Silver Legion of America

The Silver Legion of America, commonly known as the Silver Shirts, was an underground American fascist organization founded by William Dudley Pelley that was headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina[17] and announced publicly on January 31, 1933. The group was effectively dissolved on December 8, 1941, the same day the United States declared war on Japan, when police called for the open arrest[clarification needed] of any individuals associated with the group.

Silver Legion of America
Other nameSilver Shirts
LeaderWilliam Dudley Pelley[1]
FoundedJanuary 31, 1933 (1933-01-31)[2]
DissolvedDecember 8, 1941
HeadquartersAsheville, North Carolina[3]
Publications • Liberation
 • Pelley's Silvershirt Weekly
 • The Galilean
 • The New Liberator
Political wingChristian Party[4][5]
Membership15,000 (c. 1934)[6][7]
100,000 (claimed)[8]
IdeologyCorporate statism
White supremacism
White nationalism[9]
Business nationalism
Social conservatism
Racial segregation[10]
Right-wing populism
Clerical fascism[12]
Political positionRadical right[13][14]
ReligionProtestant Christianity
Active regionsSmall communities in the Midwest and in the Pacific Northwest[15][16]
Colors  Silver,   scarlet and   blue
Slogan"Loyalty, Liberation, and Legion"
Anthem"Battle Hymn of the Republic"
Party flag
Silver Legion of America flag.svg


A nationalist, fascist group[11] modeled after Benito Mussolini's blackshirts, the paramilitary Silver Legion wore a silver shirt with a blue tie, along with a campaign hat and blue corduroy trousers with leggings. The uniform shirts bore a scarlet letter L over the heart: an emblem meant to symbolize Loyalty to the United States, Liberation from materialism, and the Silver Legion itself. The blocky slab serif L-emblem was in a typeface similar to the present-day Rockwell Extra Bold. The organizational flag was a plain silver field with such a red L in the canton at the upper left.

By 1934, the Legion claimed to have about 15,000 members.[18] Circa 1935, a Nazi agent befriended mining fortune heiress Jessie Murphy, convincing her to contribute cash and the use of her ranch, recently purchased from screen cowboy Will Rogers, to the fascist movement.[19] The Legion began construction of the Murphy Ranch, situated on a secluded, 55-acre (22 ha) site in the Los Angeles hills, meant to serve as a fortified world headquarters after the expected fascist global conquest.[citation needed]

Legion leader Pelley called for a "Christian Commonwealth" in America that would combine the principles of racism, nationalism, and theocracy, while excluding Jews and non-whites.[20] He claimed he would save America from Jewish communists just as "Mussolini and his Black Shirts saved Italy and as Hitler and his Brown Shirts saved Germany."[21] Pelley ran for president of the United States in the 1936 election on a third-party ticket under the Christian Party banner. Pelley hoped to seize power in a "silver revolution" and set himself as dictator of the United States. He would be called "the Chief" just like other fascist world leaders who had similar titles such "Der Führer" for Adolf Hitler and "II Duce" for Benito Mussolini.[22] However, the Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt handily won the reelection, and Pelley failed to figure among the top four. By around 1938, the Silver Legion's membership was down to about 5,000.[23]

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, local police occupied the "world headquarters" bunker compound and detained members of the 50-man caretaker force.[citation needed] The declaration of war on the United States by Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy led to the rapid decline of the Silver Legion.

On January 20, 1942, Pelley was sentenced to serve two to three years in prison by Superior Court Judge F. Don Phillips, in Asheville, North Carolina, for violating terms of probation of a 1935 conviction for violating North Carolina security laws. The same sentence had been suspended pending good behavior, but the court found that during that period Pelley had published false and libelous statements, published inaccurate reports and advertising, and supported a secret military organization.[24]

In popular cultureEdit

  • Sinclair Lewis's novel It Can't Happen Here depicts a fascist takeover of the United States by an anti-Roosevelt demagogue who claims inspiration from the Silver Legion.[25]
  • The grand strategy game Hearts of Iron IV depicts the Silver Legion as their fascist archetype of the United States, as the Free American Empire.[26]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Beekman, Scott (2005-10-17). William Dudley Pelley: A Life in Right-Wing Extremism and the Occult. Syracuse University Press. pp. 2–3, 80–81, 87, 94, 162, 174, 206. ISBN 978-0-8156-0819-6.
  2. ^ Elliston, J. (2019, July 15). Asheville's Fascist. Retrieved from’s_fascist
  3. ^ "The Silver Shirts: Their History, Founder, and Axtivities". August 24, 1933
  4. ^ Schultz, Will. "William Dudley Pelley (1885-1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  5. ^ Barkun, Michael (1997). Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. UNC Press Books. p. 91. ISBN 9780807846384.
  6. ^ "Silver Shirts". Holocaust Online. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  7. ^ Bernstein, Arnie (October 7, 2013). "6 Things You May Not Have Known About Nazis in America". The History Reader. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  8. ^ Schultz, Will. "William Dudley Pelley (1885-1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  9. ^ Lobb, David (1999). "Fascist apocalypse: William Pelley and millennial extremism" (PDF). Journal of Millennial Studies. 2 (2). ISSN 1099-2731. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  10. ^ Lemmon, Sarah McCulloh (December 1951). "The Ideology of the 'Dixiecrat' Movement". Social Forces. 30 (2): 162–71. doi:10.2307/2571628. JSTOR 2571628.
  11. ^ a b Van Ells, Mark D. (August 2007). "Americans for Hitler". Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  12. ^ Schultz, Will. "William Dudley Pelley (1885-1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  13. ^ David Brion Davis, ed. The Fear of Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion from the Revolution to the present (1971) pp. xviii–xix
  14. ^ Diamond, pp. 5–6
  15. ^ Lipset & Raab, pp. 162–64
  16. ^ Toy, Eckard V., Jr. (1989). "Silver Shirts in the Northwest: Politics, Prophecies, and Personalities in the 1930s". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 80 (4): 139–146. JSTOR 40491076.
  17. ^ "The Silver Shirts: Their History, Founder, and Activities". August 24, 1933
  18. ^ "Silver Shirts". Holocaust Online. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  19. ^ "Murphy Ranch and the Nazis". Retrieved 2020-11-02.
  20. ^ Schultz, Will. "William Dudley Pelley (1885-1965)". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  21. ^ "Jews in America: Jewish Gangsters". Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  22. ^ "Pelley's Silver Shirts". Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  23. ^ Bernstein, Arnie (October 7, 2013). "6 Things You May Not Have Known About Nazis in America". The History Reader. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  24. ^ Associated Press, "Pelley of Silver Shirts Must Serve Prison Term," The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Wednesday 21 January 1942, Volume 48, page 1.
  25. ^ Horowitz, Mitch (2009). Occult America.
  26. ^ "United States - Hearts of Iron 4 Wiki". Retrieved 2021-01-12.

Further reading

  • Allen, Joe "'It Can't Happen Here?': Confronting the Fascist Threat in the US in the Late 1930s," International Socialist Review, Part One: whole no. 85 (Sept.-Oct. 2012), pp. 26–35; Part Two: whole no. 87 (Jan.-Feb. 2013), pp. 19–28.
  • Atwood, Sarah (Winter 2018–2019). "'This List Not Complete': Minnesota's Jewish Resistance to the Silver Legion of America, 1936–1940". Minnesota History. 66 (4): 142–155. JSTOR 26554803.
  • Ribuffo, Leo Paul The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.
  • Spivak, John L. Secret Armies: The New Technique of Nazi Warfare. New York: Modern Age Books, 1939.
  • Werly, John The Millenarian Right: William Dudley Pelley and the Silver Legion of America. PhD dissertation. Syracuse University, 1972.
  • Yeadon, Glen. The Nazi Hydra in America. Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive Press, 2008.

External linksEdit