The NDE of "America's Hitler": William Dudley Pelley (1928)
William Dudley Pelley was a toxic combination of American Christian-Occultist, fascist, writer, traitor, and conman. Alongside his novels, short stories, and screenplays, he also wrote anti-Jewish tracts and spiritualist publications. He founded a religious philosophy he called “Soulcraft” which drew upon theosophy, UFOs, and pseudo-archaeology. And he founded a white supremacist paramilitary group inspired by Hitler, with which he planned to overthrow the U.S. government. He was convicted of treason, sedition, and fraud, though his prosecution for being a Nazi sympathizer ended in a mistrial when the judge died.
Pelley is obviously an unreliable narrator to say the least, and it may be the case that he invented his near-death experience for propaganda purposes. Given his interest in the occult, it is almost certain that he was familiar with NDEs as well as with spiritualist descriptions of the afterlife. Whatever the case, the 1929 publication of his alleged experience in the American Magazine helped him to gain the national notoriety he desired to promote his dangerous ideas.
Pelley claimed to have developed psychic powers after his NDE, along with a new understanding of how “vast and fine and high and beautiful” life was. Like so many other NDErs, he described how he was positively transformed by the experience, spiritually, mentally, and physically, writing that it had “launched him into a wholly different universe that seems filled with naught but love, harmony, health, good humor, and prosperity.”
Despite such claims, however, if we accept Pelly’s account at face value it is one of the few examples that did not lead to a positive transformation, for his fascist and treasonous activities only accelerated. Pelley’s criminal lack of ethics supports the notions that he invented the account as a tool of both propaganda and profit, which seem to have been the intertwining motivating forces in his life. In an expanded book version of his article, much space is dedicated to promoting his works, especially a “prophetic” novel based on his alleged NDE.
More seriously, Pelley quickly began to lay the groundwork for his ambitions as a Nazi-spiritual leader by claiming to be divinely ordained by the “Great Spiritual Forces” to preach about “the most beautiful and stupendous principles of Truth.” He founded New Liberator magazine to publish alleged communications with the “Great Souls” he had met during his NDE, which he channeled via “Psychic Radio.” They told him, he claimed, that Jews and Blacks are at the bottom of the spiritual hierarchy, and are enemies of white people whose souls are more developed. Pelley also founded a college where courses such as “Spiritual Eugenics” were taught, lending a chilling tone to a remark in his NDE account that there are “no misfits” or “physical handicaps” in the afterlife. He even attempted to run for president of the United States on a platform copied directly from Nazi Germany, including the forced registration and persecution of Jews. At one of his trials he expressed his ambition to become “America’s Hitler.”
The relationship between white supremacism and New Age-type movements such as spiritualism, theosophy, and the occult has an unfortunately long and involved history (and indeedcontinues up to the present). It is also has serious implications for those who believe that NDEs are evidence for life after death, for one must either accept that (1) postmortem spirits in other worlds can continue to practice racism, eugenics, and other forms of intolerance and oppression, and that the spiritual transformation of an NDErs does not preclude founding a paramilitary group to bring Nazism to the United States; or (2) that such accounts are fabricated by fraudulent, amoral con artists -- like William Dudley Pelley.
In an unpublished article, I explore these issues further in relation to Edwardian mediumistic descriptions of the afterlife, which are filled with racism, sexism, classism, and religious intolerance. That article, along with the full account of Pelley’s NDE, is now available to Patrons at all levels at my Patreon page.