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)
"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|
"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|
"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|
"... 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|
|the headquarters of the All-Russian Fascist Party, which was located mere miles from the Siberian border in Manchuria|
"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)
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|
"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.