Thursday, January 30, 2014

William Dudley Pelley, International Fascism and the Sirius Tradition Part II

Welcome to the second installment in my examination of the life and times of the notorious World War II-era fascist William Dudley Pelley, a man convicted of sedition in 1942. Pelley is most well known in this day and age for his founding of the Silver Shirts, an outfit with paramilitary trappings that self-consciously echoed Hitler's Brownshirts even if it was not remotely as militant. During the first installment of this series the founding, structure, and violence associated with the Silver Shirts was considered as well as a few key points from Pelley's pre-fascist days. As was noted there, the trip he made to Harbin, Manchuria, China, in the midst of the Russian Revolution was likely a far more significant event in the former screenwriter's life than is generally acknowledged.

In this installment I want to finish fleshing out the role Pelley played in both the pre- and post-World War II fascist scenes. With that in mind, let us first consider one of the longstanding charges concerning Pelley: that he was an agent of Nazi Germany. Pelley's biographer, Scott Beekman, found this charge to be a rather murky one.
"Despite Pelley's vocal championing of Hitler in early 1933, the Silver Shirts had no sustained contact with Nazi Germany until the middle of the decade, and even then he did not receive direct financial support. Still, reporters took Pelley's pronouncements as evidence of official connections between Pelley and Hitler. Pelley did nothing to correct these reports, believing they only increased his stature in extremist circles here and abroad. While Pelley's reputation among rightist may have improved by celebrating and imitating Hitler, it also gained the attention of authorities. Concerned over these purported linkages between domestic fascists and Nazi Germany, various state and federal governmental agencies began investigating American extremists in 1934. This proved to be the beginning of a costly battle that would land many domestic Nazi sympathizers, including Pelley, in prison."
(William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult, Scott Beekman, pgs. 99-100)

Beekman would later expand on this point, noting:
"Pelley's relationship with Nazi Germany also intensified at the end of the decade. The Germans approach Pelley with some trepidation, not wanting a potential ally to be branded an enemy agent. Pelley's religious thinking also contributed to this arm's-length relationship. Although the Nazis invited Pelley to the Third Reich's Erfut Anti-Comintern Congress in 1938, the Silver Shirt leader's espousal of Christianity and spiritualism gave the Nazis pause. Pelley exchanged large amounts of material with German propaganda outlets, including the German World Service and, in particular, Oscar Pfaus of the Fichte Bund, but these Third Reich agencies specifically requested only his anti-Semitic works (and never directly sent him cash payments). This relationship (and Pelley's vocal championing of Hitler) aside, claims that the Silver Shirt leader was an agent of Nazi Germany, as the federal government announced in 1944, were clearly erroneous."
(ibid, pg. 123)
Other researchers believe that Pelley was much more than a mere fellow traveler of Nazi Germany. Consider, for instance, the curious working relationship that developed between Pelley and a human being known as Sidney Brooks.
"By 1934, the Nazis had only been in power for less than a year, but already were active in placing their agents or pro-Nazis in positions of power. On Feb. 22, 1934, Sen. Daniel Hastings of Delaware and Rep. Chester Bolton announced the Republican Party had merged their Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees into a single organization, independent of the Republican National Committee. Just before the merger, the two campaign committees hired Sidney Brooks, longtime head of research at International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT). ITT was one of many American corporations that went to extraordinary means to continue trading with the Nazis after war broke out.
"Brooks soon made a frantic visit to New York. On March 4, 1934, he went to Room 830 of the Hotel Edison, rented to Mr. William Goodales of Los Angeles, who was actually William Dudley Pelley. The meeting ended with an agreement to merge Brooks' Order of 76 with the Silver Shirts. Then Brooks stopped at 17 Battery Place, the address of the German Consulate General.
"The Order of 76 was a pro-fascist group. Its application form required the fingerprints and certain biographical details of applicants. Brooks' application revealed that he was the son of Nazi agent Col. Edwin Emerson, and that he chose to use his mother's maiden name to hide his father's identity. Emerson was a major financial backer of Furholzer and his paper. The Republican Party was employing Nazi collaborators and pro-fascist groups at a high level."
(The Nazi Hydra in America, Glen Yeadon & John Hawkins, pg. 184)
Sidney Brooks' application of the Order of 76
Beekman confirms these connections to the Colonel Edwin Emerson and the Order of 76, but down plays such affiliations.
"Pelley developed connections to a number of these extremist groups. He cultivated relationships with, among others, C. Leon de Aryan of The Broom magazine, American White Guard leader and convicted forger Henry D. Allen, the 'Wichita Fuehrer' Gerald Winrod, Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, Colonel Edward Emerson, Harry Jung, James True (the inventor of the patented 'kike killer' billy club), Royal Scott Gulden of the Order of 76, and various Bund leaders. Always jealous of his own status, Pelley frequently quarreled with other right-wing leaders. Usually these friendships ended either when Pelley tried to absorb their organizations into his own or when his esoteric religious beliefs became too much for his compatriots to stomach..."
(William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult, Scott Beekman, pg. 98)
But in the case of the Order of 76, a pro-fascist organization founded by a former ITT executive with sway within the upper echelons of the Republican Party, the merger was pushed by both parties. That Pelley was in contact with "Overworld" figures such as Sidney Brooks, who in turn seems to have clearly been working on behalf of Nazi Germany, would seem to indicate that the Nazis viewed Pelley as something more than a rabble rouser. For this reason, they may have avoided forging direct ties with Pelley so that the Silver Shirt fuehrer would maintain some degree of "plausible deniability" throughout his decades-spanning career in various fringe movements.

Certainly Pelley was linked to any number of significant fascists and fascist organizations both before and after World War II. Of course there were the inevitable links to the German American-Bund, an organization linked directly to Nazi Germany.
"... Although his unorthodox religious beliefs gave concern to Bundists, Pelley's commitment to Hitler and anti-Semitism gave the Silver Shirt leader cachet among Nazi supporters in the United States. As a result the Bund (and, to a lesser extent, the Third Reich) began to cultivate a closer relationship with Pelley at the tail end of the decade.
"Rocked by defections, expos̩s, and government investigations, the Bund, beginning at its 1938 convention, adopted a 'Free America' approach as a means of self-preservation (which included changing the name of its newspaper to Deutscher Weckruf und Beobachter and the Free American). Nazi Germany ended all official ties with the organization that year, and the Bund inaugurated a campaign to reach out to other domestic supporters of Hitler, including Pelley. Beginning in the summer of 1938 the Bund began purchasing large quantities of Silver Shirt literature Рthirty to fifty copies of every pamphlet Pelley issued and twenty-five to thirty copies of each issue of New Liberation."
(ibid, pgs. 122-123)
the banner of the German-American Bund
An early member of the Silver Shirts was Gerald L.K. Smith, possibly the most prominent American clerical fascist of the twentieth century. Smith first rose to national prominence in the mid-1930s when he became a key figure in Senator Huey Long's Louisiana "Machine". After Long's assassination Smith became involved with the Union Party, an unsuccessful third party that field presidential candidate William Lemke in 1936. The Union Party was backed by another prominent American clerical fascist, Father Charles Coughlin, who even found Smith to be to extreme in his views.

Huey Long
From there Smith moved to Michigan, where he received some patronage from Henry Ford. From there Smith ran for the U.S Senate, initially on the Republican Party ticket and later as an independent, in 1942 and for the presidency in 1944 on behalf of the Christian Nationalist Party. In the post-World War II era Smith would become involved with the House Un-American Activities Committee and played a role in the Hollywood blacklisting scandal that raged in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this time he would make contact with "ministers" such Wesley Swift (of whom I've seen also mentioned as a member of the Silver Shirts, but have been unable to reliably confirm) and William Potter Gale (of whom I've written much more on here) who would go on to champion Christian Identity "theology," the most popular religious movement in American white supremacist circles in the post-WWII era. Smith never fully embraced Identity theology, but he had a heavy influence on it none the less.

William Potter Gale, a former military intelligence officer
Later in life he would retreat to Eureka Springs, Arkansas where he would built his "Christ of the Ozarks" statue and eventually pair it with an outdoor Passion Play nearby. It became a major tourist attraction even after Smith's death while the Ozarks region would become a major area for militant white supremacists. Both the compounds of the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA) and Elohim City would eventually be built in this region.

"Christ of the Ozarks"
But before all of this Gerald L.K. Smith was a member of the Silver Shirts. Over the years there has been much dispute over the extent of the relationship, if any, between Smith and William Dudley Pelley. Indeed, Smith long denied having ever been a member of the Silver Shirts. There is little dispute in this day and age, however, about his membership. What still remains something of mystery is the extent of his relationship with Pelley. Pelley's biographer, Scott Beekman, believed that it was a brief one.
"A representative example of Pelley's difficulties in dealing with other right wing leaders was his relationship with Gerald L. K. Smith. A highly active 'nationalist' fundamentalist minister of the era, Smith had connections to Huey 'Kingfish' Long, Father Francis Coughlin, and William Lemke. Pelley actually contacted Smith to organize a deep south outpost of the Silver Shirts in 1933; the two, however, rapidly turned on each other over finances and Pelley spiritualist system. Smith then left Pelley's organization and began ingratiating himself to Long."
(William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult, Scott Beekman, pgs. 98-99)
Smith's chief biographer, one Glen Jeansonne, did not believe the two men's relationship, or lack therefore, was this simple, however.
"There is strong evidence that Smith at least considered forging an alliance with Pelley. Avedis Derounian, for his exposé Under Cover, examined the files of Reverend Leon M. Birkhead, whose Peoples' Institute of Applied Religion investigated Smith. Birkhead wrote Pelley directly, asking if Smith had ever been connected with his movement. On August 5, 1936, H. E. Martin, then executive director of Pelley's Weekly, sent the following letter on Pelley's stationary:
Answering your letter on the 3rd regarding Mr. Gerald L. K. Smith's connection with the Silver Shirts, which you say he denies, we have on file certain letters and telegrams from him received during July and August 1933. The letters are all written on Silver Shirts of American letterheads and signed by him. His registration number as a member of the Silver Shirts was 3223 and his wife's number was 3220...
"Among the extracts was one from a letter Martin claimed Smith sent to Pelley on August 15, 1933: 'By the time you receive this letter, I shall be on the road to St. Louis and points north together with a uniformed squad of young men composing what I believe will be the first Silver Shirt storm trooper in America.
"According to Martin, Smith wrote Pelley two days later from Hot Springs, Arkansas: 'We have held three mass meetings, two street meetings, and appointed key men for literature in six towns; no, seven towns.'
"Clearly, Smith had some contact with Pelley. There are, however, some discrepancies. Derounian's account of Martin's letters to Birkhead places Smith in Pelley's employ in August 1933. However, an article by Pelley himself in the Weekly, in the files of the American Jewish Committee, indicates that Smith did not appear at his General Headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina, until August 1934. This date appears more likely: Smith had by this date recently left the Kings Highway Church, whereas the Derounian account puts him with Pelley prior to his resignation from the church.
"In the article in his Weekly, Pelley describes his relationship with Smith in some detail. According to him, Smith appeared uninvited and asked to become the Silver Shirt leader, claiming the sponsorship of a prominent Shreveport man, Major Luther Powell. Elna also applied for membership, as did her brother. Major Powell and a mutual friend from Dallas served as character witnesses, and Pelley issued membership cards to Smith, his wife, and her brother.
"Smith signed an agreement that, in return for an advance oo expenses, he would proselytize in Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa for the Silver Legion. He would hold open-air recruitment meetings throughout the Midwest and would keep the money he collected by passing the hat. Smith started from Shreveport, and soon sent Pelley several telegrams advising him of his progress. After only a few days, however, Smith became discouraged and return to Shreveport, abandoning the followers he had recruited. Pelley swore that this account was true and could not understand why Smith denied it.
"Smith gave different accounts at different times. In 1946 he told the House Un-American Activities Committee that the Silver Shirts had issued him an unrequested 'complimentary' membership card, which he had returned within six weeks. In 1942, however, Smith wrote former U.S. Senator Robert R. Reynolds the following account: 'In 1933 William Dudley Pelley made overtures to Huey Long and me. At the suggestion of Huey Long, I investigated Pelley for about six weeks, at the end of which time I repudiated his organization and shortly after that he wrote an article repudiating me. This was about nine years ago. I have not seen the man from that day to this.'
"In 1950, when both men were middle-aged, Smith and Pelley reconciled. Pelley wrote that he was over any ill feeling and understood that Smith had left him because he had seen better opportunities with Huey Long. This seems to verify that a relationship existed. Pelley wrote in response to a letter from Smith stating that he was happy Pelley had been paroled after spending time in prison for sedition. Pelley invited Smith to visit him and to discussed how they could support their common cause. He specified, however, that he did not want Smith to publish anything linking them publicly."
(Gerald L.K. Smith: Minister of Hate, Glen Jeansonne, pgs. 28-30)
Gerald L.K. Smith
Thus, the relationship between Pelley and Smith seems to have been much more long lasting that is commonly thought. Smith, while never a hugely successful figure, never wanted for finances throughout his career. Thus, it is most interesting that he sought reconciliation, and even possibly the council of, Pelley. Pelley was already a very marginal figure by this point and had to avoid his prior activism as part of the terms of his parole. And yet Gerald L.K. Smith, a major figure in the far right circles well into the post-WWII era, sought him out. This is especially curious considering how many Identity minsters, such as the above-mentioned Wesley Swift and William Potter Gale, would incorporate creatures from outer space into their theologies around the same era that Pelley became involved in the UFO Question (more information on Gale's beliefs in this regard can be found here). But more on that later.

Before wrapping up with Smith, its interesting to note Smith's membership number in the Silver Shirts: 3223. His wife's number was 3220. 322 is of course the number long associated with the notorious Yale fraternity commonly known Skull and Bones. Some researchers such as the great John Bevilaqua in his classic JFK -The Final Solution have suggested that the Smiths number may well have been linked to Skull and Bones. As outlandish as this may sound, this researcher is convinced that Skull and Bones is far more bizarre than the Hegelian fever dreams that researchers such as Anthony Sutton have long put at the heart of the order. Such a topic is far beyond the scope of this article, however, but the curious reader may wish to consider my examination of the role Skull and Bones played in the Kennedy assassination for more curious information about the order. But moving along...

Another notorious, if little known, mid-twentieth century fascist who came within Pelley's orbit was Francis Parker Yockey. Suspected of being an agent of Nazi Germany during the war years, Yockey's 1948 book Imperium would have an enormous influence on the post-WWII fascist underground despite being little read by mass audiences. This was especially true in Europe while Willis Carto and his Liberty Lobby embraced Yockey's writings on this side of the Atlantic. Yockey died via cyanide capsule after being arrested by the FBI in 1960. It is now virtually certain that Yockey had done some work for Czech intelligence before his death and its curious nature has led to much speculation in recent years that Yockey was an agent of a widespread and well-funded international fascist group.

But before all of this Yockey became involved with the Chicago branch of the Silver Shirts in the late 1930s, an especially militant wing of the organization.
"... The action faction was particularly strong in Chicago. Chicago Daily Times reporter John Metcalfe attended a Silver Shirt rally on 8 August 1938, where he heard the group's 'Field Marshal,' Roy Zachary, tell some 200 followers that the Roosevelt administration was on the brink of setting up a full-scale Communist dictatorship. Zachary claimed that the day was soon coming 'when the Silver Shirts will succeed to the point that no orthodox Jew will be permitted to testify in court or cast a ballot in America,' and advised his supporters 'to go out and get guns' and 'plenty of ammunition' to 'prepare for the Communist revolution that is coming to America.'
"The ties between the Bund, the Silver Shirts, and Newton Jenkins became especially evident after Jenkins took up the cause of four Chicago Silver Shirts who had been arrested in late October 1939 for painting swastikas and smashing windows at a Jewish-owned department store. The incident generated considerable notoriety because it reminded many Americans of the horrors of Kristallnacht ('The Night of Broken Glass,' when German mobs destroyed Jewish stores and in a pogrom-like outburst) just a year earlier. In his book I've Got the Remedy, Jenkins minimized the department store incident as a late-night prank that occurred after the men had attended 'some sort of anti-Jewish Halloween dance...'
"In the late 1930s, Yockey became a regular speaker at far-right functions in the Chicago area. In a 13 December 1951 FBI summary of Yockey's activities, an informant (described as 'having considerable contact' with the Bund), reported that in 1940 Yockey 'traveled under the name of Francis Parker and lectured under that name and post as an international law authority at meetings where he lectured.' The source also said that in 1939 he 'had attended a meeting of the Silver Shirts at WILLIAM A. WERNECKE's farm near Chicago at which meeting FRANCIS PARKER YOCKEY was the speaker. The source advised that YOCKEY had told him that he was the author of several articles for Social Justice.'
(Dreamer of the Day, Kevin Coogan, pg. 93)
Yockey would continue praising the ideology of William Dudley Pelley even after he joined the army in 1942.
"Yockey's legal career came to a halt on 20 May 1942, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army at Kalamazoo, Michigan. Private Yockey then spent part of his basic training at Camp Custer, Michigan, where he taken ROTC classes in the summer of 1936. Enlistment, however, did not signal a change in Yockey's these political convictions. One FBI report noted that a 'confidential informant' had met 'a FRANCIS YOCKEY... at Camp Custer, Michigan, while on a tour of duty,' and remembered him as 'a young radically minded individual who was constantly stirring up discord and was an admirer of WILLIAM DUDLEY PELLEY.'"
(ibid, pgs. 107-108)
Clearly there seems to have been some type of contact between Yockey and Pelley's organization, but how involved Yockey was with the Silver Shirts and what influence they had on his later career is impossible to say. Still, its interesting to note that Yockey seems to have been devising some type of occult doctrine around the time of his death that was meant to sever as a spiritual counterpart to the political sentiments of Imperium.
"The extent and nature of Yockey's own belief in the occult remains unknown because we lack access to his writings on the subject. What seems clear, however, is that occultism played a real role in his thinking, as the titles to his essays on 'polarity' strongly suggest. The FBI discovered that he was caring in his suitcase a list of book titles like Cosmic Rays, Your Second Body, and Reincarnation. His Oakland friend Alexander Scharf also recalled his alluding to paganism, telling him that he believed not in one god but in many gods.
"Equally interesting is a cryptic reference to item 23 in the FBI catalog of Yockey's possessions that reads: 'One page captioned Theosophical Forum 6/37.' This was the June 1937 issue of the Theosophical Forum, an American Journal of the use of the Theosophy Society. Although the FBI summary does not say what extract Yockey had from the publication, it was almost certainly from an essay called 'Central Asia: Cradleland of Our Race' by 'G. de P.' – Gottfried de Purucker, the leader of the Point Loma, California, Theosophical Lodge."
(ibid, pg. 291)
the banner of the Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society, an organization founded by the Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky in the late nineteenth century, and its ideology would have an enormous influence of the modern occult revival in general, but especially amongst fascist strands. Certainly William Dudley Pelley's system was heavily influenced by it, as shall be examined in the next installment.

For now let us examine two final instances from the fascist underground where William Dudley Pelley appears. The first concerns a bizarre organization known as the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta (SOSJ), sometimes known simply as the Shickshinny Knights of Malta. This organization did in fact claim descent from the Medieval Knights Hospitaller order, but via the Russian line of succession, and was thus distinct (in theory) from the far more well known Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM, the "official" Knights of Malta). The peak of the SOSJ's influence occurred in the 1960s when it featured several high ranking and fanatically far right former military officers as members. The SOSJ played an enormous role in shaping the modern day "Patriot movement" all the while aiding and abetting the Pentagon and US Intelligence community. Much more information on the SOSJ can be found here and here.

For much of the twentieth century the Order featured a Grand Master known as Charles Pichel. The Order was active in the 1930s and Pichel claimed to be in contact with Nazi Germany during this time. During the same period Pelley was a close associate of a reputed member of the SOSJ.
"... According to the anti-fascist Friends of Democracy group, the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo of was a White Russian fascist organization, one of whose members was the 'Count V. Cherep-Spiridovich.' The 'Count' was born Howard Victor von Boenstrupp. A former patent lawyer, Boenstrupp was also known as 'the Duke of St. Saba,' 'Colonel Bennett' and 'J. G Francis.' A close associate of Silver Shirt leader William Dudley Pelley, he was indicted along with Pelley on sedition charges and 21 July 1942. Nor was this his first encounter with the law. In 1933, when he was just plain Howard, he was charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing a valuable book and other crimes. During the House Committee on Un-American Activities questioning of Fritz Kuhn, Cherep-Spiridovich's name came up in connection with two publications, Intelligence and American Tribunal. He was also linked to 'the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.'"
(Dreamer of the Day, Kevin Coogan, pg. 607)
In theory the SOSJ was a hard line Catholic order but, as Ross Bellant notes in Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, it was long accused of being a Masonic-like secret society with bizarre occult rituals. One of its most notable members during the 1960s was Colonel Philip J. Corso, a reactionary military intelligence officer who is best known today for his book The Day After Roswell.

Finally, we come to Henry Lamont "Mike" Beach. Beach, a Silver Shirt member in the 1940s, is best known in this day and age as the founder of the Posse Comitatus movement. This is inaccurate --Posse Comitatus was in fact devised by the above-mentioned William Potter Gale, as I noted before here. Still, Beach was the figure chiefly responsible for spreading the ideology.
"At the same time, whatever credibility Beach lacked among true believers, he more than made up for it in chutzpah and merchandising talent. After stealing Bill Gale's writings and ideas in 1973, making them his own, Beach spent the next three years marketing Posse paraphernalia and providing good copy for the press. In sharp contrast, Gale's disdain for the media virtually guaranteed that Beach would get the credit for originating the Posse Comitatus. Even the ADL, which prided itself on exposing the leaders of the radical right, described Beach as the group's 'apparent founder,' although it did acknowledge that Gale, whom he described as a 'veteran anti-Semite,' had established a 'second home base' for the Posse in California.
"Beaches appropriation of credit for starting the Posse was so complete that even when he wasn't identified by name, the media invariably followed his script when describing the organization's roots. According to the Washington Post, the Posse had started in Portland, Oregon, in 1968. And according to a widely reprinted Los Angeles Times article about the 'new vigilante group,' Beach was 'the man behind the movement who began chartering posses in 1969.' By 1976 erroneous descriptions of the origins of the Posse appeared so frequently they were tantamount to historical fact. And with the exception of the ADL, which was aware that Beach had been a Silver Shirt, this important fact is almost universally ignored in media reports about Beach and the history of the Posse. Instead, reporters relied on Beach's innocuous descriptions of himself as retired laundry-equipment salesman or a machinist."
(The Terrorist Next Door, Daniel Levitas, pg. 147)

While the organizational skills Beach learned with the Silver Shirts no doubt aided his efforts in spreading Posse ideology its entirely possibly that the theology of Pelley indirectly influenced it via Gale. Posse ideology was heavily influenced by Christian Identity theology, a proto form of which Gerald L.K. Smith preached. Smith, who as noted above was briefly a member of the Silver Shirts, associated with William Gale in California during the 1950s. Thus, its possible a Pelley influence was present in Posse ideology even before Beach became involved. What's more, the paramilitary nature of certain aspects of the Silver Shirts undoubtedly had a heavy influence on the post-war "Patriot" militias that first began to appear in the 1960s.

And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. I hope these examples as well as my examination of Pelley's ties to "Count" Anastase Vonsiatsky and his All-Russian Fascist Organization in the first installment have put in perspective the scope and longstanding influence Pelley's far right activism had in such circles. In the next installment I shall begin examining the incredible metaphysical aspects of Pelley's career in earnest. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

William Dudley Pelley, International Fascism and the Sirius Tradition Part I

William Dudley Pelley is surely high in the rankings for most bizarre figures of the twentieth century. Chiefly forgotten in the early decades of the twenty-first century, Pelley none the less has had a vast and long-lasting influence on both far right ideology as well as what would eventually become known as the New Age movement. Pelley's influence on the latter is very rarely acknowledged, and understood even less. Over the course of this series I would like to present the reader with a more in depth picture of this strange little man and the curious influence he still wields on America's culture nearly 50 years after his death in 1965.

Of Pelley, the acclaimed researcher of right wing extremism Daniel Levitas remarks:
"As the son of a New England Methodist minister, William Dudley Pelley was a somewhat unlikely candidate to lead one of the largest openly pro-Nazi groups in America. But he also became a Vermont newspaper editor, a novelist, a Hollywood screenwriter, and a well-known writer of pulp fiction before he experienced a 'clairaudient' episode one night in May 1928 and reported conversations with the souls of the dead. Metaphysical experiences over the next four years further 'unlocked' Pelley's 'mental powers,' and led him to Asheville, North Carolina, where he promoted himself and his eclectic theology. On January 31, 1933, the day after Hitler became chancellor of Germany, he founded the Silver Shirt Legion of America. Although Pelley claimed twenty-five thousand members and seventy-five thousand sympathizers, actual membership in the Silver Shirts probably never exceeded fifteen thousand. Pelley's avid followers wore shirts emblazoned with an oversized scarlet L across the left breast signifying Love, Loyalty, and Liberation, as they denounced President Roosevelt, calling him a Jew, and praised Hitler as an enemy of communism. The agitations of Pelley's group concerned government authorities and others who feared the Silver Shirts might emerge as a fascist fifth column in America. Pelley's rantings gave them good reason:
"'I propose, from this date onward, to direct an aggressive campaign that shall arouse America's Gentile masses to a wholesale and drastic ousting of every radical-minded Jew from United States soil!' Pelley declared in 1938. He also pledged to establish 'the fullest and friendliest understanding and international relationships with all rightist and anticommunist nations abroad – particularly Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Japan...'"
(The Terrorist Next Door, Daniel Levitas, pg. 117)
Before getting to the notorious Silver Shirts let us first consider a few points about Pelley's early life. As noted above, Pelley initially earned a living as a professional writer. He began publishing short stories in the late 1910s and eventually graduated to full-fledged novels. Eventually his successes in these fields enabled Pelley to find work as a screenwriter in Hollywood during the end of that decade.
"Pelley's first three films were neither particularly significant nor overwhelmingly successful. Released in 1917, A Case at Law was a trite Western that starred Dick Rosson in one of his patented anti-alcohol 'message' films. The June 1919 release of One-Thing-at-a-Time O'Day, based on a Pelley's Saturday Evening Post story of the same name, featured future 'Lone Wolf' detective series star Bert Lytell as a well-meaning buffoon who falls in love with the circus bareback rider, only to have to sway her affections away from the circus's nefarious strongman. What Women Love provided Pelley with the most acclaim of the three films. Released in August 1920, the film starred the notorious Annette 'Diving Venus' Kellerman as bathing suit-wearing libertine wooed by a chaste young man who saves her from the clutches of an aggressive professional boxer. Thanks to Kellerman's drawing power and exciting aquatic sequences (including an underwater fight and a seventy-five-foot dive into the Pacific by the film's heroine), What Women Love proved to be a mild critical and commercial success.
"Unlike these earlier films, however, the 'White Faith' project allowed Pelley to delve into the motion picture business as an active participant. Contracted to rewrite the serial into workable script, Pelley quickly realized the money-making potential of turning his writing attentions towards film. With his short-story career foundering, Pelley also understood that his seminal style fit better with the prevailing mood in film than with the magazine fiction market. With The Light in the Dark (the script's new title) Pelley's 'seven-year submergence in movies had begun.'
"Pelley's shift towards motion picture work was aided immeasurably by the one lasting friendship that developed from working on The Light in the Dark. Although Jules Brulatour intended the film to showcase his wife, he also understood the need to flesh out the cast with more familiar names. Therefore, he contacted Lon Chaney, 'the man of a thousand faces,' to costar. Cheney, who began making films in 1912, became a featured performer after his appearance in The Miracle Man. Working together on the film, Pelley and the 'soft-spoken, jovial-mannered' Cheney became fast friends. When they were not filming, their two families spend evenings and weekends together in New York (with Cheney often cooking dinner for them). Their friendship ebbed at that the end of the decade as Pelley became increasingly anti-Hollywood in his outlook."
(William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult, Scott Beekman, pgs. 37-38)
Lon Chaney Sr in The Phantom of the Opera, one of his most well known films
Horror icon Lon Chaney was but one curious acquaintance Pelley would make during his lifetime, as we shall see. For now, let me wrap up with Pelley's time in Hollywood. Naturally the future Silver Shirt fuhrer's eventual disillusionment with Hollywood was partly driven by his budding anti-Semitism.
 "Pelley's daily interaction with the 'glamorous, cockeyed, crazy gang, booze-lit, and money-drunk children in Arabian nights palaces of papier-mache, however, proved significant for the screenwriter. Increasingly distressed over the actions of screen stars and Jewish studio moguls, and their influence on American society, Pelley began to develop the racist attitudes that shaped the rest of his life. Already deeply troubled by the changes being wrought in America, in Hollywood Pelley found a ready scapegoat on which to pin the blame for 'isms.' It was his only extended contact with Jews, but it left a permanent impression on him. As he later noted, 'for six years I toiled in their galleys and got nothing but money...'"
(ibid, pg. 41)
the longstanding far right obsession with Jewish domination of Hollywood, of which Pelley did his share to promote, continues to this very day
This was not, however, Pelley's first brush with anti-Semitism. Like many Americans during this era, Pelley's impression of Jews seems to have been heavily influenced by contact he had with White Russians in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. Pelley even seems to have aided the White Russian war effort at one point, possibly on behalf of US intelligence. These events occurred in 1918 while Pelley was on a writing assignment in Japan. After the Russian Revolution broke out, he was sent to Siberia to cover the hostilities on behalf of the YMCA.
 "Stranded in Japan, Pelley undertook a cross-country tour, traveling to as many missions as possible to obtain material for his articles. While in Karuizawa he was approached by George S. Phelps, International YMCA Secretary for the Far East. Phelps offered Pelley the chance to see the war firsthand by going to Siberia under the auspices of the YMCA. The organization would help underwrite his journey and arrange for transportation in return for Pelley's writing reports on YMCA activities in the region and scouting out possible locations for canteens the organization hoped to establish for American servicemen stationed in Russia.
"Pelley sailed for Russia aboard the Penza from the Japanese port city of Tsuruga. He later claimed that it was while spending a few days in Tsuruga waiting for the ship that he was first exposed to the 'world-wide Jewish question.' According to Pelley, it was an unnamed American surgeon heading for Siberia, previously attached to Polish forces, who explained the cause of the war to the young New England newspaperman. The surgeon told Pelley the Jews had orchestrated the assassination of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand in order to bring about a bloody and profitable war. Jewish plans during the war involved overthrowing the Russian czar and creating a Jewish homeland in Russia. From this Russian base of operations, Jews would launch their plan for world domination. Pelley's confidant informed him that the Russian Revolution was part of this program (and entirely funded by the Jewish-American banker Jacob Schiff), and that V. I. Lenin was also a Jew. 
"Pelley debarked in Vladivostok (which reminded him of the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey) to receive specific instructions from the staff at the headquarters of the YMCA's Red Triangle in the Siberian city. He later claimed he was immediately besieged with anti-Semitic pronouncements in Vladivostok. Pelley noted that these sentiments prevailed among the American and Czech troops in Russia as well as with his traveling companion from Japan, George Gleason.
"Pelley's commission with the Red Triangle involved traveling throughout Siberia in a canteen car attached to Allied troop trains. He was instructed to take pictures of conditions in the region and to write reports for the YMCA on the most efficient means of turning the youth of Russia away from 'satanic Leninism.' Pelley claimed he was a combination 'Red Triangle secretary, war correspondent, espionage agent, secret photographer, canteen proprietor, and consular courier... Striving to plant sanity, decency, and political stability in a land being slowly mutilated and mangled by Communism.'
"Pelley's excursions kept him primarily behind the Allied lines, but the frequently shifting positions of the front often left him dangerously close to combat. His first and most significant experience in a combat zone occurred in the city of Blagoveshchenck. Pelley's car was attached to a Japanese troop train sent in as reinforcement during the fight for the city. Arriving after most of the fighting ended, Pelley witnessed the entire city go up in flames. He was deeply moved by this 'terrible and unforgettable sight... as magnificent as it was tragic.'
"In November 1918 the most picturesque episode of Pelley's Siberian adventure began while he was staying in Irkustsk to watch the ceremonies that gave Admiral Aleksander Kolchak formal control of all the White Russian forces. At the American consulate he was persuaded to accompany two representatives of the International Harvester Company, three-quarters of a million dollars in company funds, and Washington-bound diplomatic documents from American bastard David R. Francis to Harbin, Manchuria. Harvester officials sought to rush the money out of the country before it fell into Bolshevik hands. Pelley's credentials, local authorities believed, would prevent the funds from seizure along the road to Harbin. Pelley chaperoned a money-loaded canteen for twenty-six days. Already fearful of being robbed, Pelley found the journey even more harrowing because of the vicious weather of the Siberian winter. When the cold and hungry trio reached Harbin, they learned that the war had ended during their treacherous trip. 
"While he possessed nothing but scorn for either the red Bolsheviks or the white Cossacks ('predatory hetmen'), Pelley's accounts demonstrated genuine sympathy for the Russian peasants. He decried the treatment of these people caught in the middle of a war they neither understood nor wished to participate in. Much as he did the rural folk of the American southwest, Pelley found the Russian peasants to be hard-working, friendly, and quietly noble. To Pelley they were the 'prototypes' of the generous New Englanders he grew up with, and their wholesale dislocation was a pitiable consequence of the Revolution.
"Pelley blamed only the Jewish Communist for the tragic destruction of the peasantry. He argued that the boxcar loads of refugees he traveled with were victims of a revolution perpetuated by 'two hundred and seventy-six Jews from New York's East Side.' Pelley later claimed that witnessing the actions of the 'scavenger Jews' in Siberia led him to understand the Jewish plot to take over the world, the Russian Revolution being merely the first step in this program. He used his experience in Siberia as first-hand 'evidence' of the fate awaiting Americans at the Communists took over the country. Pelley believed that Russian atrocities could 'happen in Kansas, Indiana, New Jersey... if this Communist peril becomes guerrilla warfare.'"
(ibid, pgs. 26-28)
the legendary city of Harbin prior to 1945
That Pelley would pop up in Harbin, Manchuria, China is most curious. Manchuria is of course the name of the region that inspired the name of Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate. Some researchers such as the great John Bevilaqua have insisted that Condon's use of Manchuria as a brainwashing center had a basis in reality. What's more, Bevilaqua has noted that Harbin became one of the chief centers of Russian fascism after the Russian Revolution.
"... Also recalled that the headquarters of Vonsiatsky's Russian Fascist Organization was Harbin, Manchuria, China. The birthplace of George deMohrenschildt's wife was also Harbin, which makes it highly likely that her parents were expatriate Russian Fascists who must have known Vonsitsky as the leader of their klan during their disporia there. George's favorite pseudonym was Philip Harbin."
(J.F.K. -The Final Solution, John Bevilaqua, pg. ci)
George de Mohrenschildt
George de Mohrenschildt is a curious figure frequently linked to the JFK assassination. I addressed him briefly before here. "Count" Anastase "Annie" Vonsiatsky was America's premier Russian fascist in the years between the World Wars, with his All-Russian Fascist Organization (VFO) being based out of Putnam, Connecticut. Like Pelley, he was imprisoned for sedition in 1942. Harbin, Manchuria was in fact home to a Russian fascist organization --the All-Russian Fascist Party --but there is some dispute as to how closely linked this organization was to Vonsiatsky's.

the headquarters of the All-Russian Fascist Party, which was located mere miles from the Siberian border in Manchuria 
Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that the organizations of Pelley and Vonsiatsky were linked in some way. The FBI's official website notes:
"During the FBI's investigation of Vonsiatsky's activities, evidence was obtained that he had had some dealings with William Dudley Pelley's organization. In fact, upon one occasion Vonsiatsky sent several copies of his publication, 'The Fascist,' to Pelley's organization in Asheville, North Carolina. On one occasion at least, Vonsiatsky ordered a hundred copies of Pelley's publication. During 1936, a representative of the Pelley Publishers wrote Vonsiatsky stating, 'Your work for the Cause we are mutually serving, publishing your Russian Fascist, has just come to our attention. From reports given us it seems you are fighting a rather lone battle, and a little camaraderie is not amiss.' The letter further stated that Pelley's organization had been in battle 'militantly' for over four years and was 'determined to block Judah in government and the Jewish bankers by the coming national election.'"
Even biographer John J. Stephan, who generally goes out of his way to depict Vonsiatsky in the most buffoonish light possible, grudgingly acknowledges there was some type of contact between Pelley and the Count from a relatively early date. A Pelley representative, for instance, approached the Count during the onset of one of his world tours to forge an international Russian fascist network.
"... John Eoghan Kelly, New York representative of Pelley's Silver Shirts, was also on hand to wish the vozhd well. Pelley had approached Vonsiatsky in January 1934 with an offer to get together, but Alex preferred to postpone any meeting until after his global pereginations. Kelly's appearance at the Vanderbilt probably reflected his chief's desire to be remembered as a friend – and beneficiary."
(The Russian Fascists, John J. Stephan, pg. 140)
"Count" Vonsiatsky
Naturally this encounter occurred just before Vonsiatsky was setting off to meet with the All-Russian Fascist organization in Harbin, Manchuria. Perhaps Pelley's representative was there to pass off contacts the Silver Shirt head had made there during his time in Harbin as well. Regardless, it is curious how many bizarre figures appear in Harbin, Manchuria between the World Wars. But back to Pelley and his Silver Shirts organization.

While there were over 700 pro-fascist groups in these United States in the 1930s Pelley's Silver Shirts remain among the most notorious. No doubt this was partly due to Pelley's grandiose vision for the organization.
"... The Legion was to be headed by the national commander (Pelley), a treasurer, and a secretary. Pelley was to be assisted by the General Staff, consisting of the chief, the chamberlain, the quartermaster, the sheriff, and the censor. Elected for ten-year terms, the General Staff possessed the authority to appoint Divisional Executive and Local Executive Staffs. The Legion maintained its headquarters in Asheville and divided administrative duties, handled by the Divisional Executive Staff (DES), into nine divisions. Each DES was presided over by a Divisional Commanding Officer, assisted by a treasurer and clerk. Although answerable to officials at the national headquarters, each division maintained Departments of Local Posts, Silva Rangers, Industrial Relations, Junior Activities, and Foreign Affiliates. The Silver Rangers, consisting of paramilitary bands of one hundred 'arsonists,' would, in particular, cause Pelley future difficulties.
"Anticipating that the Legion would serve as the foundation of a new theocratic state, Pelley also created departments to handle specific issues, including Public Enlightenment, Patriotic Probity, Crime Erasement, and Public Morals and Mercy. The Department of Public Morals and Mercy was seen by Pelley as especially important as it would be in charge of placing all 'vagabonds' in concentration centers, censoring the press, and arresting persons responsible for motion pictures that depicted violence.
"Membership in the Legion was open to all, save Jews and Blacks, over the age of eighteen who could afford the $10 annual dues and the $6 for a uniform. Prospective members submitted a photograph and personal information, including racial heritage, military experience, financial records, and the exact hour and minute of birth, and signed a document agreeing to abide by the organization's principles. These 'Christian American Patriots' pledged to 'respect and sustain the sanctity of the Christian Ideal, to nurture the moral tradition and Civic, Domestic and Spiritual life and the culture of the wholesome, natural and inspirational in Art, Literature, Music and Drama; to adulate and revere an aristocracy of Intellect, Talent and Characterful Purpose, and the Body Politic; to sponsor and acclaim aggressive ideals and pride of Craftsmanship rather than the golden serpent of profit, that the lowliest individual may aspire to a life of fullest flower; to exalt Patriotism and Pride of Race, and in the interest of progress and evolution, to recognize the integrity of every nation and seek to preserve his place in the Fellowship of Peoples...'
"New recruits attended nine weekly indoctrination meetings. Local Councils of Safety directed the proceedings at these meetings. The recruits received instruction on the threat of Jewish Communism and their responsibilities as Christian patriots. The bulk of these nine meetings was discussions of the 'four primers' with which all Silver Shirts must be familiar: the anti-Semitic standards The Hidden Empire and The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and two Pelley works. The Pelley writings, The President Knows and No More Hunger, outlined the theocratic (or 'Christ Democracy') state the Silver Shirt chief hoped to create in the United States.
"No More Hunger detailed Pelley's program for establishing the Christian Commonwealth. With moderate alteration, Pelley maintained this governmental plan, like his religious system, throughout his public career. The Commonwealth, then, should be considered one of the twin pillars of Pelley's thought (Liberation/Soulcraft doctrine is the other). He never let the book go out of print during his lifetime and claimed it had sold over eighty-thousand copies by the early 1950s.
"Pelley claimed that the Commonwealth was 'a social system that is neither Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism, or Communism.' In fact, the Commonwealth blended elements of all these ideas into a composite, not unlike the ideas expressed by his adolescent hero Edward Bellamy and the iconoclastic Populist-Social Gospeler Richard T. Ely. The system meshed a theocratic, corporate state; centralized production control of government-owned industry; civil service-style employment protection with private ownership of personal property; and an all-encompassing social welfare program."
(William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult, Scott Beekman, pgs. 81-83)
some Silver Shirts
Easily the most militant branch of the Silver Shirts was the one based in California. It was this section that would generate much of the organization's (somewhat over exaggerated) reputation for violence.
"Of all the large state organizations, California created the most problems for Pelley. The first Silver Shirt branch opened in Los Angeles in 1933 and met with surprising initial success, with statewide membership reaching a peak of three thousand in 1934. Pelley was so pleased with the progress in southern California that in February 1934 he moved the Silver Ranger, his newest magazine, from Oklahoma City (which had become the organization's 'second headquarters') to Los Angeles. That city eventually house six different local branches. This concentration of units in one city, the most in the country, allowed Pelley to organize the branches with specializations. For example, there was a Los Angeles branch for those most interested in Pelley's religious system (the astrology-minded Nazi William Kullgren was associated with this group) and another unit, headed by 'Captain' Eugene Case, for the violent 'arsonists'...
"While the Los Angeles branches created internal strife for Pelley and his organization, the San Diego branch foisted a surfeit of complications on the Silver Shirt chief. The San Diego group leader, Willard Kemp, had little use for Pelley's esoteric writings and focused his membership on preparing for armed struggle with Communist invaders. Not content to wait for the Communists to strike first, the San Diego chief proposed a series of violent schemes to his followers. In anticipation of bloodshed, Kemp armed his two hundred followers with rifles allegedly bought illegally from unscrupulous attendants at the North Island Naval Base armory and drilled them at a heavily fortified ranch near El Cajon. To ensure that his men were ready for action, Kemp hired to U.S. Marine Corps drill instructors (Virgil Hayes and Edward T. Grey) to train his men in military tactics and offered to buy any stolen weapons the two could procure.
"Kemp's indiscretions proved costly. Hayes and Grey reported Kemp's offer to their superiors, who instructed the two to infiltrate the Silver Shirts and report their findings to Naval Intelligence. The two marines and a number of Silver Shirts eventually testified about the San Diego unit's actions before an executive session of the Special House Congressional Subcommittee on Un-American Activities (the McCormick-Dickstein Committee) in August 1934. Already investigating Nazi propaganda in the United States, committee members were appalled by the schemes of the San Diego Silver Shirts, which included assassination of Jewish public officials and an armed march on San Diego during a May Day celebration. It proved to be the beginning of close governmental scrutiny of Pelley's organization. Investigators quickly discovered irregularities in Pelley's financial activities. As 1934 dawned, Pelley began twenty years of legal entanglements."
(ibid, pgs. 102-104)
And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. With an outline of Pelley's background and the Silver Shirts out of the way, I shall focus my attention upon Pelley's ties to Nazi Germany as well as his extensive links within far right circles at the onset of the next installment. From there I will then address the metaphysical parts of Pelley's life, a dominate if little examined aspect of it. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Stoner Rock Mysteries: The Veil of Isis

One of my New Year resolutions was to get back into attending concerts. I did not take in any during 2013 save for a local hardcore band called Harsh a few days before my birthday and the invigorating night on the town immediately reminded me of all the great things rock 'n roll is capable of in a live setting. Thus, it seemed especially appropriate to start off the New Year by finally catching Clutch live.

Regular readers of this blog have no doubt begun to pickup on the fact that I am a huge fan of the Maryland-based four piece. For those of you just tuning in, check out my reviews of 2004's Blast Tyrant (which can be found here) and 2013's Earth Rocker (a two parter that is located here and here) for a more in depth account of my thoughts on the band.  In brief, I've noted that the band's unique blend of 70s hard rock and 90s alternative/stoner metal with lyrics steeped in mythology, conspiracy theories, political history, and general high weirdness are a synchro-mystical goldmine. Clutch vocalist (and occasional guitarist) Neil Fallon could easily rival the great Robyn Hitchcock when it comes to surreal word play. But more on Clutch in a moment.

 The bill consisted of three bands: Crobot, The Sword, and Clutch. All three groups fall under the somewhat catch-all banner of "stoner rock", a genre that includes everything from desert rock, sludge metal, traditional doom, occult rock, retro heavy rock, heavy psych, space rock, drone, fuzz rock and so forth. In general, I've found this genre to be highly synchro-mystical and twilight language laden, as noted before here and here. What's more, this curious aspect of the genre has only become more pronounced in recent years as more and more groups have adopted occult and mythological trappings. In extreme cases groups such as In the Labyrinth and Sabbath Assembly have attempted to recreate the hymns of the ancient Mystery religions and the Process Church of the Final Judgment, respectively. 

Given that both The Sword and Clutch make heavy use of mythology and the occult in their lyrics and images I was expecting the concert to be quite synchro-mystical and I was not disappointed. I took in the show at Jacksonville's Freebird Live venue. Started in 1999, Freebird Live was originally a restaurant that featured live music nightly and was adorned with Lynard Skynard memorably (the legendary Southern rock outfit was founded in Jacksonville), hence the name. A few years later it dropped the restaurant aspect and focused solely on pointing on shows.

Freebird Live
 The venue had a groovy setup --It's a two-story deal with a good chunk of the second floor missing so that stage can be easily viewed. It features two fully stocked bars on either floor and a balcony that wraps around the exterior of the venue for the smokers. With a 700 person capacity, Freebird Live manages a relatively intimate feel. Frankly, its about as big a place to take in a rock concert as one wants to risk without losing some of the magic. On the whole, it comes off as a smaller and far less garish version of the House of Blues chain.  

By the time I arrived at the venue a little after eight the opening act, Crobot, was already about halfway through their set. I soon came to regret my tartness after taking in a few of the songs performed by the quartet hailing from central Pennsylvania. I had been expecting this group to be a thrash act because I inexplicably confused them with Prong (who frequently tour with Clutch) and was pleasantly surprised by their sound. Led Zeppelin is clearly the group's chief influence, with some traces of Thin Lizzy and 1970s Pentagram (singer Brandon Yeagley even vaguely resembles a young Bobby Liebling) thrown in for good measure. The group has a modern edge to their sound, however, that recalls Soundgarden as well as Clutch themselves.

As with many retro-centric groups, Crobot has a metaphysical bent to their lyrics. "Good Times in the Bandlands", for instance, name checks the legendary Native American shaman Passaconaway and the Thunderbird (a great breakdown of the high weirdness surrounding the myths of the Thunderbird can be found here) when not warning of the necromancer. Naturally, this was the song the group lurched into shortly after I entered the venue. Other tracks are not quite so synchro-mystically laden, but frequently allude to mythology and conspiracy theories as well as reveling in sci-fi trappings --their debut is called The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer, after all. There have been some rumblings that Yeagley and guitarist Chris Bishop (who did the album's artwork) wish to do a graphic novel based upon the album's songs at some future date. Needless to say, its packed full of material idea for such things.

The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer album cover
The Sword took the stage shortly after Crobot broke down their gear, but not before Recluse procured a copy of Spaceborne Killer's from the latter's merch stand. In the process Recluse stumbled upon Yeagley, who came swaggering up to inform me that my Sleep shirt was "fuckin' awesome, brother." Thus, my streak of encountering performing musicians at shows continues unabated. Remember kids, wearing the right shirt to a metal concert is very important --members of performing bands almost always end up telling me how cool mine are as do random strangers in the crowd. Encountering both are always interesting experiences. But I digress -- On to The Sword.

The Sword is one of those groups Recluse has always felt that he should dig a lot more than he does. When the Austin, Texas quartet first started out in the mid-00s there sound was heavily influenced by Dio-era Black Sabbath and Sleep as well as the thrasher tendencies of High on Fire and Black Cobra. Their first two albums --Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth --were enjoyable enough releases featuring the type of fantasy-laden imagery and lyrical topics this author is usually a sucker for. But something about the band just didn't click.

The Sword
I began to warm up more to the group after the release of their third album, 2010's Warp Riders. With its wonderful sci-fi imagery and plot line as well as more ambitious song structures and instrumentation, the album at times echoes BOC circa Secret Treaties (which long time readers of this blog will recognize as high praise from me if they have read my examination of the album, which can be found here and here). Still, 2012's Apocryphon flew under my radar that year. I only picked it up recently in preparation for the show, a state of affairs I now regret. The album's cover should have clued me in on the fact that The Sword just keep getting more interesting with each release.

The cover, designed by acclaimed comic book artist J.H. Williams III, is in fact meant to depict Isis standing over an apocalyptic world. The Eye of Horus appears upon Isis' hooded forehead while she makes the "silence gesture" generally associated with the god Harpocrates, who in some accounts is her son and/or grandson. To say that this image is symbolically loaded would be an understatement. As I'm sure many of my readers are well aware, the goddess Isis is hugely important in the Mystery schools of the ancient Mediterranean.
"The most illustrious of all Ancient Egyptian goddesses, Isis is depicted searching for her murdered brother and husband, Osiris, whom she restored to life with her breath...; Suckling her son, Horus; or in funeral procession protecting the dead in the shadow of her wings and bringing them back to life. From her faithfulness and devotion, she would appear originally to have been a hearth-goddess, but, according to legend, she 'obtained the secret name of the all-powerful god,' Ra, and became his equal in power, spreading her influence across the universe. Every living being was a drop of Isis' blood. In fact, Isis was worshiped as the all-powerful universal goddess all around the Mediterranean Basin, as devoutly in Greece and Rome as in the Near East. 'I am the mother of the whole of Nature, mistress of the elements, the origin and principle of the ages, the supreme divinity, queen of the shades, the first of the dwellers in the sky, the unrivaled model of all the gods and goddesses. The pinnacles of the sky, the beneficial sea-breezes, the desolate silences of hell, I rule them all according to my will...' All esoteric groups regarded her as the mystagogue who held the secrets of life and death and resurrection. The ankh was the symbol of her boundless power. In all mystery religions of the early centuries of the Christian era, she was the embodiment of the female principle and sole magic source of fertility and transmutation."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 544)
Harpocrates, who is often depicted with his index finger across his lips in an indication of silence, is often described as the God of Silence. He is thought to represent the veil of secrecy surrounding the Mysteries by the conspiratorial right. In the case of Apocryphon secrecy is likely what is being invoked as well as the word can be translated as "secret writing." Singer, guitarist and head songwriter J.D. Cronise made it clear upon the album's release that this imagery was inspired by occult traditions. Of the album's title, he stated:
"The word Apocryphon came up while I was researching Gnosticism, early Christianity, theosophy, and other esoteric subjects... They're books that were either banned or removed from the biblical canon. The early church fathers felt that these teachings were either too advanced or dangerous for the masses to be exposed to because they encouraged thought that was antithetical to the church’s system of control, so they were considered heretical and dubbed apocrypha. You've got to look beyond what you're told to the totality of knowledge available to approach any sort of true understanding."
This of course was not the first time The Sword's work has taken a metaphysical slant --such things were already evident with earlier tracks such as "Maiden, Mother & Crone". But Apocryphon certainly took this aspect of the group to another level and its influence was prominently displayed in Freebird Live when I made the scene: a massive banner of Apocryphon's album cover hung across the back wall of the stage even during Crobot's set. Naturally a banner featuring Isis is most appropriate for any type of rock concert, but most certainly one of this nature.

Unfortunately The Sword's set was mired by a poor sound mix: Cronise's vocals were all but inaudible for much of the set. It's a really pity, because the combination of a surprisingly elaborate light show and the prominently displayed Mystery symbols created quite the atmosphere. The band was otherwise professional and their increasing use of synthesizers gives the group an even more pronounced Blue Oyster Cult feel at their most sinister. The song "Apocryphon", which closed both The Sword's set as well as the album of the same name, was quite striking thanks to the triggered use of synths throughout. They set the scene perfectly for a song steeped in Gnosticism, as the opening verse makes clear:

Set adrift in the multiverse
By the whims of fate
In thrall to the demiurge
We all await escape

"The Veil of Isis", Apocryphon's opener, also made a rousing appearance. The song, which slyly hints at the legends surrounding the death and resurrection of Osiris, revolves around the ever changing cycles of life. Of it, Cronise told Rolling Stone: "In essence, the song is about change... [It's about] moving from one phase of the natural cycle to the next and the recognition of the knowledge revealed when such transitions occur. The lyrics make reference to Isis, the goddess of nature and magic, and her brother/husband Osiris, the god of the dead and the afterlife, as agents of those changes and keepers of sacred knowledge. The 'veil' is that which hides from us the true nature of the universe that, during our earthly existence, is largely hidden from us."

The Sword even opened with "Tres Brujas", a Warp Riders song revolving around three witches and certain herbs that had been Recluse's favorite song by the group. In general, the set drew heavily from Riders and Apocryphon, which put The Sword's growing maturity on display when paired with earlier numbers. Despite sound problems, the set was suitably metal and mystical in equal measures. 

After an extended wait following the conclusion of The Sword's set, Clutch finally took the stage. During the down time the banner of Isis was taken down and replaced by one featuring the album cover for Clutch's latest album, Earth Rocker. It was a fitting shift. The more technical and sophisticated work of The Sword is befitting of the structured Mystery schools. Clutch, by contrast, is a far looser group. While all members of the group are individually fine musicians their music is built more around hypnotic grooves and blues-based hard rock riffs that have driven heavy rock since its earliest days. The cover of Earth Rocker immediately invokes Native American shamanism, and the live presence of Clutch does a fine job of capturing that primal place in the human consciousness.

Clutch's live shows have become semi-legendary and for good reason: They have a genuinely unique atmosphere. A large and continuous mosh pit was present practically throughout Clutch's entire set, but not of the "Let's knock someone out" variety. Rather, kids jumped around and swayed into one another throughout the set. When contact was made one was reminded of padded go-karts bumping into one another and rebounding in a variety of directions. These sights fit right in with the clouds of odorless pot smoke courtesy of portable vaporizers brandished by various members of the audience.

Even more striking was the crowd's reaction to Neil Fallon's lyrics: practically the whole audience sang along to every song throughout the set. Recluse has never been around a crowd as in to a band's lyrics as the one he encountered at the Freebird show. Despite the fact that the set was heavy with tracks from Earth Rocker, everyone seemed to know all the lyrics to whatever Clutch performed by heart. Given that Fallon's lyrics frequently reference cryptids, underground bunkers, aliens, Men in Black and political assassinations as well as mythological beings and the occult, this made for quite a surreal scene.

Fallon does his part to emphasis his lyrics to the crowd as well. Throughout the show he frequently used exaggerated hand gestures to play up his words, at times recalling the motions of orators from Ancient Greece or Rome, an art know as chironomia. The crowd was not to be out done and frequently mimicked Fallon's hand gestures --People were even hoisted up on other's shoulders to do this.

The band performed every song off of Earth Rocker, but not in the order as they appear on the album. There were also several numbers from prior albums, many of which happened to be both among Recluse's favorite Clutch song as well as their most synchro-mystical. Both "Escape From the Prison Planet" and "Animal Farm" off of 1995's self-titled album were performed. Both of these songs do an incredible job of capturing the zeitgeist of UFO and conspiracy culture in the 1990s, simultaneously echoing The X-Files and William Cooper in equal measures. The later song invokes underground bunkers and little grey men that "taste just like chicken they say" before channeling Hour of the Times at peak frenzy:

Carter is a clone
Dozen brother 'round the globe
MJ-12 damned us to hell
Scroll and Key, Skull and Bones
It's only just begun
Area 51
The spawn of Babylon

"Escape From the Prison Planet" has inevitably been co-opted by Alex Jones, but we shouldn't hold that against the song. It name checks Bob Lazar in addition to Men in Black, alien technology and an opening verse that at times feels like my day-to-day life. Clutch also performed "I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth" from the self-titled as well, a song that alludes to the various conspiracy theories surrounding the possible escape of Lincoln's assassin as well as the creeping reemergence of fascism ("And I swear its never been like this before/Least not since 19 and 44") in modern America. At another point in the set Clutch performed the song "Abraham Lincoln" off of 2009's Strange Cousins From the West, a most fitting touch.

Lincoln and the Civil War have been alluded to frequently in Clutch's lyrics of the years
They also broke out "The Yeti" from 1998's The Elephant Riders. Not only is this song about the famous cryptid, but it also alludes to one of the most far out theories surrounding the creature, namely that it is some type of interdimensional being. The blog Phantoms and Monsters has a compelling rundown of such notions:
"A subscriber states that just because we don't understand how Bigfoot move in and out of another dimension or what their purpose is, doesn't rule out this possibility. He has questioned a variety of people that channel interdimensional beings and every time the answer turns out that Bigfoot are indeed interdimensional beings as well. There are many other beings that can move in and out of another dimension including fairies, gnomes, sprites, and others. Indigenous people worldwide will verify this as they have strived to maintain to keep their connection to earth and the natural beings while the ‘civilized’ world has nearly completely lost touch. Only young children and intuitive adults are able to see/feel these beings as they move in and out of other dimensions. It’s time for us to wake up to this possibility regardless of what conventional wisdom and science has to say about the matter. The evidence is there…time to become open to a broader perspective. 
"Well known paranormal investigator Jon-Eric Beckjord’s theories sum up much of the argument. He believed that Bigfoot and similar cryptids may be interdimensional beings that can occasionally take physical form for brief periods of time, but have the ability to ‘fade out’ and pass through ‘wormholes’, possibly to other dimensions or parallel universes. He reported to have had one of the creatures speak to him using telepathy, communicating the words ‘We're here, but we're not real, like what you think is real’. 
"Beckjord claimed that such entities may be able to actually disappear into thin air, or even shapeshift.  Beckjord maintained that the interdimensional hypothesis may possibly, if proven, explain why there are thousands of alleged Bigfoot creature sightings each year, yet no dead zoological physical body is ever found. To evidence these ideas, Beckjord accumulated a large collection of enlarged photographs that he says show, among other things, ‘half-Bigfoots’ and ‘invisible Bigfoots’, or possible aliens. The forms are often found in situations where the camera picked up images not seen by the witnesses, often due to distance. According to Beckjord, the images show primates, carnivores and beings not readily identified within known zoological classifications that resemble descriptions of aliens submitted to investigators. He conducted much field work, such as camping out at ‘window sites’ where, he said, Bigfoot activity is frequently seen. He collected his own photographic evidence of what he believes to be a ‘tribe’ of either Bigfoots or aliens at El Dorado National Forest."

In Clutch's hands the Yeti is depicted as a creature perpetually traveling through time:

The author looms above his page  
And thinks it strange that at his age 
He can not find the proper words  
To describe his only world. 
One would think that in a life  
Where no two snowflakes are alike 
One would have a brilliant rhyme  
For reaching every bit of time. 

Himalaya is my old time stomping ground  
(Oh yes, time is of the essence) 
Manitoba, better snows I've never found  
(Oh yes, time is of the essence)

During the performance I saw Clutch rearranged the verses, performing the final two (written out above) at the onset of the song, further enhancing its high strangeness. The song was carried into an extended jam that seamlessly evolved into "D.C. Sound Attack" off of Earth Rocker. It was easily one of the highlights of the night. 

When it was all said and done I slipped out of the venue just as Clutch was finishing up the final number of the encore, "Electric Worry". It was a surprisingly packed crowd for a Sunday night and having a nearly two hour drive looming ahead, I grudgingly called it a night. In the background the Earth Rocker shaman and swaying crowd loomed as my companion and I departed, silently echoing traditions that have reappeared upon these shores in one form or another since time immemorial.