William Dudley Pelley
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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.
Largely self-educated, Pelley became a journalist and gained respect for his writing skills, his articles eventually appearing 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. 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. 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. By 1929, Pelley became disillusioned with the movie 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." He 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 the experience gave him the ability to levitate, see through walls, and have out-of-body experiences at will. His metaphysical writings greatly boosted Pelley's public visibility. Some of the original members of the original Ascended Master Teachings religion, the "I AM" Activity, were recruited from the ranks of Pelley's organization the Silver Legion.
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, was inspired to found 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.
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.
Pelley was a committed Protestant who opposed Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He founded the Christian Party, running for president in 1936. His pro-fascist advocacy angered Roosevelt and his supporters, and charges were drawn up[by whom?] against the Silver Shirts in 1940. Federal marshals raided Pelley's Asheville headquarters, his followers there arrested, and his property seized. Pelley's business-manager was called to testify before the McCormack-Dickstein 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. Roosevelt enlisted J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to investigate Pelley, and the FBI interviewed Pelley's subscribers.
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, 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. The sedition charge was dropped, but he was convicted on other charges and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. He was paroled in 1952.
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 on June 30, 1965, aged 75, in Noblesville, Indiana, where he is buried.
- Scott Beekman, William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-wing Extremism and the Occult, Syracuse University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8156-0819-5, 269 pages
- "45 Questions About the Jews", William Dudley Pelley, 1939.
- IMDb profile for William Dudley Pelley
- Alex Abella and Scott Gordon, Shadow Enemies, The Lyons Press, 2002, ISBN 1-58574-722-X, 320 pages, p. 241.
- Christian Kinnard—Beginnings of the I AM Activity
- Lobb, David, 'Fascist Apocalypse: William Pelley and Millennial Extremism',Paper presented at the 4th Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies, November 1999
- "Strange Doings in Noblesville", Time Magazine, January 27, 1941
- William Dudley Pelley profile at Find A Grave
- "Fascist Apocalypse: William Pelley and Millennial Extremism" David Lobb, Department of History, Syracuse University
- "New Age Nazi: The Rise and Fall of Asheville's Flaky Fascist"
- William Dudley Pelley's Challenge To The American Legion booklet
- The Greater Glory, a novel by Pelley at archive.org
- The Fog, a novel by Pelley at archive.org