Phony Secret Societies and First World War

From the Lecture Series: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard B. Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho

Special agent Leon Bone became curious after many people reported seeing strange lights in the night sky in Utah. World War I was in progress and some were quick to see the hidden hand of Kaiser Wilhelm behind these nocturnal visitations. Is it true that the Great War was triggered by a secret society?

The photograph shows the young members of Mlada Bosna.
Members of Mlada Bosna, a secret society, had an avowed goal of unifying Bosnia with neighboring Serbia. Their actions resulted in the First World War. (Image: Intermagazin/Public domain)

In the spring of 1917, there were many reports of mysterious lights sightings in the night sky in Salt Lake City, Utah. At that time, flying devices were rare, especially in that area. These lights attracted the interest of a special agent Leon Bone of the Bureau of Investigation, who decided to do some research.

Leon Bone met the leader of a group claiming to build and operate those flying contraptions. His name was John Van Valkenburg. He fabricated a story that involved the ability of the machines to fly a thousand miles per hour in any weather. It had “revolving discs” that gave the flying machine an extraordinary power by producing limitless lift and energy. Valkenburg claimed that he had flown to the North Pole and a mysterious place similar to the mythical Hollow Earth.

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

A Secret Society for Protecting Technology

Valkenburg mentioned a mysterious old man who lived in a massive stationary aircraft floating above the earth. The old man had directed Valkenburg to establish a secret society to protect that technology. The society, as the old man had claimed, would become the elite of a new world order to create a peaceful and prosperous world.

The photograph shows UFOs.
John Van Valkenburg fabricated a story about flying machines. (Image: IgorZh/Shutterstock)

The tale fabricated by Valkenburg is very similar to today’s UFO encounters. And, like most UFO encounters, it was unsupported by physical evidence. It turned out that Valkenburg was the only one to have actually flown in a craft or to have seen the old man.

A Secret Society’s Connection with a Church

People in Valkenburg’s group had unshakeable faith in him. If it was a con, Special Agent Bone couldn’t find that anyone was making money off it. In hope of learning more, Bone accepted initiation into the secret order.

It turned out to be much larger than he’d imagined. The brethren included ranchers, prospectors, and tradesmen, though none with any notable education or scientific knowledge. Curiously, almost all the brothers were Freemasons, and most were affiliated with the Mormon church.

Valkenburg hinted that the church was mixed up in the mystery, and claimed connection to a “Mormon secret service.” Valkenburg coaxed letters from Special Agent Bone stating that he and his cult brothers were involved in “government work” and weren’t to be molested. Other federal officials in Salt Lake decided that Bone had lost his objectivity.

Learn more about Bolsheviks, Masons, and Russian Revolution.

Robert Whitson’s Investigations

The federal officials called in a new investigator from Los Angeles named Robert Whitson, who became convinced the airship gang was serving German interests. Whitson hauled in Valkenburg and several others, and gave them the third degree. They stubbornly clung to their implausible tales.

Whitson finally put them on trial for impersonating government agents. When he couldn’t prove that, he persuaded psychiatrists to declare Valkenburg and his chief lieutenant “selectively insane,” and shipped them off to a mental hospital in Provo. A month later, they walked out free men. They never publicly said anything about airships again.

Meanwhile, Leon Bone complained to Washington that Whitson’s ham-fisted methods had destroyed any hope of getting to the bottom of the case. Bone fretted that if he’d had more time he could have uncovered the truth. But he admitted he had no notion what that was.

Bone also pointed out that while Whitson’s investigation was ongoing, and that since then people were still seeing strange lights in the sky. If Valkenburg and his group weren’t behind them, who was? Nobody ever figured that out, either.

Learn more about Adolf Hitler and the Thule Society.

The Secret Society that Caused WWI

A portrait of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination ignited the First World War. (Image: Ferdinand Schmutzer/Public domain)

In June 1914, in one of the most influential acts of secret societies, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo. The murderer was Gavrilo Princip, who, along with at least ten other people, was ordered to kill Franz Ferdinand. They were all members of a revolutionary secret society, Mlada Bosna, or Young Bosnia.

The society’s avowed goal was the unification of Bosnia with neighboring Serbia. Mlada Bosna was an offshoot of a larger secret society, Narodna Odbrana, or Peoples’ Defense. Narodna Odbrana’s headquarters was located in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Belgrade was the base of a third secret society, Unity or Death, better known as the Black Hand. The Black Hand secretly controlled the other two societies, so what seemed like three organizations was really one. At the center of this tangled web sat Col. Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the chief of Serbian military intelligence.

The Black Hand had some secret financial supporters, including the Russian military attaché in Belgrade, Viktor Artamonov, and his boss, the Russian ambassador Nikolai Hartwig. According to Dimitrijevic’s later confessions, the assassination was “in agreement with Artamonov.” It could mean that Artamonov’s superiors in Russia approved the assassination.

So, it wasn’t a lone gunman who started WWI, but Serbian and Russian government agents, who worked for phony secret societies.

Common Questions about Phony Secret Societies and First World War

Q: Who was John Van Valkenburg?

John Van Valkenburg was the leader of a secret society that claimed to build airships.

Q: What is Mlada Bosna?

Mlada Bosna or Young Bosnia was a secret society controlled by the Black Hand. They were involved in the murder of Franz Ferdinand, which triggered World War I.

Q: Who shot Franz Ferdinand?

Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand. He was the member of Mlada Bosna, a secret society.

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