Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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William Pelley Still Haunts Us
William Dudley Pelley looks like any other elderly man, but the assumption dissipates itself when he opens his mouth.
His hair is gray; his face, lined; his manner of speech, halting, uncertain.
A few weeks short of his 70th birthday, he's the physical image of a man on the decline. But his mind -- his strange convictions -- haven't been dimmed or changed by age or prison or the sapping of the powers he once held over thousands in this country.
It has been said that had Hitler won World War II, William Dudley Pelley probably would have been the ruler of the United States.
Intelligent, informed men speculated on that possibility -- with strong trepidation -- when Pelley and Fritz Kuhn shared the spotlight as the pro-Nazi strong-men of our nation some 30 years ago.
Kuhn led the goose-stepping German-American Bund.
Pelley had his Silver Shirts, a private army patterned after Hitler's Brown Shirts, which spread into 22 of our states and was purported to have an active membership of 45,000.
Pelley began building his empire in 1932 and gave its avowed purpose as saving America, but he admitted to a Senate investigating committee in 1940 that if his organization had achieved its goal, he probably already would have been in charge of the American government.
Two years after that, Pelley was convicted of criminal sedition and sent to federal prison, where he served seven years of a 15-year sentence.
His army destroyed, since his release he has lived in comparative obscurity. But it's not, apparently, an obscurity of his own choosing.
I met Pelly for the first time the other day, when he was here in Los Angeles on a visit from his home in Noblesville, Ind.
Currently, he told me, he heads an organization known as Soulcraft Fellowship.
"It's a spiritual group," he said, "with the purpose of acquainting the rank and file with extrasensory perception."
Every week Pelley holds a seance (although he doesn't like the term), tape-records it, and distributes the tapes at $10 a reel.
"I've been in contact with all of the Constitutional Fathers," he told me. "I've talked to 65 departed people -- men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson. I've had more bona fide history taught me by these men than anyone could ever get out of books."
I asked him what these men had told him, and the old man's answer was strangely reminiscent of his hate harangues of the '30s.
"There's definitely an anti-Jewish feeling among these departed souls," he said. "That's their personal feelings, understand. They're very careful what they say. You have to know how to interpret the full meaning of their remarks."
The ghosts of Wilson and McKinley and Washington had now become voices in a campaign of anti-Semitism. The vague "Jewish plot" was Pelley's battle cry in the old days. Today, it's still with him -- but he's much more careful how he phrases his accusations.
"The American Jew likes me," he told me. "American Jews say, 'We'll get a square deal from Pelley.' They're eager to get the truth about their own relationship with the Gentile world.
"The poor devils," he added, "don't want anything more than the right information."
He 'Died' in 1938
Pelley told me that he first became aware of his ability to contact the dead in 1938, when he actually "died" for seven minutes. In recent years, he said, Franklin Roosevelt -- whom Silver Shirt Pelley used to accuse of permitting the Jews to change our Constitution -- has been trying frantically to come in on Pelley's frequency.
"I won't talk with him," he said. "He wants to talk to me, but I don't want to talk to him."
It's interesting, I think, that age hasn't softened the bitter convictions of William Dudley Pelley. It has just cause him to transplant them from the military Silver Shirts to the strange plan of the spirit world, where -- as he himself points out-even the ghosts are privately anti-Semitic.
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