The American Nationalist Party was organized by founding members of the American Liberty League, incorporated in April, and officially recognized as a political party on July 3rd, 1933. Notable founding members read like a list of the leading industrialists of the day. They also included notable politicians and political figures, many of whom had been opposed, to one degree or another, to President-Elect Roosevelt’s proposed reforms: General Secretary Charles Lindbergh, Former New York Governor Al Smith, and leading Senate Republican Robert Taft.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given some of the ideological leanings of the party, William Dudley Pelley, founder of the American Silver Legion, was an enthusiastic supporter. So too was self-described Black Nationalist, Marcus Garvey, who would later become a leading light in the Black Nativist movement.
In the 1933-1935 period, the ANP was still quite a new political party, with enthusiastic support, deep reserves of cash, and numerous supporters, but with only minority representation in National and State Governments. The vast majority of Congressmen and Governors chose to continue to identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats rather than officially designating themselves as ANP members, but the ideology was nevertheless highly popular among many Americans, and Charles Lindbergh, the unofficial leader of the party, predicted that membership would grow rapidly by the time of the next Presidential Election.
In that sense, one could argue the ANP is often represented largely out of proportion in any history of this period of the Second American Civil War. Nevertheless, the ANP made itself as visible as possible during this early stage, and it could perhaps be rightfully suggested that this was the impression that the ANP strove to make. The ANP was certainly a populist movement, and while few politicians of the era might have openly identified themselves as members, hundreds of thousands of Americans openly embraced ANP ideology, re-registered their party affiliation, and proudly supported the General Secretary. As a result, those who supported Lindbergh and the Federal government are often referred to as "Nationalists," regardless of their actual political affiliation.
While the Anti-Comintern Pact was still some time away at the beginning of the conflict in America, leaders of the ANP were eager to share their struggle against the threats of International Communism and Socialism, and found reciprocal, cooperative minds throughout much of Europe and Asia. From 1933 to 1935, this support surfaced primarily in the area of moral and political backing. By 1935, however, small quantities of small arms and vehicles had begun to reach the ANP, and these were eagerly accepted and pressed into service.
While the two are often confused, it is important to note that Fascism and National Socialism were politically quite different in a several significant ways. The most important distinction: the lack of religious freedom in a true National Socialist State, made the Nazi movement less palatable to many members of the ANP, but others (including Ford and Lindbergh) were self-confessed admirers of Chancellor Hitler.
Like many political movements of the time, and in the model of the European Statist and Fascist movements from which they had drawn inspiration, and support, the ANP maintained their own militia. At first, this involved securing the support of various local militias and elements of the American Legion. But because neither source was universally helpful to the cause, the ANP took an early decision to create its own, uniformed militia. The nucleus of this movement, with more than 10,000 members, was conveniently available in the form of the American Silver Legion.
William Dudley Pelley had formed the Legion in early 1934 as a right wing Fascist militia. The organization involved numerous veterans, and was comparatively well organized. With work, it was believed by the ANP that the Silver Shirts could become the equivalent of the Black Shirts in Italy. Ideally, these were to be hard working, patriotic men (and, in some cases, women) with a minimum of military training, useful as shocktroops and strikebreakers, who could be pitted against the guerilla movements and militias forming in support of Communism and dozens of other movements across the country.
While some of the goals of the Silver Legion were Classically Fascist – dedicated to the superiority of the state, the purity and nobility of the state idea, the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good, etc, there were other ideas that troubled many of the moderate members of the ANP, particularly the virulently Anti-Semitic speeches given and pamphlets printed by founder William Dudley Pelley in recent years. Though it is often forgotten in the post-war era, Classical Fascism had very little to do with racism or Anti-Semitism and as a result, Pelley’s ideas were not necessarily comfortable, or acceptable, to certain members of the ANP elite, who otherwise were friendly to the ideas of Fascism. In exchange for the services of his militia, therefore, the ANP offered funding, arms, and legitimacy. Pelley agreed to “tone down” the more controversial aspects of Silver Shirt Propaganda, and soon the Silver Shirts had become the official uniformed militia of the American Nationalist Party.