William Dudley Pelley: Wikis


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The wanted poster issued for Pelley in 1939.

William Dudley Pelley (March 12, 1890 – June 30, 1965) was an American extremist and spiritualist who founded the Silver Legion in 1933, and ran for President in 1936 for the Christian Party.



Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, William Dudley Pelley grew up in poverty. He was the son of William George Apsey Pelley and his wife Grace Goodale. His father was initially a Southern Methodist Church minister, later a small businessman and shoemaker.[1]

According to The Door to Revelation (1939), the autobiography of Pelley, he could not remember his early life in Lynn. His earliest memories dated to when he was about two-years-old, residing in Prescott, Massachusetts. Pelley reports "My first observations of life that impressed themselves upon my mind and caused me to marvel at the mortal status in which I now found myself, began in that parsonage beside a country church. My father was pastor in that church... and took a vast amount of pride in the assumption that the Tribe of Pelley could trace its genealogy back in an unbroken line to one Sir John Pelley, knighted and sponsored by Good Queen Elizabeth which attested, of course, that the Pelleys were English."[2]

Early career

Largely self-educated, Pelley became a journalist and gained respect for his writing skills, his articles eventually appearing in national publications. Following World War I, Pelley traveled throughout Europe and Asia as a foreign correspondent. He particularly spent a great deal of time in Russia and witnessed atrocities of the Russian Civil War. His experiences in Russia left him with a deep hatred for Communism and Jews, whom he believed were planning to conquer the world.[3]

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 and The Shock.[4] By 1929, Pelley became disillusioned with the movie industry, and moved to Asheville, North Carolina.

In 1928, Pelley said he had an out-of-body experience, detailed in the pamphlet "My Seven Minutes in Eternity." Pelley became fascinated with metaphysics and Christianity and gained a new-found popularity with his numerous publications on the subjects.

Political involvement

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.

In 1933, when Adolf Hitler seized control of Germany, Pelley, an admirer of Hitler, was inspired to form a political movement and founded the Silver Legion, an extremist and antisemitic organization whose followers (known as the Silver Shirts and "Christian Patriots") wore Nazi-like silver uniforms. 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.[5]

Pelley traveled throughout the United States and holding mass rallies, lectures, and public speeches in order to attract Americans to his organization. Pelley's political ideology essentially consisted of anti-Communism, antisemitism, racism, extreme patriotism, and isolationism, 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. Of these publications, the February 3, 1934 edition of Liberation contained The Franklin Prophecy, which claimed that Benjamin Franklin warned Americans not to allow Jews to benefit from the United States Constitution.[6]

Pelley was also an opponent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, and founded the Christian Party, running for president in 1936. His activities angered Roosevelt and his supporters, and charges were drawn up against the Silver Shirts in 1940. His Asheville headquarters was raided by federal marshals, his followers there arrested, and his property seized. Pelley was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Despite serious financial and material setbacks to his organization resulting from lengthy court battles, Pelley continued to oppose Roosevelt, especially as the diplomatic relationships 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, stances which would give political ammunition to the enemies of fellow isolationist Charles Lindbergh (according to A. Scott Berg's biography, Lindbergh had never even met Pelley). Roosevelt enlisted J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to investigsate Pelley for libel, and the FBI interviewed Pelley's subscribers.[7] Although the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to the collapse of the Silver Legion, Pelley continued to attack the government with a magazine called Roll Call,[8] 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 with high treason and sedition in April 1942. In a much publicized trial, the major charges against Pelley were dropped, but he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the minor charges.

Later life

After the long trial, an impoverished Pelley was unable to launch an appeal, and remained in prison until 1950, when his relatives and supporters raised enough money to appeal his case. He was paroled later that year, on the condition that he never engage in political activity again. Pelley subsequently returned to Noblesville, where he founded Soulcraft Press and began publishing metaphysical and political magazines and books once again.

In his political publications, Pelley frequently attacked Roosevelt's legacy and espoused anti-United Nations, pro-segregation, and antisemitic sentiments. In his final years, Pelley dealt with charges of securities fraud that had been brought against him while he had lived in Asheville. Pelley died on June 30, 1965, at the age of 75 in Noblesville, where he is buried.[9]

In popular culture

William Dudley Pelley was cited as the first American President-For-Life and leader of the Union Party in the alternate timeline "Reich 5" in the GURPS sourcebook Infinite Worlds. In this timeline, America becomes a fascist state with the aid of a victorious Nazi Germany.


  1. ^ Scott Beekman , "Pelley, William Dudley"
  2. ^ Soulcraft, Treasury of Spiritual Literature: "William D. Pelley autobiography, The Early Years"
  3. ^ "45 Questions About the Jews", William Dudley Pelley, 1939.
  4. ^ IMDb profile for William Dudley Pelley
  5. ^ Scott Beekman, William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-wing Extremism and the Occult, Syracuse University Press, 2005, ISBN 0815608195, 269 pages, p. 87.
  6. ^ Beekman, page 91
  7. ^ Beekman, p. 125.
  8. ^ "Strange Doings in Nobleville", Time, January 27, 1941
  9. ^ William Dudley Pelley at Find A Grave

External links

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