Silver Shirts

The Silver Legion of America, commonly referred to as the Silver Shirts, was a pro-fascist, antisemitic, and avowedly Christian and Aryan organization. It gained influence in Minnesota in the 1930s, and one of Pelley’s key organizers spent time in the Twin Cities organizing chapters, and advocating against the Farmer-Labor party in the 1938 election for governor. Neither Jews nor African Americans could become members.

Originally organized in Asheville, North Carolina by William Dudley Pelley, the Silver Shirts ultimately was viewed as a major national security threat because it advocated for a fascist government in the United States. Pelley created strong alliances with the Ku Klux Klan, the German American Bund.

Tapping into pre-existing antisemitic sentiments in the Twin Cities as well as heightened economic anxiety, the Silver Shirts found a receptive audience in the 1930s, claiming a membership of almost six thousand members. They also faced a vocal opposition. In 1936, a recent University of Minnesota graduate working for the Minnesota Journal, Arnold Eric Sevareid published a six part exposé of Silver Shirt activity in the Twin Cities, which created controversy, but not widespread condemnation.

Samuel Scheiner, and his newly organized Jewish Community Relations Council, were mobilized to respond to the Silver Shirts’ antisemitism and exposed leaders in industry who attended their meetings, and to stop their distribution of antisemitic materials.

The Silver Shirts disbanded in 1940 as Pelley faced mounting financial and political problems, including the Dies Commission of the Congress investigating him for advocating the overthrow of the government.

SourceBradley Hart. Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich's Supporters in The United States. New York St. Martin's Press 50-63 ; Sarah Atwood, "This List Not Complete," Minnesota History, Winter 18-19, p142-155.Time Period1930s