William Dudley Pelley

William Dudley Pelley

The wanted poster issued for Pelley in 1939
Born (1890-03-12)March 12, 1890
Lynn, Massachusetts
Died June 30, 1965(1965-06-30) (aged 75)
Noblesville, Indiana

William Dudley Pelley (March 12, 1890 June 30, 1965) was an American extremist and spiritualist who founded the fascist Silver Legion of America in 1933 and ran for President in 1936 for the Christian Party. Upon his death, The New York Times assessed him as "an agitator without a significant following".[1]


Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, William Dudley Pelley grew up in poverty, the son of William George Apsey Pelley and his wife, Grace (née Goodale). His father was initially a Southern Methodist Church minister, later a small businessman and shoemaker.[2]

Early career

Largely self-educated, Pelley became a journalist and gained respect for his writing skills, his articles eventually appeared in national publications. Two of his short stories received O. Henry awards, "The Face in the Window" in 1920, and "The Continental Angle" in 1930.[3] Following World War I, Pelley traveled throughout Europe and Asia as a foreign correspondent. He spent a great deal of time in Russia and witnessed atrocities during the Russian Civil War. His experiences there left him with a deep hatred for Communism and Jews, whom he believed were planning to conquer the world.[4] Upon returning to the United States in 1920, Pelley went to Hollywood, where he became a screenwriter, writing the Lon Chaney films The Light in the Dark (1922) and The Shock (1923).[5] By 1929, Pelley became disillusioned with the film industry, and moved to Asheville, North Carolina.

In 1928, Pelley said he had a near-death experience, detailed in an article for American Magazine called "My Seven Minutes in Eternity." In later writings, Pelley described the experience as "hypo-dimensional."[6] Pelley wrote that during this event, he met with God and Jesus Christ, who instructed him to undertake the spiritual transformation of America. He later claimed that the experience gave him the ability to levitate, see through walls, and have out-of-body experiences at will. Pelley's metaphysical writings greatly boosted his public visibility. Some of the early members of the original Ascended Master Teachings religion, the "I AM" Activity, were recruited from the ranks of Pelley's organization, the Silver Legion.

Political activity

When the Great Depression struck America in 1929, Pelley became active in politics. After moving to Asheville, Pelley founded Galahad College in 1932. The college specialized in correspondence, "Social Metaphysics", and "Christian Economics" courses. He also founded Galahad Press, which he used to publish various political and metaphysical magazines, newspapers, and books. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Pelley, an admirer of Hitler,[7] founded the Silver Legion, an extremist and antisemitic organization whose followers–known as the Silver Shirts and Christian Patriots, wore Nazi-like silver uniforms. Biographer Scott Beekman noted Pelley was "...one of the first Americans to create an organization celebrating the work of Adolf Hitler."[8] The Silver Legion's emblem was a scarlet L, which was featured on their flags and uniforms. Pelley founded chapters of the Silver Legion in almost every state in the country and soon gained a considerable number of followers.[9]

Pelley traveled throughout the United States holding mass rallies, lectures, and public speeches in order to attract Americans to his organization. Pelley's political ideology consisted of anti-Communism, antisemitism, racism, extreme patriotism, isolationism, pyramidology and British Israelism, themes which were the primary focus of his numerous magazines and newspapers, which included Liberation, Pelley's Silvershirt Weekly, The Galilean and The New Liberator. He became fairly well known as the 1930's went on.[10] Sinclair Lewis mentioned him by name in his 1935 book It Can't Happen Here about a fictional Fascist takeover in the USA. Pelley is praised by the leader of the movement as an important precursor.

Pelley was a committed Protestant who opposed Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He founded the Christian Party and ran as its candidate for president in 1936. Pelley engaged in a long dispute with the United States House of Representatives' Dies Committee, predecessor to the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1940, federal marshals raided Pelley's Asheville headquarters, with his followers there arrested, and his property seized.[11]

Despite serious financial and material setbacks to his organization resulting from lengthy court battles, Pelley continued to oppose Roosevelt, especially as the diplomatic relations of the United States with the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany became more strained in the early 1940s. Pelley accused Roosevelt of being a warmonger and advocated isolationism. Roosevelt enlisted J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to investigate Pelley. Subsequently, the FBI interviewed subscribers to Pelley's newspapers and magazines.[12]

Although the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led Pelley to disband the Silver Legion, Pelley continued to attack the government with his magazine, Roll Call,[13] which alarmed Roosevelt, Attorney General Francis Biddle, and the House Un-American Activities Committee. After stating in one issue of Roll Call that the devastation of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was worse than the government claimed, Pelley was arrested at his new base of operations in Noblesville, Indiana, and charged in April 1942 with 12 counts of high treason and sedition. One charge was dropped, but he was tried in Indiana and convicted of the other eleven, most for making seditious statements and also for obstructing military recruiting and fomenting insurrection within the military. Pelley was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After serving eight years, he was paroled and released in 1950.[1]

Later life

In his final years, Pelley dealt with charges of securities fraud that had been brought against him while he had lived in Asheville, North Carolina. Pelley died at his home in Noblesville, Indiana, on June 30, 1965, aged 75,[1] and was buried there.[14]



  1. 1 2 3 "William Dudley Pelley, 75, dies; Founded fascist Silver Shirts." The New York Times, July 2, 1965. Retrieved: May 9, 2016.
  2. Beekman 2005, pp. 2–3.
  3. Beekman 2005, p. 174.
  4. Pelley, William Dudley. "45 Questions About the Jews", 1939.
  5. "IMDb profile:William Dudley Pelley.' IMDb. Retrieved: May 9, 2016.
  6. Abella and Gordon 2002, p. 241.
  7. Beekman 2005, pp. 80–81, 87, 94, 206.
  8. Beekman 2005, p. 94.
  9. Beekman 2005, pp. 80–81.
  10. Lobb, David. "Fascist apocalypse: William Pelley and millennial extremism." Department of History, Syracuse University, November 1999. Retrieved: May 8, 2015.
  11. Beekman 2005, p. 162.
  12. Beekman 2005, p. 125.
  13. "Strange doings in Noblesville." Time Magazine, January 27, 1941.
  14. William Dudley Pelley at Find a Grave


External links

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