claim to be modern witches (all modern recreations).

    July 31, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • meemee

      Well, there is a grade in York Rite Freemasonry that is called Knight Templar, but FM scholars admit that it was created in homage to their symbolic history. Many credentialed scholars have linked FM to the KT, and they certainly appear to share similar history and mystical history, but the KTs of FM do charity work, as FM does in general. These KTs are likely as not to be middle aged, punchy, enthusiasts of history and Western mysticism. That is the worst you can say about them.

      July 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  3. klifferd

    nice dumbing down of the brutality that was the knights templar.

    July 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Reply
    • John

      Then you know nothing about them.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply
    • meemee

      And why you are at that, why not mention the activities of Genghis Khan, who slaughtered millions of civilians all across Asia and Eastern Europe at the same time as the Crusades? Do we forget about the most bloodthirsty religious murderer in history because he is NOT white and European?

      July 31, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  4. Bonita

    Massacres and atrocities are crimes done by anyone or carrying any name. Muslims, though numerous in population, by their doctrines don't tolerate the existence of infidels and apostates. That fact sets them apart from others. Muslims must change from the very foundation in the Muslim-majority land. People reveal what they are when they are majority or in power. Being a minority is only a temporary status, not the true selves. Unless all the Muslim-majority land gets complete religious freedom, no argument works for them. Walk the talk.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  5. Bob Ramos

    The writer needs to get his facts straight:

    1. The Knights Templars were famous for guarding the routes that the Crusaders took. Not for being a military force. They were also the first modern "bankers". A merchant could deposit his funds in Europe and receive a draft. After he arrived at his destination in Asia, he could redeem the draft at a Knight Templar officer.
    2. In 1312, the King of France, and his false pope, tricked the Knights into have their annual gathering in France. During one terrible night, all of the Knights in France were arrested and charged with heresay. These poor guys were tortured and then killed. The Grand Knight was first tortured and later burned to death over a slow fire. The remaining Knights kept the name alive for hundreds of years and it is still alive in parts of the world.

    P.S. Legend has it that the Grand Knight, before he left for France, assembled a vast treasure. This treasure was transported to a secret location by certain selected knights who guarded it during the lifetimes.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply
    • meemee

      It's amazing to so often see posts like this that claim to be factual and start off with such inaccuracy. The KTs stated purpose was to protect pilgrims, but they never did that. Their fame was made as a military order and the fierce discipline that won them battles, usually outnumbered. There were only 9 for the first decade. Rather than write a book here, I will recommend that anyone who really wants to know about the KTs read a credentialed history book on them. One good one is Stephen Howarth's "The Knights Templar." He is a Fellow of The Royal Geographic Society. There is no better credential.

      July 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  6. Flyin4awa

    "The Code of the Knights Templar of Michoacán," a drug cartel...Not the real Knights Templar! Fareed, you are a fool, and so is your editor for letting you post this garbage as a real story!

    July 31, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • Robrob

      Gee dude, did you even read the story?

      July 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  7. Bonita

    Every crazy man has something he looks forward in the things he thinks he knows while he himself is a pure evil incarnated and a justification of the evil he does.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  8. Vincent Lovece

    So, who carried out the other 246 terrorist attacks in 2010 if not Muslims? All the right or left-wing extremist lunatics that the news never reports about?

    July 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  9. Thomas Mc

    "What is the Knights Templar?"

    It's how they say "T. Party" in Europe.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • NamCbtVet

      Rather insulting to the memory of the original KT to tie them in with the loons of the (never) right.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  10. Koffee

    Why are the crazies always interested in the Templars? Off subject a bit, but the Knights Hospitaller was a similar militant holy order started during the crusades with a much more noble and interesting history(IMO).

    July 31, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  11. vince

    The Knights Templar also served as one of the first international banks - monies deposited in one chapter house (say France) could be withdrawn at another chapter house (say Jerusalem). That was huge event considering how fractured Europe was with all the infighting and huge aid to commerce. And the only reason the order was dissolved was that the King of France was hugely in debt and figured he'd trump up some charges and confiscate the wealth of the main chapter house in France.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  12. David

    wow that's crazy, I thought this was going to be about The Knights Templar but it turned out to be Zakaria explaining that muslims really aren't the bad guys. History lesson turned commentary.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  13. Mike

    Might there be a reason why there have been so little attacks by Muslim extremists? Could a small, but significant reason be the attention we have put into that problem?

    July 31, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  14. Alex

    I thought the knights wanted to to get the grail and keep the knowledge of the power of the grail away from the muslems. and wipe them out so that no one would remember that they had a pass full of knowledge and wisdom which kicked off the rise of the illuminiti... At least tell the full insted of a forth of the truth behind the first and start of the fn phycos power hungry fuks....

    July 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  15. ARV

    Zakaria, you referenced terrorism to Islam several times but not once did you reference terrorism to Christianity. If you are casting stones to one why not cast stones to the other, and label the perpetrators as Christian Terrorist. Your stupefied correlation of such heinous acts to Islam is appalling.

    No true follower of these two religions condones such idiotic behavior.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • Robrob

      Funny how you think Zakaria is "anti-Muslim" and other posters think he is "anti-Christian!" I guess that's pretty good indication the article is accurate and even handed.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  16. demogal

    Fareed Zakaria always makes so much sense. Intelligent commentary, thoughtful, well-researched–wish we had more like him in the news-analysis business.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  17. Greg Kells

    The Knights were suppressed in France by King Phillip IV. Many fled to Scotland where it is believed they formed the Masonic Order. Like any secret society, much of what is known about them is supposition. It is widely known though, that the Templars where NOT anti-Islamic. They fought Muslims for land, but generally held a favorable opinion of them. Breivik is NOT a templar, modern Masons are the closest we have to Templars, and they certainly aren't anti-Islamic. Any connection Breivik claims to the Templars or to Christianity for that matter, is a by-product of his delusional paranoia. I'm neither a Christian or a Mason, but I find it disturbing that anyone would believe there is any real correlation between a lunatics delusional claims and the otherwise sane people who happen to belong to the groups he identifies with. If Dahmer had stated he was eating children to save the animals, would we be looking into PETA right now?

    July 31, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • Robrob

      Well, it's a nice legend but really they were formed in the 16-17th Century. They have based themselves on the Knights Templar (and the fabled Egyptian pyramid builders as well) but there was a distinct centuries long break in lineage.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
      • Cody

        yeah. It's a nice story, but there is no evidence of an actual connection.

        July 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  18. Lost Generation

    Oh... Oh .... KNIGHTS OF TEMPLAR tried to bring back blond hair jesus. You didn't know Blond hair Jesus is white horseman of apocalypse which bring war, famine, death, diseases.

    In 7th DEAD SEAS SCROLL they found out second coming Jesus was evil that come out blond hair. Christians had to burn millions of banned version of bible and replace king james bible. Adolf hitler banned ancient bible; hilter said blond hair and blue eyes would be superior.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  19. Azhar

    After reading the comments by different Islamphobes, I as a practicing and proud Muslim will congratulate you all for understanding the threat so well. Every Non-Muslim should be threatened by Islam – not Muslims(present day Muslims dont follow the real Islam, they just follow cultural traditions) – but the real Islam. Because when it reaches you in its pristine form, It will challenge you to the core, it will challenge the most fundamental of your beliefs, whatever dogmas you practice, traditions you follow(blindly) or try to preach and explain illogical theologies it will challenge you at spiritual level, intellectual level and moral level.
    I have hard time understanding the phrase "killing in the name of God" Jesus never preached killing, so who gave these cults the permission to kill in the name of religion?
    On the other hand if one argues that the brave in any society has an obligation to defend the weak from an outside enemy and if the brave execute this duty then they be treated as Heroes not as Killers, then with this logic every war, every killing can be justified by the respective sides. Who will decide who has more right to kill and who doesn't?
    For people claiming that the Masjid was built on the ruins of Temple of Solomon, then I ask you, who is Solomon? how do you know somebody with that name ever existed? even if he ever existed how do you know he worshiped a God? and how do you know that God needed a Temple for worship? Just too many questions! and please dont try to authenticate Bible by quoting from Bible, its a catch22.
    Dear people, there are lots of unknowns, if you want truth, study, research, spend time, think, ponder and reflect on realities around you may be some day you will find truth. Its a life long process but its doable. Dont be a keyboard warrior, everybody can do better then that. By the way, this is the core teaching of Quran, to study, to think, to ponder, to reflect and then to reach the truth and if you are that lucky to find it, then practice it. Peace!

    July 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  20. Lost Generation

    Anyone who believes BLONDE HAIR JESUS us false prophet. Beware the false prophet.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • kevo1cat

      I understand what your saying my body was born from the other side of that line .your write in so many way's but please do not fergite all form's starting at black and over time we have been talt reaches white im with and i think that BC if you git my point .That how they /how /what win as long as we are reborn in the spirt then we all understand the truth of the meaning of chirst that we are all the same and are all childern growing as we walk though this life only hoping to make it to the other side if there is evean one or is only about the truth's that we no to be truth's and pass that on to are childeren that hate is not the light or form of the though that chirst tryed to teach us ande we all have to fergive other's and hop they learn and fill and see with there own eay's not in this life but then the next.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  21. kevo1cat

    Talking about the Church and how it all started let's go back in time and look at the life of what all the churche's say that Crist was the son of the most holy true God the first the last.As most that beleave in chirst would say he is the only one that we can go to in order to speek to the father yes/no.Ok then if your follow chirst life on this planet and have read his word's and have tooking it into your heart and your mind,then think about what I'm going to say if they let this be said . I can not find in his word's with in his time span and hisd walk with us on this planet that he built a church out of stone yes/or no? Then if you have read his word's then think about how his right hand man was and what and how he lived his life after chirst died for us all? Then think go back in those time's and look to the Romen's and how they lead that part of the world ? The person that built the church how was is name and how did he work for

    July 31, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • ibjonnyc

      What? Are you like 6 years old or is English not your first language?

      July 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  22. vrim

    You can almost hear a collective thud as hateful minds closed and blocked out those "who's doing the terrorist acts" stats that Fareed Zakaria presents in this piece.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  23. quacknduck

    the Knights Templar invented checking accounts, They were not “dissolved. They were very wealthy and one of the politicians of the time, a bankrupt king who wanted their wealth basically partnered with THE CHURCH to torture and kill most of them, the rest went into hiding. The king and the Church split the booty. Also check out the Knights Templar character in the novel “Ivanhoe ”to get a more personal view of who they were.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  24. Trish

    Hey guys, will you visit HelpFaye.ORG , a friend of mine is fighting for her life... Thank you

    July 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  25. Joe Dugan

    Fareed is believing his own CNN promotion ads. This article, or diatribe, is a real shoddy attempt at journalism.

    July 31, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • Robrob

      Feel free to provide some actual facts to support your claim.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  26. gary

    Militant god nuts. Templar, GOP, AlQeada, Taliban, Zionists, Hamass, So. Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, .. all crazy god nuts holding us back from progress

    July 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  27. RavenCLAWZ


    July 31, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • Robrob

      People who type in all caps are not compatible.

      July 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  28. Elphaba

    Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am; stuck in the middle with you

    July 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
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