William Dudley Pelley

William Dudley Pelley (March 12, 1890 – June 30, 1965) was an American writer, spiritualist and fascist political activist.

He came to prominence as a writer, winning two O. Henry Awards and penning screenplays for Hollywood films. His 1929 essay "Seven Minutes in Eternity" marked a turning point in Pelley's career, earning a major response in The American Magazine where it was published as a popular example of what would later be called a near-death experience. His experiences with mysticism and occultism drifted towards the political, and in 1933 Pelley founded the Silver Legion of America, a fascist, para-military league. He ran for president of the U.S. in 1936 as the candidate for the Christian Party.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sedition in 1942, and released in 1950.[2] Upon his death, The New York Times assessed him as "an agitator without a significant following".[3]

William Dudley Pelley
BornMarch 12, 1890
DiedJune 30, 1965 (aged 75)
Resting placeCrownsville Cemetery
Noblesville, Indiana
CitizenshipUnited States
Political leader
Known forFounding the Silver Legion of America and the Christian Party
Criminal statusPardoned in 1950 after serving 8 years in prison
Conviction(s)11 counts of violating the Sedition Act of 1918 and 1 count of Obstructing military recruiting (1942)
Criminal chargeHigh treason
Threatening an elected official (1939)
Violating the Sedition Act of 1918 (1939)
Obstructing military recruiting (1939)
Interfering with the operation of the military (1939)
Conspiring to overthrow the government of the United States (1939)
Obstructing military recruiting during wartime (1942)
Fomenting insurrection within the military (1942)
Interfering with the operation of the military during wartime (1942)
Conspiring to violate federal law (1942)
Conspiring to aid an enemy of the United States (1942)
Engaging in Un-American Activities (1937, 1939 and 1942)
Engaging in High treason (1942)
Securities fraud (1951)
Penalty15 years in prison
Capture status
Wanted by
Asheville Police Department
Buncombe County Sheriff's Department
United States Military Police
United States Department of Justice
Writing career
Political journalism
Notable worksThe Continental Angle
The Face in the Window
Seven Minutes in Eternity
Notable awards2 O. Henry Awards
Chairman of the Christian Party
In office
January 30, 1935 – December 7, 1941
Preceded byposition established
Succeeded byposition abolished
Personal details
Political partyChristian Party
Spouse(s)Agnes Marion Henderson-Pelley[1]
Pelley wanted
A wanted poster for Pelley

Early life

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.[4]

Early career

Largely self-educated, Pelley became a journalist and gained respect for his writing skills; his articles eventually appeared in national publications like The Chicago Tribune.[5] Two of his short stories received O. Henry awards: "The Face in the Window" in 1920 and "The Continental Angle" in 1930.[4] He was hired by the Methodist Centenary to study Methodist missions around the world. He joined the Red Cross in Siberia, where he helped the White Russians during the Russian Civil War. His opposition to Communism grew, and he began to subscribe to the theory of Jewish Communism.[2] Upon returning to the United States in 1920, Pelley wrote novels and short stories in addition to his journalism,[2] and went to Hollywood, where he became a screenwriter, writing the Lon Chaney films The Light in the Dark (1922) and The Shock (1923).[6] Pelley became disillusioned with the film industry. What he regarded as unfair treatment by Jewish studio executives increased his antisemitic inclinations. He moved to New York, and then to Asheville, North Carolina in 1932, and began publishing magazines and essays detailing his new religious system, the "Liberation Doctrine".[2]


In May 1928, Pelley gained notoriety when he claimed he had an out-of-body experience in which he travelled to other planes of existence devoid of corporeal souls. He described his experience in an article titled "My Seven Minutes in Eternity", published in book form in 1933 as Seven Minutes in Eternity: With the Aftermath,[2] originally probably appearing in The American Magazine in the late 1920s.[7] In later writings, he described the experience as "hypo-dimensional".[8] He wrote that during this event, he met with God and Jesus, 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. His 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.[9] Pelley's religious system was a mixture of theosophy, spiritualism, Rosicrucianism, and pyramidism. He considered it to be a perfected form of Christianity, in which "Dark Souls" (Jews and Communists) represented the forces of evil.[2]

Political activism

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 courses on "Social Metaphysics" and "Christian Economics". 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,[4] founded the Silver Legion, an antisemitic organization whose members, known as Silver Shirts and Christian Patriots, wore Nazi-style silver uniform shirts. Their insignia was a scarlet L, emblazoned on their flags and uniforms. Biographer Scott Beekman noted that Pelley was "...one of the first Americans to create an organization celebrating the work of Adolf Hitler."[4]

Pelley traveled throughout the United States, holding recruitment rallies, lectures, and public speeches. He founded Silver Legion chapters in almost every state in the country.[4] Membership peaked at 15,000 in 1935, dropping to below 5,000 by 1938.[2] His political ideology consisted of anti-Communism, antisemitism, patriotism, white supremacy, corporatism, isolationism 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 1930s went on.[10] Sinclair Lewis mentioned him by name in his novel It Can't Happen Here (1935) about a fascist takeover in the U.S. Pelley is praised by the leader of the fictional movement as an important precursor.

Pelley opposed Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He founded the Christian Party in 1935, and ran an unsuccessful campaign as candidate for president in 1936, winning only 1,600 votes.[2] He 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 conducted a raid on Pelley's headquarters in Asheville, and they arrested his followers and seized his property.[4]

Despite serious financial and material setbacks within his organization, which resulted from lengthy court battles, Pelley continued to oppose Roosevelt, especially as diplomatic relations between the United States and the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany became 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.[4]

Although the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led Pelley to disband the Silver Legion, he continued to attack the government in his magazine, Roll Call,[11] 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 in April 1942, he was charged with 12 counts of high treason and sedition. One charge was dropped, but he was tried in Indiana and convicted of the other 11 charges, mostly for making seditious statements and 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.[3] While still incarcerated, he was one of 30 defendants in the "Mass Sedition Trial" of Nazi sympathizers, which resulted in a mistrial after the death of the judge, Edward C. Eicher, in November 1944.[2]

Later life

In his final years, Pelley dealt with charges of securities fraud that had been brought against him while he was living in Asheville.[12]

The terms of Pelley's parole stipulated that he remain in central Indiana, and desist from all political activity.[2] He developed an elaborate, religious philosophy called "Soulcraft", based on his belief in UFOs and extraterrestrials,[13] publishing Star Guests in (1950). One of his associates, George Hunt Williamson, had several articles published in science fiction magazines. Pelley died at his home in Noblesville on June 30, 1965.[3]



  1. ^ "Agnes Marion Henderson-Pelley". FindAGrave. April 27, 2009. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "William Dudley Pelley". American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999.
  3. ^ a b c "William Dudley Pelley, 75, dies; Founded fascist Silver Shirts." The New York Times, July 2, 1965. Retrieved: May 9, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Beekman, Scott (2005-10-17). William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult. Syracuse University Press. pp. 2–3, 80–81, 87, 94, 162, 174, 206. ISBN 978-0-8156-0819-6.
  5. ^ William Dudley Pelley (August 4, 1929). "The Continental Angle". Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  6. ^ "IMDb profile:William Dudley Pelley.' IMDb. Retrieved: May 9, 2016.
  7. ^ "William Dudley Pelley" (PDF). ajcarchives.org. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  8. ^ Abella and Gordon 2002, p. 241.
  9. ^ "William Dudley Pelley". FindAGrave. October 9, 2003. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  10. ^ Lobb, David. "Fascist apocalypse: William Pelley and millennial extremism." Department of History, Syracuse University, November 1999. Retrieved: May 8, 2015.
  11. ^ "Strange doings in Noblesville." Time Magazine, January 27, 1941.
  12. ^ Baum, Steven; Cohen, Florette; Jacobs, Steven; Kressel, Neil (2016). Antisemitism in North America: New World, Old Hate. 26. Brill Publishers. p. 76. doi:10.1163/9789004307148. ISBN 9789004307148. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  13. ^ "William Dudley Pelley (1885-1965)".


  • Abella, Alex and Scott Gordon. Shadow Enemies. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2002, ISBN 1-58574-722-X.
  • Beekman, Scott. William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-wing Extremism and the Occult. Syracuse University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8156-0819-5.

External links

Blueshirts (Falange)

The Blueshirts (Spanish: Camisas Azules) was the Falangist paramilitary militia in Spain. The name refers to the blue uniform worn by members of the militia. The colour blue was chosen for the uniforms in 1934 by the FE de las JONS because it was, according to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, "clear, whole, and proletarian," and is the colour typically worn by mechanics, as the Falange sought to gain support among the Spanish working class. In Francoist Spain the Blueshirts were officially reorganized and officially renamed the Falange Militia of the FET y de las JONS in 1940.

Christian Party

Christian Party may refer to:

Christian Party of Austria

Christian Party (Lithuania)

Christian Party (Samoa)

Christian Party (UK), includes the Scottish Christian Party and the Welsh Christian Party

Christian Party (United States, 1930s), a fascist party founded by William Dudley Pelley

Christian Party (United States, 1930s)

The Christian Party was an American fascist political party founded by William Dudley Pelley in 1935. The party can be considered the political wing of Pelley's paramilitary organization, the Silver Legion of America. It ran with Pelley as its candidate for the 1936 presidential campaign (Silver Legion member Willard Kemp was the vice presidential candidate). Pelley gained just 1,600 votes in the election. The party was quickly dissolved after the United States entered World War II.


Christofascism is a combination of Christian and fascism coined by Dorothee Sölle in 1970. Sölle, a liberation theology proponent, used the term to describe the Christian church which she characterized as totalitarian and imperialistic.

Courtin' Wildcats

Courtin' Wildcats is a 1929 comedy-western film directed by Jerome Storm and produced by and starring Hoot Gibson. It is based on the short story "Courtin' Calamity" by William Dudley Pelley. It was distributed through the Universal Pictures. The film was a hybrid type with part talking and part music/soundeffects sequences.


Crypto-fascism is the secret support for, or admiration of, fascism. The term is used to imply that an individual or group keeps this support or admiration hidden to avoid political persecution or political suicide. The common usage is "crypto-fascist", one who practices this support.

Drag (film)

Drag is a 1929 American Pre-Code drama film produced by Richard A. Rowland and directed by Frank Lloyd based on the 1925 novel Drag: A Comedy by William Dudley Pelley. It stars Richard Barthelmess and Lucien Littlefield.

Frank Eugene Hook

Frank Eugene Hook (May 26, 1893 – June 21, 1982) was a politician from the U.S. state of Michigan.

Hook was born in L'Anse, Michigan and graduated from L'Anse High School in 1912. He attended the College of Law of the University of Detroit and graduated from the law department of Valparaiso University in 1918. He served in the United States Army Infantry during World War I from July 1918 until February 1919.

After the war, he was employed in lumber woods and as an iron ore miner and also as a law clerk at Wakefield, Michigan, 1919-1924. He was a member of the board of supervisors of Gogebic County, 1921-1923. He was admitted to the bar in 1924 and commenced practice in Wakefield. He was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1936. He served as city commissioner of Wakefield, 1921-1923 and as municipal judge of Wakefield in 1924 and 1925.

Hook moved to Ironwood in 1925 and continued the practice of law. He was president of WJMS Radio Station in Ironwood, 1930-1933 and was a delegate to Democratic National Conventions in 1936, 1940, 1944, and 1948.

In 1934, Hook was the Democratic Party candidate from Michigan's 12th congressional district for the U.S. House of Representatives. Hook defeated incumbent Republican W. Frank James in the general election to be elected to the 74th Congress and to the three succeeding Congresses, serving from January 3, 1935 to January 3, 1943. In 1942, Hook lost in the general election to Republican John B. Bennett (having previously defeated him in 1938 and 1940). In 1944, Hook defeated Bennett to reclaim the seat in the 79th Congress, serving from January 3, 1945 to January 3, 1947. He lost the seat again to Bennett in 1946. In 1948, he made an unsuccessful bid to be elected the United States Senate, losing to Republican Homer Ferguson.

Hook served under Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. He voted to declare war upon Japan, when Congress was convened upon the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hook was instrumental in the establishment of Social Security and the minimum wage — part of Roosevelt's New Deal. He also proposed a bill to establish the Isle Royale National Park, located in Lake Superior and had the honor of dedicating it in August 1946.

In 1940, Hook alleged in Congress that Martin Dies had ties to William Dudley Pelley, the leader of a fascist organization, the Silver Legion of America. However, unbeknownst to him, the documents Hook used to make his case turned out to be forgeries.[1]

Hook's moniker "Fightin' Frank," earned from high school days, was reinforced once again during an infamous bout on the floor of Congress. His nemesis, John Rankin of Mississippi, drew his ire, but could not cull a punch, as Hook was later quoted, "A gentleman cannot strike an old man." The wrassling match was physically initiated by Rankin jumping on Hook's back on Washington's birthday in 1945, during the session. The skirmish was the end result of a verbal exchange between Hook & Rankin concerning the former's support and the latter's denouncement of the C.I.O. Rankin hollered shouts of "communism!" while Hook defended the integrity of the organization. As to the disruption, Hook later recited a 3-minute apology, while Rankin maintained his own innocence. When Hook offered to resign if Rankin would also "...for the good of the country," Rankin "held his tongue" and the controversial exchange faded into obscurity. [2]

Hook was a member of the President’s Fair Employment Practices Committee in 1943 and 1944 and was appointed a member of Motor Carrier Claims Commission October 1, 1949, serving until his resignation August 22, 1950. He made several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim a seat in the U.S. House from the 12th district, losing in 1954 to Bennett in the general election, losing in 1956 and 1958 to Joseph S. Mack in the Democratic primary elections. In 1966, he lost to incumbent Raymond F. Clevenger in the Democratic primary for the 11th district.

He resumed the practice of law in Detroit and in 1953 moved to Ironwood where he reestablished his law practice. He was admitted to the Wisconsin bar in 1962 and was a resident of Edina, Minnesota, at the time of his death. He is interred in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Her Fatal Millions

Her Fatal Millions is a 1923 American Metro Pictures silent comedy film directed by William Beaudine. It stars

Viola Dana, Huntley Gordon, and Allan Forrest. It is not known if the film currently survives, which suggests that it is a lost film.

National Fascist Party (Argentina)

The National Fascist Party of Argentina (Partido Nacional Fascista) was a fascist political party formed in 1923. In 1932, a group broke away from the party to form the Argentine Fascist Party, which eventually became a mass movement in the Córdoba region of Argentina.


Pelley is a surname, and may refer to:

Rich Pelley (21st century), British journalist and broadcaster

Rod Pelley (born 1984), Canadian ice hockey forward

Scott Pelley (born 1957), American television journalist

William Dudley Pelley (1890–1965), United States activist and Nazi sympathizer

Silver Legion of America

The Silver Legion of America, commonly known as the Silver Shirts, was an underground American fascist organization founded by William Dudley Pelley that was headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina and announced publicly on January 30, 1933. The group was effectively dissolved on December 8, 1941 when police called for the open arrest of any individuals associated with the group.

The Fog (1923 film)

The Fog is a 1923 American silent drama film directed by Paul Powell and starring Mildred Harris. It was adapted from the novel of the same name by William Dudley Pelley.It is not known whether the film currently survives. A poster for this film was later featured in the film Sherlock Jr. (1924).

The Ladybird (film)

The Ladybird is a 1927 American silent crime film directed by Walter Lang and starring Betty Compson. It was produced by the B movie studio Chadwick Pictures.

The Sawdust Trail

The Sawdust Trail is a lost 1924 silent Western film produced and distributed by Universal Pictures and starring Hoot Gibson. Edward Sedgwick directed. It is based on the short story "Courtin' Calamity" by William Dudley Pelley.

The Shock (1923 film)

The Shock is a 1923 American silent drama film directed by Lambert Hillyer and starring Lon Chaney as a cripple named Wilse Dilling. The film was based on a story by William Dudley Pelley. This is one of the rare Lon Chaney films where he gets the girl.

The Sunset Derby

The Sunset Derby is a 1927 American silent drama film directed by Albert S. Rogell and starring Mary Astor, William Collier Jr., and Ralph Lewis.

Torment (1924 film)

Torment is a 1924 silent film crime drama produced and directed by Maurice Tourneur and distributed by Associated First National. This film stars Bessie Love, Owen Moore, and Jean Hersholt. The film is based on a story by William Dudley Pelley with script by Fred Myton and titles by Marion Fairfax. It is a lost film.

Tropical fascism

In African political science, tropical fascism is a type of post-colonial state which is either considered fascist or is seen to have strong fascist tendencies. Gnassingbé Eyadéma dictator of Togo and leader of the Rally of the Togolese People, Mobutu Sese Seko dictator of Zaire and leader of the Popular Movement of the Revolution and Idi Amin dictator of Uganda have all been considered an example of tropical fascism in Africa. The Coalition for the Defence of the Republic and larger Hutu Power movement, a Hutu ultranationalist and supremacist movement that organized and committed the Rwandan Genocide aimed at exterminating the Tutsi people of Rwanda, has been regarded as a prominent example of tropical fascism in Africa. Pol Pot and The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia has been called a tropical fascist regime, as they officially renounced communism in 1981.

Democratic Party
Republican Party

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