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Silver Legion of America

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Silver Legion of America
Other nameSilver Shirts
LeaderWilliam Dudley Pelley[1]
FoundedJanuary 31, 1933 (1933-01-31)[2]
HeadquartersAsheville, North Carolina[3]
Publications • Liberation
 • Pelley's Silvershirt Weekly
 • The Galilean
 • The New Liberator
Political wingChristian Party[4][5]
Membership15,000 (c. 1934)[6][7]
100,000 (claimed)[8]
IdeologyChristian fascism
Clerical fascism[9]
Racial segregation[10]
White nationalism[11]
Political positionRadical right[13][14]
Active regionsSmall communities in the Midwest and small communities in the Pacific Northwest[15][16] Murphy Ranch, California (rumored)[17]
Colors  Silver,   scarlet and   blue
Slogan"Loyalty, Liberation, and Legion"
Anthem"Battle Hymn of the Republic"
Party flag

The Silver Legion of America, commonly known as the Silver Shirts, was an American fascist and pro-Nazi organization which was founded by William Dudley Pelley and headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina.[18]


Pelley was a former journalist, novelist and screenwriter turned spiritualist who began to promote antisemitic views by 1931, including the belief that Jews were possessed by demons.[19] He formed the Silver Legion with the goal of bringing about a "spiritual and political renewal", inspired by the success of Adolf Hitler's Nazi movement in Germany.[19]

A nationalist, fascist group,[12] the paramilitary Silver Legion wore a uniform modeled after the Nazi's brown shirts (SA),[19] consisting of 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, which according to Pelley was "standing for Love, Loyalty, and Liberation."[19] 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 a red L in the canton on the upper left hand corner. By 1934, the Legion claimed that it had 15,000 members.[6]

Legion leader Pelley called for the establishment of a "Christian Commonwealth" in America, a government that would combine the principles of fascism, theocracy, and socialism, along with the exclusion of Jews and non-whites.[20] 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."[21] Pelley ran in the 1936 presidential election on a third-party ticket under the Christian Party banner. Pelley hoped to seize power in a "silver revolution" and set himself up as the dictator of the United States. He would be called "the Chief", a title which would be just like the titles used by other fascist leaders, such as "Der Führer" for Adolf Hitler and "Il Duce" for Benito Mussolini.[22] However, the Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt handily won the reelection, and Pelley failed to figure among the top four. By around 1937, the Silver Legion's membership had declined to about 5,000.[7] In 1936, a small Silver Shirt office was established in downtown Spokane.[23] About 200 members participated before the group's end.

When the Silver Shirts tried to hold a rally at the Elks Club in Minneapolis, the meeting was interrupted by senior local Jewish-American organized crime figure David Berman.[24]

Pelley disbanded the organization soon after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.[19]

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.[25]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Elliston, J. (2019, July 15). Asheville's Fascist. Retrieved from https://wncmagazine.com/feature/asheville’s_fascist
  3. ^ http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/THR-SS1.PDF Archived 2020-07-21 at the Wayback Machine "The Silver Shirts: Their History, Founder, and Axtivities". August 24, 1933
  4. ^ Schultz, Will (2020). William Dudley Pelley (1885–1965). North Carolina History Project.
  5. ^ Barkun, Michael (1997). Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. UNC Press Books. p. 91. ISBN 978-0807846384.
  6. ^ a b "Silver Shirts". Holocaust Online. Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  7. ^ a b Bernstein, Arnie (October 7, 2013). "6 Things You May Not Have Known About Nazis in America". The History Reader. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  8. ^ Schultz, Will (7 March 2016). "William Dudley Pelley (1885–1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  9. ^ Schultz, Will (7 March 2016). "William Dudley Pelley (1885–1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  10. ^ Lemmon, Sarah McCulloh (December 1951). "The Ideology of the 'Dixiecrat' Movement". Social Forces. 30 (2): 162–71. doi:10.2307/2571628. JSTOR 2571628.
  11. ^ Lobb, David (1999). "Fascist apocalypse: William Pelley and millennial extremism" (PDF). Journal of Millennial Studies. 2 (2). ISSN 1099-2731. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 15, 2011. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Van Ells, Mark D. (August 2007). "Americans for Hitler". americainwwii.com. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  13. ^ David Brion Davis, ed. The Fear of Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion from the Revolution to the present (1971) pp. xviii–xix
  14. ^ Diamond, pp. 5–6
  15. ^ Lipset & Raab, pp. 162–64
  16. ^ Toy, Eckard V. Jr. (1989). "Silver Shirts in the Northwest: Politics, Prophecies, and Personalities in the 1930s". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 80 (4): 139–146. JSTOR 40491076.
  17. ^ "The Would-Be Nazi Stronghold Hidden in the Hills of L.A." 27 February 2014.
  18. ^ "The Silver Shirts: Their History, Founder, and Activities" Archived 2020-07-21 at the Wayback Machine. August 24, 1933
  19. ^ a b c d e Atwood, Sarah (Winter 2018–2019). "'This List Not Complete': Minnesota's Jewish Resistance to the Silver Legion of America, 1936–1940" (PDF). Minnesota History. 66 (4): 142–155. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2023-04-21. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  20. ^ Schultz, Will (7 March 2016). "William Dudley Pelley (1885–1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  21. ^ "Jews in America: Jewish Gangsters". Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  22. ^ "Pelley's Silver Shirts". Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  23. ^ "Melee breaks out during a speech by the leader of the fascist Silver Shirts organization in downtown Spokane on July 18, 1938". Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  24. ^ Neil Karlen (2013), Augie's Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip, Minnesota Historical Society Press, pp. 97–98.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Horowitz, Mitch (2009). Occult America.

Further reading

  • 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" (PDF). Minnesota History. 66 (4): 142–155. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2023-04-21. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  • 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.

External links[edit]