Organized Anti-Semitism in America: The Rise of Group Prejudice during the Decade 1930-40

By Donald S. Strong | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
The Silver Shirts

THE Silver Shirts and the other organizations yet to be discussed differ somewhat from the German-American Bund. For better or for worse, they have some distinctly American characteristics. As has been noted, the Bund is made up almost entirely of German-born persons (about half of whom are German citizens) and it is both controlled and subsidized from Germany. Despite all protestations to the contrary, Bund members are Germans first and last. The organizations about to be examined, however, seem part of the American scene. Their membership is predominantly old American stock and rarely includes recent immigrants. Nevertheless, these groups have much in common with the Bund.

The Silver Shirts, the most publicized and probably the most important of these groups, came into existence in February 1933 and reached its high point of 15,000 members in the summer of 1934. While it has members throughout the country at the present time, the majority are concentrated on the Pacific Coast.

Congressional investigation started the organization on the downgrade in 1934. Most of its posts broke up and many members went into such dissident splinter groups as the Constitution Legion of America, the American White Guards, and the Anti-Communist League of the World. In January 1935 another blow fell when William Dudley Pelley, the head of the Silver Shirts, and two associates were indicted for selling worthless stock of their Galahad Press. Pelley was convicted by a North Carolina court, sentenced to five years in the penitentiary, and fined $3500, but the sentence was suspended on grounds of "good behavior". The first half of 1935 saw the organization at its lowest ebb; it was practically inactive. In August of that year Pelley reorganized the Silver Shirts under an alias -- the Christian Party. The latter disseminated the same ideas and consisted, to a large extent, of the same membership. The new organization was based upon cells called Councils of Safety -- usually made up of nine men. Each cell member was required to organize a Council of his own, a process to be continued indefinitely. By December, the organization was beginning to grow again and by 1936 Pelley was brash enough to run for President on the

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