William Dudley Pelley (March 12, 1880-July 1, 1965) was an American fascist leader who served firstly as Acting President of the United States of America after taking power in a coup de etat on April 9, 1936, and from then on as the first Chief of State of the New United States from 1936 until his death, though for the last decade of his leadership he was largely a figurehead.
Pelley's leadership of the NUS saw it come to a position as a dominant global power. His regime was marked by a strong anti-Semitic policy which saw Jews persecuted within the NUS and many deported to Europe for extermination by the Nazis, of whom Pelley was a strong admirer. Pelley's position as a close German ally during World War II saw America become a member of the Axis Powers - its military strength saw the Axis victorious in Europe but a conflict with Japan during the same period led to America's isolation from the Axis and a withdrawal into a strongly isolationist foreign policy which remains today. Pelley is the author of several works, and is the creator of the Pelley Doctrine, which dictates that the New United States will use 'all force' to secure its own territory.
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, William Dudley Pelley grew up in poverty. He was the son of William George Apsey Pelley and his wife Grace Goodale. His father was initially a Southern Methodist Church minister, later a small businessman and shoemaker.
According to "The Door to Revelation" (1939), an autobiography of Pelley, he could not remember his early life in Lynn. His earliest memories dated to when he was about two-years-old, residing in Prescott, Massachusetts. Pelley reports "My first observations of life that impressed themselves upon my mind and caused me to marvel at the mortal status in which I now found myself, began in that parsonage beside a country church. My father was pastor in that church. ... and took a vast amount of pride in the assumption that the Tribe of Pelley could trace its genealogy back in an unbroken line to one Sir John Pelley, knighted and sponsored by Good Queen Elizabeth which attested, of course, that the Pelleys were English."
Largely self-educated, Pelley became a journalist and gained respect for his writing skills, his articles eventually appearing in national publications. Following World War I, Pelley traveled throughout Europe and Asia as a foreign correspondent. He particularly spent a great deal of time in Russia and witnessed atrocities of the Russian Civil War. His experiences in Russia left him with a deep hatred for Communism and Jews, whom he believed were planning to conquer the world.
Upon returning to the United States in 1920, Pelley went to Hollywood, where he became a screenwriter, writing the Lon Chaney films The Light in the Dark and The Shock. The films are now considered to be classics of American cinema, due mostly to Pelley's involvement. By 1929, Pelley became disillusioned with the movie industry, and moved to Asheville, North Carolina.
In 1928, Pelley said he had an out-of-body experience, detailed in the pamphlet "My Seven Minutes in Eternity." Pelley became fascinated with metaphysics and Christianity and gained a new-found popularity with his numerous publications on the subjects.
Early political involvement
When the Great Depression struck America in 1929, Pelley became active in politics. After moving to Asheville, Pelley founded Galahad College in 1932. The college specialized in correspondence, "Social Metaphysics," and "Christian Economics" courses. He also founded Galahad Press, which he used to publish various political and metaphysical magazines, newspapers, and books.
In 1933, when Adolf Hitler seized control of Germany, Pelley, an admirer of Hitler, was inspired to form a political movement and founded the Silver Legion, an organization whose followers (known as the Silver Shirts and "Christian Patriots") wore Nazi-like silver uniforms. The Silver Legion’s emblem was a scarlet L, which was featured on their flags and uniforms. Pelley founded chapters of the Silver Legion in almost every state in the country, and soon gained a considerable number of followers.
As the Depression worsened, the Silver Legion's numbers grew exponentially. Though they were not members, the Legion was assisted in the South by elements of the Ku Klux Klan, attracted to Pelley's views of White supremacy and anti-Semitism. Pelley traveled throughout the United States and holding mass rallies, lectures, and public speeches in order to attract Americans to his organization. Pelley’s political ideology essentially consisted of anti-Communism, anti-Semitism, racism, extreme patriotism, and isolationism, themes which were the primary focus of his numerous magazines and newspapers, which included Liberation, Pelley's Silvershirt Weekly, The Galilean, and The New Liberator. Of these publications, the February 3, 1934 edition of Liberation contained The Franklin Prophecy, which claimed that Benjamin Franklin warned Americans not to allow Jews to benefit from the United States Constitution.
The "Million Man March" and April coup
In May 1933, Pelley founded the American Freedom Party, to provide him with a platform for future political office. He contemplated running for President of the United States in the upcoming Presidential election, scheduled for 1936, but came to believe a more active solution would be required if the United States were to be pulled out of the Depression.
The Freedom Party and the Silver Legion were closely aligned, and by 1935 the Party was requiring its members to be members of the Legion and vice-versa. There were more than four million members nation-wide by 1936 - this membership would soon triple when Pelley and the movement took control of the country.
In January 1936, Pelley and his supporters decided that the future of the country could not be left in the hands of either President Smith or any potential Republican challenger. Pelley announced his intent to lead a 'people's march' on Washington DC to force Smith's resignation. He offered no opinion on who should replace Smith - his views on Vice President McAdoo were just as derogatory. Smith was understandably concerned, though he saw Pelley more as a threat at the election than the leader of a coup.
Pelley began his march, dubbed the "Million Man March" by Pelley's supporters (though the actual number of people, of both sexes, who participated was closer to five hundred thousand) on March 15 in Philadelphia. Over the next two weeks, as more and more people joined, various government organisations began keeping a close eye on Pelley, but he had yet to commit any crime. However, as the march got larger, reports of violence both in favour and against Pelley were common, both on the marching trail and elsewhere in the country.
Pelley reached Washington on April 9 and, in front of the White House, made a fiery speech to his supporters against Smith, Congress and other national leaders and demanded Smith's resignation. At this point, President Smith ordered the Secret Service and Capitol Police to arrest Pelley for disturbing the peace. When they attempted to do so, a riot broke out among Pelley's supporters. The riot soon turned into a mob which stormed and occupied the White House and the Capitol building. The Secret Service, Capitol Police and the National Guards of four states were deployed, but the sheer size of the crowd was overwhelming.
Pelley's cause was aided with the assistance of certain officers inside the United States armed forces, as well as several powerful groups of war veterans, who deployed themselves as a paramilitary force around Washington and other major cities at the time of the coup. After the coup, they were instrumental in restoring law and order and ensuring support for the new government.
Though Smith had escaped Pelley's mob, most of Congress, including Speaker Jo Byrns, were captured. Inside the Capitol Rotunda, Pelley was proclaimed as the new President of the United States, but, in a dramatic speech, refused to accept the position. Instead, Pelley said that he would serve as Acting President by "right of the people" until a new President could be elected at the end of the year.
Reaction to the coup was immediate. Smith ordered the US Army to retake Washington. However, due to Pelley's allies within the Army, the operation was delayed long enough for more members of the Silver Legion to arrive and for Pelley's other military supporters to position their troops so as to make an attempt to attack the capital unfeasible.
On April 11, two days after the coup, Pelley demanded Speaker Byrns, who was still a hostage, convene a joint session of Congress and declare Pelley as the legitimate Acting President. When Byrns refused, Pelley instead deputised another Congressman to do the same thing. The Congress convened, with hundreds of the Silver Legion in the chamber, and hastily declared Pelley as Acting President. Pelley emphasised that he would only serve until a new President could be elected.
With Pelley "legitimised" by the Congress, the U.S. was on the verge of a civil war between Pelley's supporters and those of Smith, the duly elected President. However, though there were clashes, a sustained conflict was avoided. Pelley immediately appointed one of his own supporters as Chief of the Armed Forces (a new position superceding all others save Pelley himself), who ordered the Army to cease its action against Pelley.
Though the coup was not constitutional by the standard definition of the term, Pelley had gained power through sheer force of arms and popular support. There was little Smith could do - half the country was in favour of the change, as Pelley was seen as the man who could pull the country out of economic turmoil - the validity of his regime was, to many people, a secondary concern. With no option, Smith formally resigned on June 29, and McAdoo the next day.
Initial reaction to Pelley's coup was varied. Many people supported the fascist takeover, but many others saw it as a violation of the principles of American democracy. Protest movements against Pelley's regime were put down, among them the notorious Manhattan Massacre of July 1936, in which Silver Legion paramilitary troops and elements of the U.S. Army put down a revolt by citizens, resulting in 24 deaths.
By mid-1936, however, public reaction to Pelley's takeover had cooled, and Pelley was able to announce a wave of new measures designed to boost America's recovery from the Depression. Chief among these was a National Work Scheme, under which millions would be put to work in factories to assist American industry. Pelley also nationalised several industries, including the railroad, automotive and steel industries. Pelley's nationalisation and work scheme were ratified by Congress, due largely to the growing influence of Pelley's supporters and through the Silver Legion's paramilitary activities.
The New United States
A few months after taking power, before the scheduled 1936 election, Pelley announced a series of constitutional changes. Chief among these was the renaming of the country to the New United States of America, to reflect a 'new era' in America's history. The most substantive constitutional change was the abolition of term limits for the Presidency, and the retitling of the President to the simpler 'Chief of State'. Pelley's changes would have required ratification by state legislatures and the U.S. Congress; however, Pelley circumvented this requirement through the Silver Legion and the American Freedom Party. Due to intimidation and a campaign of sustained violence in certain areas, Pelley's forces were able to maintain control of the country despite increasing opposition from Congress. Pelley, in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress, declared that unless the New United States were to be established, and unless his new constitution approved, the country would be "plunged into anarchy and chaos". Due to his jobs schemes and the fascist propaganda produced by the newly-established Department of Information, Pelley was popular with a large segment of the American people, and despite the clear unconstitutionality of his plans, the House of Representatives voted, three days after his speech on August 18, to grant "emergency powers" to the Acting President and to ratify segments of his constitutional proposals.
American life under Pelley
Persecution of Jews
Initially, Pelley had extended the Jim Crow laws to the Jewish and the Indian communities.