History and Historiography

William Dudley Pelley: Life and Times

by Salofaista and Zoltanous

Introduction

Fringe movements, whether in politics or religion, tend to attract fringe individuals. George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, once made the observation that:

“Creativity is fanaticism. Every creative genius has had to be a fanatic. Many of them have been burned at the stake… In between the Communists and the Nazis is the great mass of non-fanatics, the TV watchers, and the comic book readers.” 

He might have had a point. It is hard to be a revolutionary or a radical without being a fanatic to some degree — and fanaticism of any kind is, by definition, not exactly “normal”. William Dudley Pelley, who led the fascistic Silver Legion of America (the ‘Silvershirts’) during the interwar-era, was almost the quintessential example of the kinds of fringe individuals who frequently find their way into radical politics.

Pelley was a successful journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had been radicalized through his time covering the Bolshevik Revolution and by his own experiences with Jewish film executives. In the mid-1920s, he began experiencing divine‘visions’ which led him into a career as a best-selling spiritualist teacher and writer. Pelley believed that his visions were sent by the Lord Jesus Christ and that he had been chosen for a great purpose, and it was these visions which in turn inspired him to create the Silver Legion in 1933 with a goal of bringing about the renewal of the United States on both a spiritual (immaterial) and a physical (material) level.

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