The Illuminati are supposedly a still-extant secret society run by modern banking elites. The initial Bavarian Illuminati is a historically documented secret society founded in 1776.
There is considerable controversy over whether an Illuminati (enlightened ones) exists today. Conspiratorial historians are convinced it is so, yet there is not definitive proof of this. A modern Illuminati is said to exist at the topmost levels of the Masons – of something called freemasonry, actually. Conspiratorial historians believe that the Illuminati orchestrate world events and intend to create one-world government.
The Jesuit Adam Weishaupt is said to have founded the initial order, which stressed rational thought and the goal of creating a "heaven on earth" rather than waiting for heaven after death. Some believe the movement from the beginning was focused on satanic worship.
Because of its secrecy the movement was very successful and soon numbered many powerful people, including Karl Theodor who was ruler of Bavaria and a backer of what has been called "Enlightened Despotism." But in 1784, he banned the Illuminati, claiming it was a subversive and corrupting influence.
The order was nonetheless increasingly successful and had branches throughout Europe, numbering as many as 2,000 members for a time, including the famous German writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Supposedly, the order went into decline after the death of Weishaupt but there is plenty of speculation that the order never succumbed and is more powerful and healthy in the modern era than ever before.
It is the Internet, to some degree, that has been responsible for the idea that the Illuminati is still prevalent and powerful. Though definitive proof remains elusive, there are literally thousands of sites mentioning the Illuminati or dedicated to covering its activities – many without any evidence. The mere assertion of its existence seems to suffice for some.
Whether or not there is an Illuminati – whether it is orchestrating humankind's events and outcomes and whether it is the religion of the future – remains hard to say. But what is certainly true is that there is an obvious and evident intergenerational, familial elite of hugely wealthy banking families – a power elite, if you will – that does influence human events and seek one-world governance.
With or without the Illuminati, such a power elite certainly exists, so in a sense, controversy over the existence and goals of the modern Illuminati is somewhat beside the point.