Freemasons, the fraternal organization based on medieval fraternities of tradesmen, once operated in secrecy for centuries, so it was bizarre when three self-proclaimed members were arrested and charged for impersonating police officers.
The three people, including a low-level aide to state Attorney General Kamala Harris, had gone around to various police departments introducing themselves as officers of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department. It set off questions by authorities who have launched an investigation.
Several Masonic lodges in Southern California say they were baffled by the news, too.
But some members suspect bogus Masonic lodges are to blame. Christopher Hodapp, a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Freemason and the author of "Freemasons for Dummies," says stars like Beyoncé and Jay-Z led to their rise.
"They use a lot of Masonic symbols in their music videos and on their albums," he says.
Did Beyoncé flash a sign of the Illuminati at her 2013 Super Bowl performance? That's what got the Internet talking when it happened.
Even though their connections are treated as an online joke that spawned sites like Is Beyonce the Illuminati?, Hodapp believes that celebrities are driving up genuine interest in Freemasonry, especially among millennials and African-Americans.
However, he says these groups are unsanctioned and capitalizing on the attention: "They're bogus money-making schemes."
Hodapp adds that official Freemason lodges are more subtle and community-focused.
"You vote on candidates, you investigate candidates, you generally have some Masonic education, and then you adjourn and go and have dinner," he says, describing a typical meeting.
Hodapp says lodge members range in ages from 18 and up and reflect the local community; for example, most lodge members in South L.A. are African-American, according to the LA Weekly.
Also, Masons are only secretive because they had more than enough members for decades, says Hodapp. He estimates there were 5 million Masons worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s.
Many of those members are now dying off. Freemasons have a policy not to recruit – only solicit new members.
But many lodges are trying to attract people by opening themselves up. Hodapp says the Internet has been an important tool because lodges can post their contact information publicly so people can reach out to them.
"We're starting to grow again, very slowly," he says.