Master of the Illuminati
Weishaupt was a professor of Canon (Church) Law at Ingolstadt, in the German state of Bavaria (Southern Germany) and came from a family of Jews who had converted to Catholicism. In the 1770s he became involved with Freemasonry, though he remained sceptical of some of its more grandiose claims -- countering them with some grandiose designs of his own for a general reformation of government, religion, and science, in the name of "enlightenment," by which he meant an informed scientific reason bereft of "superstition" and priestcraft. His cadre of followers originated largely from the anti-church, anti-royalist students of his university. Though the term "Bavarian" has become attached to his abortive Order, Weishaupt always had global aspirations and would never have limited his group by such a restrictive geographical designation. He saw himself as the Leader, simply, of "The Illuminati" -- the Illuminated Ones -- an elite circle of intellectuals privy to the most esoteric mysteries of the cosmos, and the rightful heirs to the mysteries and secret societies of the ancient world.
Weishaupt was fascinated by the pyramids of Egypt, particularly the Great Pyramid of Giza, believing it to have been an ancient temple of initiation into the Mysteries (which it very well might have been, as modern scholars are coming to believe.) This is the primary reason why Weishaupt's Illuminati used as their symbol the Pyramid, crowned by the All-Seeing Eye of God (a version of this symbol can be found on the reverse side of a U.S. dollar bill.) The Pyramid was also a symbol of the heirarchy of initiation, and the Illuminati were structured along the lines of a pyramid, with low-level members forming the broad base and the higher initiates comprising a small inner circle or the capstone of the structure.
The Illuminati were surprisingly successful for a time, taking as it did the best of Masonry (of which Weishaupt was an avid student, but also a cynic) and coloring it with Weishaupt's personal charisma and world-spanning ambitions to reform human society. By the 1780s the Order had spread across Europe, from Russia to Portugal; a chapter (the Columbian Lodge) was even formed in New York City.
Weishaupt's internationalist ambitions did not sit well with all members of his Order, however; two native German members, Johann Herder and Johann Fichte, found themselves in opposition to Weishaupt's globalism in their commitment to working for a unified and independent German state. Germany at this time was still a collection of independent small principalities and kingdoms, sharing a common language and Aryan culture, but divided by petty political differences and economic interests. The cracks in the edifice of Weishaupt's "Great Pyramid" could already be seen.
In 1784 the King of Bavaria, having got wind of the Illuminati, banned the Order and Weishaupt found himself fired from his position at the University, and forced to flee on horseback through several Bavarian towns until finally finding refuge in Gotha. While his Order continued for some time, and may have gone underground in places, its essential force had been broken. Weishaupt continued to inspire other members and students of occultism, but the tide of public opinion had turned. He remains a highly controversial figure to this day, often serving as a symbol of evil for conspiracy theorists from all across the political spectrum. For the most part, rightists see the Illuminati, with its internationalist, anti-royalist and anti-traditionalist platform, as a continuing threat to what they perceive to be traditional cultural order. However, it would appear that from a more-or-less objective viewpoint, the influence of Weishaupt has been greatly exaggerated.