Sovereign Military Order of Malta Loses US Trademark Case; Accused of “Fraud” in Application Process

Following on from yesterday’s post, I’ve found this press release from the US law firm Holland & Knight:

Holland & Knight successfully defended client The Florida Priory of Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order against charges of trademark infringement, false advertising and unfair competition issues.

On September 29, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of the firm’s client, bringing to close an unusual case that featured testimony on the activities of Napoleon, Tsar Paul I of Russia and other historical figures.

The charges were brought by the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (SMOM), a Catholic non-profit international organization that shares a similar background and mission with The Florida Priory. Both organizations trace their histories to the eleventh century and provide charitable and humanitarian services, however, The Florida Priory is a chapter of an ecumenical Christian organization not affiliated with the Catholic Church. Its headquarters is in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The SMOM is a high-profile Roman Catholic organisation; as its website notes, it “maintains formal diplomatic relations with over 100 States and International Organisations. It is also recognised by the United Nations, and by the Holy See.”

That cuts no ice in Florida, though:

…In the end, the District Court dismissed all of the claims against The Florida Priory and instead, found that SMOM had obtained four of its trademarks by engaging in fraud during the application process. The court ordered those trademarks, which include the phrases, “Knights of Malta,” “Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, “Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem,” and “Order of Saint John of Jerusalem” cancelled.

The court found that SMOM ignored the rights of The Florida Priory and its parent international organization (which the court acknowledged had commenced operations in the U.S. 18 years before SMOM) in its PTO applications by stating that it knew of no other entity using the marks even though SMOM was aware of the parent organization and The Florida Priory. The court also found that since the two organizations share a common history prior to 1798, references to that history are appropriate and do not constitute false advertising under The Lanham Act.

The rival “Ecumenical Order” has a “Royal Protector” in Prince Enrique de Borbon y Garcia-Lobez, but the “Prince Grand Master”, as I noted yesterday, is a businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou, author of Islam vs the United States. The “Grand Chancellor”, meanwhile, is Lt. Gen William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a well-known Christian Right activist and a contributor to the report Shariah: The Threat to America, published by Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. A “Deputy Member of the Supreme Council” is the neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner, and Joyner claims that his books are in part responsible for a “spiritual renewal” in the Order. Boykin and Papanicolaou are in turn board members of Joyner’s neo-Pentecostal Christian Right outfit, the Oak Initiative.

Last year, Boykin and Papanicolaou published an aggressively anti-Muslim (and anti-Obama) fundraising letter for the Order:

The Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security recently swore in two devout Muslims in senior posts…. Was it not “Devout Muslim men” that flew planes into U.S. buildings 9 years ago? Was it not a Devout Muslim who killed 14 at Fort Hood?

……Our Order and its predecessor going back to the 11th century AD, always made protection of Christians and our Judeo-Christian culture its main purpose. Will you help us with your contribution, so that we can help those in the United States who can raise awareness of the danger confronting us and our Constitution?

Obviously, it will not be helpful if SMOM is mistakenly associated with this kind of rhetoric.

The “Ecumenical Order” has posted a statement explaining its “history and rights”:

…As the heir and continuator of the original Order of the Knights of St John which made Russia its base after 1798, OSJ regrets the apparent confusion in SMOM’s announcement regarding OSJ’s history and rights.

OSJ notes that, unlike SMOM, it receives no government support and yet over the last three years alone has donated more than $60 million in medicines and medical supplies around the world…

This record is made possible through our very low overhead costs and the absence of official diplomatic relations with other nations, which would necessitate the maintenance of expensive embassies whose benefit to the local needy and poor is highly questionable. Like SMOM, which has been granted observer status at the United Nations as an NGO, OSJ hopes to also be recognised by the UN.

OSJ vigorously defends and supports Christians in nations where Christianity is under attack at present, such as Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria and others. Such support is carried out with medical supplies and through appearances in international media such as Fox and CNN, where OSJ Knights speak out frequently in defence of Christians and of our Judeo-Christian laws and values. In doing so publicly, OSJ is probably unique among the many Orders of St John…

The issue of dispute is what happened after 1798, when Napoleon invaded Malta and the Order of Saint John was forced to leave the island. The SMOM website lists the line of succession during this period as follows:

71 Fra’ Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim 1797 – 1802
72 Emperor Paul I of Russia (de facto) 1799 – 1801
73 Fra’ Giovanni Battista Tommasi 1803 – 1805

After this there was no Grand Master until 1879, although Tommasi nominated Innico Maria Guevara-Suardo as “lieutenant general” to follow him, and this was confirmed by Pope Pius VII. A permanent base was established in France from 1834.

The Ecumenical Order, by contrast, lists Tsar Paul as becoming Grand Master in 1798, but after 1801 there is a break until 1913, at which point Grand Duke Alexander of Russia is listed. After him comes a second break, from 1933 to 1960, when an American named Crolian Edelen de Burgh appears.

An essay by the historian Jonathan Riley-Smith has some further background (1):

The Hospital of St John has to endure the illegitimate and eccentric grand mastership of Tsar Paul I, who was not Roman Catholic, celibate, professed or recognized by the Holy See…

As for the Russian branch:

This had been abolished by Paul’s successor, but in nineteenth-century Russia there was considerable interest in its traditions among the descendants of its original commanders…. Romantic interest manifested itself in foundations outside Russia after the Revolution, which through fission have multiplied into no less than 27 separate bodies…

A Russian group did continue to exist, though, and a Russian Grand Priory was established in Paris after 1917, with exiled Russian hereditary knights.

The claims of what is now known as the “Ecumenical Order” are disputed by Guy Stair Sainty, author of The Orders of Saint John (“published by the Most Venerable Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of which HM Queen Elizabeth II is Sovereign Head”). Sainty wrote a critical letter to Rick Joyner 2000, after Joyner published a booklet on the Order called Courage that Changed the World (1997).

The story is somewhat obscure, but the St John of Jerusalem Research Web Site (run by Rev Michael Foster, representing the British Priory of the Paris-based Russian Grand Priory) describes Joyner’s group as “essentially an offshoot of an ‘Order’ which began in 1953 founded by a Charles Pichel but claiming its origin in 1908 in the USA”:

Earlier in the 20th Century semi-masonic organisations of “Knights” emerging out of the Orange Lodges (The Black Association) had set up in North America. Arthur T. Lamson led such a group called “The Knights of Malta”, which allegedly had registered itself as a Corporation in the State of Jersey in 1911. However by 1912 the group had become defunct, with the members reconciling with another group which they had left previously.

The incorporation of 1911, which had been gained by the “Knights of Malta” as led by Arthur T. Lamson had lain dormant, even though the group had ceased to exist. The archivist of the “Knights of Malta” Order, had been a Dr. Bullock who was consulted by Pichel. Dr. Bullock died, with the records held by Pichel. Armed with these records, Pichel developed a whole prehistory for a new group he founded or with which he was connected. Adding to the claim to have been founded in America in 1908, he improved on the Orange Order background by mimicking the foundation of the Paris group, complete with its Russian Hereditary Commanders. 

Crolian Edelen de Burgh was a close associate of Pichel (a far-right activist [2]), but eventually fell out with him and denounced his claims. Further:

In the 1970s “Prince” Roberto Paterno Castello who had been the Grand Master of the Pichel Order (1979 – 1992) left to become Grand Master of his own Order. The Canadian Grand Priory of the Paterno Order had for its Grand Prior, Frendo Cumbo, who in the mid-late 1990s formed his own Order of St John, of which he occupies the elevated position as Grand Master.

Paterno is listed on the Ecumenical Order website as following de Burgh from 1974-1993; he was followed by Prince George Korey-Krzeczowski from 1993-1997, at which point Cumbo is listed. The St John Research Web Site author (presumably Foster) complains about Joyner’s “apologetics… on behalf of the Cumbo ‘Order'”, and he accuses Cumbo of falsely claiming to be a hereditary knight. Cumbo died in 2006; he was succeeded for a few months “pro tem” by a certain Adrian Busietta, after which Papanicolaou took charge.


(1) Jonathan Riley-Smith (2007), “Towards a History of Military-Religious Orders”, in Karl Borchardt, Nikolas Jaspert, Helen J. Nicholson (eds), The Hospitallers, the Mediterranean and Europe: Festschrift for Anthony Luttrell (Ashgate: Aldershot), pp. 269-284.

(2) See Russ Bellant (1991), Old Nazis, The New Right, and the Republican Party (Political Research Associates: Cambridge MA), p. 45: “Pichel [was] an adviser (via correspondence from the US) to Hitler aide Ernst Hanfstaengl. Pichel’s Order is a secret society led by anti-Semites who have worked with the quasi-Nazi Liberty Lobby and with neofascist Lyndon LaRouche groups”. Further, a Winter 1986 report from Covert Action Information Bulletin (reposted on some dubious websites) explains that:

The Shickshinny Order, officially called “The Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem,” has been headed by Col. Thourot Pichel in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, although a few years ago the Order was torn by serious internal rifts between Pichel and the late Frank Capell, Contributing Editor of the John Birch Society’sReview of the News. (See, Rev. Anthony Cekada, Light on the OSJ, from the Oyster Bay, New York The Roman Catholic, December 1981, for an article critical of the Order and discussing some of its recent history.) It traces its legitimacy from a dispute during the time the Order spent in Russia under Czar Paul after it fled Malta. This Order achieved some notoriety a few years ago when it officially recognized the claims of controversial defector Michael Goleniewski to be Aleksei Romanoff, heir to the Russian Imperial House of Romanoff.

The case would be less interesting if James Angleton were not one of the principal supporters of Goleneiwski and some extremely rightwing members of the military intelligence community were not listed as members in a document issued by the Order in 1970. The Order listed as members of its Military Affairs Committee, under the Chairmanship of Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd, Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, and Gen. Pedro A. del Valle…

Of course, there is no suggestion that just because two past Grand Masters of what is now the Ecumenical Order (Crolian Edelen de Burgh and Roberto Paterno) had links to the Pichel Order that the current Ecumenical Order therefore shares any of Pichel’s political views.

UPDATERebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log has more, relating what appears to be a court document. It has further details of the Ecumenical Order’s version of its past:

…In this version of events, the Russian Grand Priory continued in Russia until the Bolshevik revolution, at which time its headquarters moved from St. Petersburg to the United States. It held its first US meeting in 1908, claiming the title of Knights of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, and also referring to itself as a Grand Priory of the Order of the Knights of Malta and the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Ecumenical Order incorporated as “The Knights of Malta, Inc.” in New Jersey in 1911, changed its name to “Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem” in 1953, and was succeeded in interest in 1956 by a Delaware corporation, the “Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Inc.” In 1958, the Ecumenical Order registered SOVEREIGN ORDER OF SAINT JOHN OF JERUSALEM AND KNIGHTS OF MALTA. The Governor of Indiana issued proclamation in 1977 declaring a “Dedication Day” in recognition of the contributions of the Ecumenical Order. The Ecumenical Order has used its names in the US since 1911 and has associations and members in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Disputes led the Ecumenical Order to sever ties with the group that controlled the Delaware corporation in 1981, and after that the Ecumenical Order operated as an unincorporated entity. Over time, the Russian Grand Priory came to be known as Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order. The “Ecumenical Order” language was added in 2002 to distinguish the Ecumenical Order from SMOM. The Florida Priory was formed as early as 1992 and incorporated in Florida in 2005.

10 Responses

  1. Richard, is there any chance that you could turn your knowledgeable mind to penning a piece on the emergence and use of the term ”Judeo-Christian” since WWII. I’ve noticed more and more the use of this term in wikipedia articles on religion and politics and also by the counterjihad. It only seems to be used by US-based rightwing and various lobby groups. I don’t believe it actually exists. There is Judaism and there is Christianity, but there is no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christian’ that I can tell.

    • In short – it’s legitimate to use “Judeo-Christian” to reflect the fact that parts of the Christian heritage can be traced back to Judaism and Israelite religion, and that there is to some extent a shared culture between Christians and Jews.

      However, I think it’s today often used by Christian supremicists for a some other reasons: (1) as a way to deflect potential criticisms from Jews about Christianizing political projects. For obvious historical reasons, people tend to take particular notice when Jews are at the sharp end (certain Christian pastors currently attacking Romney for being a Mormon would be more circumspect about attacking a Jewish Presidential candidate in the same way); (2) as a way to identify simultaneously with ideas of “Chosenness” from the Bible and with hawks in Israel; (3) as a way to fudge the problem that historically Christians are supposed to seek to convert everyone else, but that evangelising Jews is widely seen as offensive and regarded with distaste.

  2. The Florida case is very interesting. As I understand it, the Papanicolaou order filed some patented expressions before the SMOM did, and in a property-focused system, they are probably right.

    Of course they would never have filed those expressions, or called themselves as closely as possible to the SMOM, if the SMOM hadn’t been on the scene first.

    So this is clearly a case where law and reality do not coincide.

  3. You say “The rival “Ecumenical Order” has a “Royal Protector” in Prince Enrique de Borbon y Garcia-Lobez, but the “Prince Grand Master”, as I noted yesterday, is a businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou”

    Every para-Order has this dual structure. They need an authentic nobleman to back up the titles they sell, the so-called Fons Honorum; but this person is in fact a mere employee of the real manager of the para-Order.

  4. For Luther Blissett

    “use of the term ”Judeo-Christian” since WWII.”

    Judeo-Christian is a term which arose in the USA when the Jews ceased being “immigrants” and became the first non-Christian “whites”, as opposed to other minorities. Basically, when Jewish businessmen were allowed for the first time into the golf clubs.

    It was later used by conservatives who wanted to prevent secular Jewish hostility to Christian presence in the public sphere; and only recently has it been used to mean the “USA-Israel islamophobic axis”.

    However, the term is historically a misnomer – apart from the obvious first inspiration of Christianity, cultural interaction between Jews and Christians was one-way till the 19th century: the Jews had to deal with Christian influence, and find ways of incorporating or rejecting it, but mainstream Christian society received practically no infuence from the Jews.

    Many emancipated Jews of course influenced European culture in the 19th-20th centuries, but – whatever the Nazis may have suspected – they brought very few really Jewish elements into European culture.

    There was a much greater interaction in Muslim countries.

  5. […] Boykin. In turn, Joyner and Boykin are members of a “chivarlic order” called the “Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta (The Ecumen…“, of which Papanicolaou is Grand Master, and some of the Order’s events have been held […]

  6. […] Grand Master was prompted to write following a post I wrote concerning a trademark dispute between the Ecumenical Order and the better-known Roman […]

  7. […] the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Ecumenical Order (not to be confused with the more famous Roman Catholic “Knights of Malta”). Joyner is also involved in this Order, […]

  8. Thanks to Richard and Miguel for your responses.
    I have another (related) question (via Boykin>Wolff>CVF/ICLA>BNP/EDL/BFP).
    It’s for Miguel.
    Miguel, what can you tell us about Adriana Bolchini?

  9. […] took its ecumenical rival to a district court in Florida 2011 on trademark grounds – only to lose the case and to find itself accused of trademark fraud. Members of the Ecumenical Order include the […]

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