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In the Belly of the Beast: Important Updates from the Knight Templar SW Dept Conference in Las Vegas

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

The Southwest Department Conference of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar was convened on Saturday, October 30, 2021, at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. Attended by S.K. David Kussman (removed unilaterally as Deputy Grand Master just two weeks into his term by S.K. Michael Johnson for alleged “malfeasance”), some significance to the meeting was expected.

To his credit, Grand Master Michael Johnson fielded questions and entertained discussion for more than two hours defending his actions and his decisions, which have been widely criticized over the last few months.

There was significant push-back from the Sir Knights present, a clear majority of whom support S.K. Kussman.

During the exchanges that ensued, S.K. Mike Johnson admitted that he had removed S.K. Kussman “arbitrarily” due to “disloyalty and malfeasance in office.” He also accused S.K. Jeffrey Nelson, Past Grand Master, of “malfeasance” and “unknightly conduct.”

S.K. Mike Johnson has been found actively promoting this opinion at all department conferences and in correspondence that has been distributed to the membership.

The allegations stem from S.K. Nelson’s actions as Grand Master in seeking to end the feud between the Grand Encampment and the Great Priory of America CBCS, a feud begun in 2010/11 when S.K. Billy Koon, then-Grand Master, traveled to France to be initiated into a clandestine version of the CBCS (the Great Priory of Occitania of the Reformed and Rectified Scottish Rite). Shortly after joining the unrecognized group, S.K. Koon returned to the U.S. and invaded the sovereign jurisdiction of the GPA when, in 2011 at All Masonic Week, he initiated 32 new members into his unrecognized group.

To his credit, S.K. Mike Johnson admitted he was made a member of the Occitania group, before its letter of authority was returned by S.K. David Dixon Goodwin in 2013. S.K. Mike Johnson further admitted he was a member of an unrecognized version of the CBCS (essentially the same group) now operating under an annulled charter (the so-called "Waite Charter") in Canada.

When asked how he thought the GPA felt about his membership in a clandestine version of their sovereign Rite, S.K. Mike Johnson exclaimed, “it’s none of their damn business!” and demanded the S.K. asking the questions sit down.

S.K. Mike Johnson’s conflict of interest should be apparent. S.K. Mike Johnson has been moving against the GPA under direction of S.K. Billy Koon. The fact that both these men are members of a group operating under an annulled and unrecognized charter should raise concerns among regular masons.

Further, potential exposure of the Grand Encampment and Knight Templar Eye Foundation to liability for tortious conduct is troubling, but apparently not of concern to Grand Encampment leadership. But accusing someone of “malfeasance” in any professional capacity (s.a. as an officer in a fraternal organization or a board member of a 501(c)(3) organization) may constitute defamation per se. That is, defamation and libel for which damages are assumed and need not be proved at law. Thus, S.K. Mike Johnson’s actions of removing a unanimously elected officer without cause, without a hearing, and then claiming malfeasance as grounds after the fact are problematic and should be of concern.

Also, strong opposition arose against S.K. Mike Johnson’s General Order No. 3, which he had issued shortly before the Conference (a copy was distributed at the Conference). Among other issues, the General Order included a provision requiring all Grand Commanderies adopting the Call to Conclave to pony up a $2,000 deposit before the Call would be considered. Happily, this apparent act of intimidation was back-peddled when S.K. Mike Johnson suggested he would re-issue the General Order with the prepayment requirement removed. This he did a few days later.

Also of note, S.K. Mike Johnson stated publicly he would repeal Koon Decision No. 2 (2010) which pronounced the GPA an unrecognized and illegitimate Templar Order in conflict with the Grand Encampment’s constitution.

Koon Decision No. 2 (2010) has been a point of contention – the Decision was implemented at the Triennial in 2012 as Resolution 2012-1. This Resolution 2012-1 was repealed at the 68th Triennial by a 77% vote this August past.

S.K. Mike Johnson had taken the unlikely position that the underlying Decision also needed to be repealed…. The term S.K. Mike Johnson employed repeatedly, and emphatically, to some affect was “sloppy”; the legislation proposed at the 68th Triennial repealing Resolution 2012-1 was “sloppy,” he said, because it didn’t address the underlying Decision that the Resolution implemented. Therefore, the GPA was still an unrecognized body and, at the same time, in making this assertion, he had not overturned the 77% majority vote....

The words perhaps better employed might be in pari materia, “of the same substance” – a legal phrase meaning that where two laws say the same thing, repealing one repeals the other.

Nonetheless, should S.K. Johnson repeal Koon Decision No. 2 (2010), the Grand Encampment's official position will be that membership in the GPA is no longer incompatible with membership in the Grand Encampment. This would restore the balance, returning the organizations to the same position they enjoyed for almost 90 years. (Of course, whether a prior decision can simply be overturned by a subsequent decision raises additional questions of Templar law – a better course of action might be to decide to adopt the legal position and interpret the repeal of Resolution 2012-1 as necessarily repealing the underlying Decision the Resolution necessarily implemented.)

For the most part S.K. Mike Johnson should be commended for his willingness to address these issues. The exchanges were tense at some points, but on the whole gentlemanly conduct prevailed.

Meanwhile, out on Freemont Street, as Halloween dipped shadows into the streets, the parade of the bizarre and unusual gave visual definition to the peculiarity of Templary today.

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