Re: ARE THEY WHO THEY SAY THEY ARE? And that is...?
I haven't really argued anything. The only thing I disagreed with you on in this thread is the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta. Where as what you're talking about is merely a degree, not the actual organziation - which consists of 11,000 members. Ask any historian or fraternal researcher and they will tell you the same thing. Your degrees might be offshoots on the original premise, but that's all you can claim.
As for the history of freemasonry you've posted, I don't disagree with you. There have been many different influences to the "craft."
My personal opinion is that the masons became as prominent as they are when the "noble" classes assimilated into the guilds lodges because of its secrecy, thus the birth of speculative freemasonry. Many of the Templars were of nobility. Especially the Scottish linneages like the Family Bruce. But, like I said, that's just my opinion. And, really, that's all we can have since not even masonic researchers can say for sure.