Silver Legion of America
|Leader||William Dudley Pelley|
|Founded||January 30, 1933|
|Dissolved||December 8, 1941|
|Headquarters||Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.|
|Newspaper|| • Liberation|
• Pelley's Silvershirt Weekly
• The Galilean
• The New Liberator
|Political wing||Christian Party|
|Honorary membership||German American Bund|
• 178 East 85th Street, Manhattan
|Colors||Silver, blue and scarlet|
|Slogan||"Loyalty, Liberty and Legion"|
|Anthem||"Battle Hymn of the Republic"|
|Part of a series on|
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.
A white-supremacist, antisemitic group modeled after Hitler's Brownshirts, the paramilitary Silver Legion wore a silver shirt with a blue tie, along with a campaign hat and blue corduroy trousers with leggings. The uniform shirts bore a scarlet letter L over the heart: an emblem meant to symbolize Loyalty to the United States, Liberation from materialism, and the Silver Legion itself. The blocky slab serif L-emblem was in a typeface similar to the present-day Rockwell Extra Bold. The organizational flag was a plain silver field with such a red L in the canton at the upper left.
By 1934, the Silver Shirts claimed to have about 15,000 members. Circa 1935, a Nazi agent befriended mining fortune heiress Jessie Murphy, convincing her to contribute cash, and the use of her ranch, recently purchased from screen cowboy Will Rogers, to the fascist movement. The Silver Shirts began construction of the Murphy Ranch, situated on a secluded, 55-acre (22 ha) site in the Los Angeles hills, meant to serve as a fortified world headquarters after the expected fascist global conquest.
Silver Shirt leader Pelley called for a "Christian Commonwealth" in America that would combine the principles of racism, nationalism, and theocracy, while excluding Jews and other non-whites such as African-Americans. He claimed he would save America from Jewish communists just as "Mussolini and his Black Shirts saved Italy and as Hitler and his Brown Shirts saved Germany." Pelley ran for president of the United States in the 1936 election on a third-party ticket under the Christian Party banner. Pelley hoped to seize power in a "silver revolution" and set himself as dictator of the United States. He would be called "the Chief" just like other fascist world leaders who had similar titles such "The Fuhrer" for Adolf Hitler and "II Duce" for Benito Mussolini. However, the presidency remained in the hands of incumbent Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. By around 1938, the Silver Legion's membership was down to about 5,000.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, local police occupied the "world headquarters" bunker compound and detained members of the 50-man caretaker force. The declaration of war on the United States by Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy led to the rapid decline of the Silver Legion.
On January 20, 1942, Pelley was sentenced to serve two to three years in prison by Superior Court Judge F. Don Phillips, in Asheville, North Carolina, for violating terms of probation of a 1935 conviction for violating North Carolina security laws. The same sentence had been suspended pending good behavior, but the court found that during that period Pelley had published false and libelous statements, published inaccurate reports and advertising, and supported a secret military organization.
In popular culture
- A fictionalized depiction of the Silver Shirts forms a large part of the plot in The Night Letter by Paul Spike.
- The character of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, loosely modeled after Silver Legion founder William Dudley Pelley, was elected U.S. president in 1936 and became the dictator of America in It Can't Happen Here, a cautionary novel by Sinclair Lewis. Some literary scholars contend that the Windrip character was modeled after Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was not associated with the Silver Shirts.
- The Silver Shirts are also a British political movement in Harry Turtledove's American Empire and Settling Accounts series of alternate history novels. They are likely an analog of the real-world British Union of Fascists, because Oswald Mosley is a prominent leader.
- The Silver Shirts appear in James Lee Burke's novel Dixie City Jam, a novel in the Dave Robicheaux series.
- The Silver Legion of America is a political party in the video game Hearts of Iron IV. The in-game USA can turn into the Silver Legion-led Free American Empire if a fascist coup occurs or if the player changes their ideology.
- Christian Party (United States, 1930s)
- Ulrich Fleischhauer
- German American Bund
- Political uniform
- http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/THR-SS1.PDF "The Silver Shirts: Their History, Founder, and Axtivities". August 24, 1933
- Van Ells, Mark D. (August 2007). "Americans for Hitler". americainwwii.com. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
- "Silver Shirts". Holocaust Online. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
- "Heil Hollywood: The Los Angeles bunker from which Hitler planned to run Nazi empire after the war". Daily Mail. London. 18 March 2012.
- Schultz, Will. "William Dudley Pelley (1885-1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
- "Jews in America: Jewish Gangsters". Retrieved November 14, 2017.
- "Pelley's Silver Shirts". Retrieved November 14, 2017.
- Bernstein, Arnie (October 7, 2013). "6 Things You May Not Have Known About Nazis in America". The History Reader. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
- Associated Press, “Pelley of Silver Shirts Must Serve Prison Term,” The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Wednesday 21 January 1942, Volume 48, page 1.
- It Can't Happen Here
- Allen, Joe "'It Can't Happen Here?': Confronting the Fascist Threat in the US in the Late 1930s," International Socialist Review, Part One: whole no. 85 (Sept.-Oct. 2012), pp. 26–35; Part Two: whole no. 87 (Jan.-Feb. 2013), pp. 19–28.
- Atwood, Sarah (Winter 2018–2019). "'This List Not Complete': Minnesota's Jewish Resistance to the Silver Legion of America, 1936–1940". Minnesota History. 66 (4): 142–155. JSTOR 26554803.
- Ribuffo, Leo Paul The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.
- Spivak, John L. Secret Armies: The New Technique of Nazi Warfare. New York: Modern Age Books, 1939.
- Werly, John The Millenarian Right: William Dudley Pelley and the Silver Legion of America. PhD dissertation. Syracuse University, 1972.
- Yeadon, Glen. The Nazi Hydra in America. Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive Press, 2008.
- Photo of a Silver Legion of America meeting in the 1930s:
- The Holocaust Chronicle: PROLOGUE: Roots of the Holocaust, page 89
- The American Jewish Committees' archive on the Silver Shirts:
- Atlas Obscura article on Rustic Canyon's Murphy Ranch
- Silver Shirt Legion of America Washington State Division Records. 1933-1940. 0.37 cubic feet (3 reels microfilm). At the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.