"This incisive biography is based on extensive research in archival sources, a close reading of Pelley’s voluminous writings, and informative interviews with his daughter and her husband. Many of its themes are familiar, but Beekman has explained the complexities of Pelley’s private life and his insecurities better than previous writers."—Journal of American History
"Scott Beekman expertly unravels the twists in Pelley’s life."—Indiana Magazine of History
William Dudley Pelley was one of the most important figures of the anti-Semitic radical right in the twentieth century. Best remembered as the leader of the paramilitary “Silver Shirts,” Pelley was also an award-winning short story writer, Hollywood screenwriter, and religious leader. During the Depression Pelley was a notorious presence in American politics; he ran for president on a platform calling for the ghettoization of American Jews and was a defendant in a headlinegrabbing sedition trial thanks to his unwavering support for Nazi Germany.
Scott Beekman offers not only a political but also an intellectual and literary biography of Pelley, greatly advancing our understanding of a figure often dismissed as a madman or charlatan. His belief system, composed of anti-Semitism, economic nostrums, racialism, neo-Theosophical channeling, and millenarian Christianity, anticipates the eclecticism of later cult personalities such as Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo, and the British conspiracy theorist David Icke.
By charting the course of Pelley’s career, Beekman does an admirable job of placing Pelley within the history of both the anti-Semitic right and American occult movements. This exhaustively researched book is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarship on American extremism and esoteric religions.
Scott Beekman is visiting assistant professor of history at Ohio University. He lives in Athens, Ohio, with his wife, historian Kimberly K. Little, and son, Miller.
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