Kenneth Starr knows it’s a joke. So do Dan Rather, Billy Graham, Bob Woodward and George W. Bush.
The Noble NoZe Brotherhood, a satirical “secret society” at Baylor University that has been thrust into the public spotlight during the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, has inducted all those illustrious names into their brotherhood.
The secret society gained attention because of an ad run by Kentucky Attorney General and Democratic Kentucky U.S. Senate nominee, Jack Conway, against his Republican challenger Rand Paul.
In the Conway ad, Paul is attacked for being a member of a “secret society that called the Holy Bible a hoax,” and for allegedly tying a woman up and telling her to bow down to “Aqua Buddha.” Conway’s accusation that Paul “reveled in sacrilege” is a serious charge in the Midwest, where religion and moral issues are no laughing matter. Paul admitted to participating in NoZe pranks while a student at Baylor, but has denied the specifics of some of the pranks he has been accused of taking part in, including the “Aqua Buddha” incident. He responded angrily to Conway’s ad and almost cancelled future debates with his opponent over it.
But is the NoZe Brotherhood some awful sacrilegious society?
“I think it would be a stretch to give the NoZe Brotherhood the label of sacrilege or the label of mocking Christianity,” said Nick Dean, a junior at Baylor University. “I would have to say that’s a little outlandish.”
“If you know anything about the NoZe brothers, they talk in code, they have a lot of secret things that they do,” Dean continued. “It’s just a bunch of guys who are having fun.”
Paul’s membership in a “self-proclaimed (and self-acclaimed) satirical, countercultural group whose mission is to poke fun at Baylor, to put the ‘pie’ in piety, the ‘pun’ in punctilious” changed, at least for a time, the focus of the Kentucky Senate race, but polling suggests Conway’s charges didn’t negatively affect Paul in any way.
While the majority of articles on the issue omit critical background on the Noble NoZe Brotherhood, centering on unusual occurrences, it is clear that the group’s premise is to parody society and question Christianity.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen them mock Christianity,” said Dean. “Most students would agree with me that when the NoZe Brotherhood is making fun of something, they are either making fun of it because people are blindly following things or because it’s so easy to make fun of.”
“They are that satirical voice within Baylor University and they do a good job at it.”
Baylor Magazine published a report in 2003 on the history and motivations of the Brotherhood. The research was based on a book written by “Brother Short Nose” (William B.) Long, who became a member of the Baylor Board of Regents and received Baylor’s highest honor, The Founders Medal.
Established in 1926, the Nose Brotherhood, as the society was then known, was considered a “fun-loving bunch of boys,” according to “Brother Dude Nose Harrison” in a 1931 article in the Dallas Morning News. Despite incessant mischievousness, the “innocent fun” continued until 1965, “when the uneasy relationship between the Nose and Baylor’s top officials came to a fiery and abrupt end.” A wooden bridge over Waco Creek was burned down and the group was forced underground. The Brotherhood, however, soon resurfaced, wearing costumes and with a slight name change: the “s” in Nose was changed to a “z.”
Another major hiccup occurred in the autumn of 1999 when the NoZe published an article poking fun at studying abroad. The article included stereotypes, leading to the group’s dismissal from campus. But by the middle of 2002, they were back and have remained ever since.
Elaborate and over-the-top has been NoZe’s modus operandi from its inception. Brothers all wear fake noses, black glasses, long wigs, carry plungers and wear ridiculous regalia. Their goal has always been to poke fun at those in power, especially at their own university.
Dr. George W. Treutt, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, was the target of one of the more elaborate NoZe pranks. At a revival planned by Baylor’s then-President Pat Neff in the fall of 1941, the NoZe placed alarm clocks in the attic of Waco Hall, set to ring at three-minute intervals. According to a piece in Baylor Magazine, the group also hosted several “events,” called “Pink Tea” gatherings, where there was “vertical calisthenics” to music, in an era when dancing was not allowed at Baylor.
During the height of Watergate coverage, newly appointed special prosecutor and Baylor alumnus, Leon Jaworski, returned to Baylor as Grand Marshall of the 1973 Homecoming parade. Taking advantage of Jaworski’s prominence, the NoZe Brotherhood walked behind his car holding a sign asking onlookers to “Clap if you think he’s guilty,” referring to President Richard Nixon. The group later tabbed Jaworski the “Honorable Brother Water Noze.”
The Noble Brotherhood has honored former CBS news anchor Dan Rather (“Brother CBS Evening NoZe”) , comedian Bill Cosby (“Brother J-E-L-L-NoZe”), current Baylor President and former Clinton administration special prosecutor Ken Starr (“Brother Non Hostis HumaNoZe Generis”) and former President George W. Bush, who wasn’t given a nickname. Every honorary member receives their own fake nose, pair of black glasses and a plunger. Bob Woodward, of the Washington Post and Watergate fame, was also honored, receiving his plunger and name, “Brother Water Noze, or some variation on that theme,” according to a Scripps Howard article. (Woodward did not respond to e-mails and calls for comment.)
The members of the brotherhood have never been afraid of being crass and having a good time at the comedic expense of anyone and everyone, with isolated incidents causing the group to go completely incognito. But overall, the brotherhood’s history shows that their pranks are more immature and harmless than recent coverage has suggested.
“A lot of the time, their jokes are to make those people who don’t understand satire angry,” said Dean. “The hyperbole cannot be taken seriously.”
The group remains a strong presence at Baylor today. In 2006, the group celebrated its 80th birthday by dedicating a scholarship plaque featuring the group’s motto, “Nose Knows Knolege Kounts,” in the Bill Daniel Student Center.
The NoZe Brotherhood newspaper, “The Rope,” was first printed in 1954 with the motto “Ye Shall Know Them by Their Noses,” and was created to parody the school’s official paper, “The Lariat.” The latest issue of “The Rope” acknowledges the current Kentucky election battle with a picture of Rand Paul, stating, “Tried desperately to repair my reputation after being accused of being affiliated with you jerk-offs! Also I polished off the ‘ole aqua Buddha. Wait let me rephrase…” Paul, of course, didn’t’ really provide any quote to the satirical magazine. “
One NoZe Brother summed up the brotherhood experience in Baylor Magazine in 2003:
“The one characteristic (of a member) is that you really like Baylor and you think that there needs to be an independent voice. What ties us together is that we think what we’re doing is important and needs to be heard. If we weren’t saying it, then no one would, and the University would be worse off. That’s the idealism that you enter the group with.”