Silver Legion of America

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William Dudley Pelley, in the uniform of the Silver Shirts

The Silver Legion of America (usually referred to as the Silver Shirts) was an extremist organization founded by William Dudley Pelley (1890-1965) in 1933, with headquarters at Asheville, North Carolina. Pelley was a Hollywood screenwriter. Through a curious blending of astrology, spiritualism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy, the Legion envisioned a Christian commonwealth filled with Nazi symbols and philosophies. The group was all sound and fury and apart from speeches and hate literature, had few activities.

Pelley won a few thousand votes for president in 1936 on the Christian Party ticket. One of its first members was Gerald L. K. Smith, himself the founder of the Christian Nationalist Church which supported Mussolini and Hitler. They enrolled a few white Protestants as members of a "Christian Militia", through numerous "State Encampments" and "Posts". The Silver Legion’s emblem was a scarlet letter "L", which was featured on their flags and uniforms.

While he preached against 'the international Jewish-Communist conspiracy' and the 'greediness of industrial capitalists,' Pelley never grounded his ideology in European fascism as did such writers as Lawrence Dennis. Christian millenarianism and nostalgia for a pre-industrial American utopia - the mainstays of Pelley's ideology - attracted most of his adherents. His influence waned after he dissolved the Silver Legion of America in 1940, and ended with his arrest for sedition in 1942.

Aims

The Silver Shirts manifesto asserted:

  • that they represented a Protestant Christian movement for bringing on the "new Christ government", through a strictly Christian Militia
  • that this new government would be administered by people of the Christian faith and Silver Shirt ideals
  • that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had set aside the Constitution, which they desired to restore
  • that they aimed to save the United States from a state of Sovietism into which they believed the Jews were leading the country
  • that they would "ward off the Money Power wielded by outstanding leaders of the predatory people, the Jews"
  • that they would ensure "a people who constitute only 2.5 % of the population be held down to a 2.5 % influence in the American government

Further reading

  • Beekman, Scott. Wiliam Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult (2005)
  • Beekman, Scott. "Wiliam Dudley Pelley" in American National Biography]
  • Ribuffo, Leo P. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War (1983), which studies three anti-Semitic activists - William D. Pelley, Gerald B. Winrod, and Gerald K. Smith
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