Over at Jacobin, there’s an interesting article about 1930s radio personality Father Coughlin, who was widely reviled for his anti-Semitism. It turns out he was quite the open supporter of flat-out fascism (boldface mine):
The US hasn’t seen the stirrings of fascist mobilization since the late 1930s when mounting fascist victories in Europe galvanized its adherents in America, chief among them Father Charles Coughlin and his Christian Front. This history has something to offer us today…
In the United States, the public and the press were virtually unanimous in condemning Kristallnacht, with one poll reporting that nearly 94 percent of Americans disapproved of Germany’s treatment of Jews.
Yet despite Nazism’s unpopularity, one voice took to the airwaves to defend these actions — Father Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest based in Royal Oak, Michigan. Coughlin was a popular radio personality with an audience of millions, largely concentrated in the northeastern United States, and in New York City in particular….
Coughlin presented a simple answer: Nazism was a “defense mechanism against Communism,” and that the “rising generation of Germans regard Communism as a product not of Russia, but of a group of Jews who dominated the destinies of Russia.”
In the broadcast Coughlin minimized the Nazi “fine” of $400 million on Germany’s Jewish community with the claim that “between these same years not $400 million but $40 billion . . . of Christian property was appropriated by the Lenins and Trotskys . . . by the atheistic Jews and Gentiles” and accused the New York investment bank Kuhn Loeb & Company with helping to finance the Russian revolution and other Communist plots.
Coughlin’s unapologetic Nazi propaganda inspired swift backlash. WMCA, the New York radio station that provided his largest audience, demanded to see his scripts in advance of any future broadcasts, and cancelled his program after he refused. Coughlin later admitted that he used “Nazi sources” in his broadcast….
Coughlin claimed he was inspired to call for a “Christian Front” by the Communist Party’s support for a Popular Front against fascism, but the call also evoked the “front line” of a war and his use of “platoon” left little room for interpretation. “Rest assured,” he threatened his left-wing enemies in a later radio address, “we will fight you in Franco’s way, if necessary . . . rest assured we will fight you and we will win.”
Following Kristallnacht and the public reaction to Coughlin’s commentary on Nazism, WMCA cancelled his broadcasts. In response, according to Donald Flamm, the owner of the Manhattan station, “several thousand people encircled the block where our studios are located, denounced the WMCA as un-American, and shouted its slogan of ‘Don’t buy from Jews,’ ‘Down with Jews,’ etc.” A memorandum of the American Jewish Council recorded “remarks uttered by the picketers . . . more explicit than the legends on the signs”:
Send refugees to Russia where they can be appreciated!
This is a Christian country. Who isn’t Christian throw them out!
Wait until Hitler comes over here.
Down with Jewish war-mongers.
….The journalist estimated that the Christian Front held thirty rallies a week throughout all of the city’s boroughs, and attracted crowds as large as two thousand supporters. Jewish storeowners in Brooklyn and the Bronx faced regular Christian Front pickets….
According to Fein, Kurz denounced the Russian revolution as a plot by Jews that slaughtered “thirty million Christians,” and proclaimed an immediate mortal danger posed by Trotsky in Mexico, where he said the Russian revolutionary was building a secret army, ready to join American comrades and launch a communist revolution while the military was tied up in Europe.
The Christian Front also issued a “Christian index” listing preferred shopkeepers and stores, and street sales of Social Justice by Christian Front members provided an easy excuse to provoke fights or heckle anyone who “looked Jewish.”
The heavily Irish New York Police Department and judiciary provided a supportive backdrop, going easy on Christian Fronters while leaning hard on antifascists. A rally of the Transport Workers Union — led by Mike Quill, the most high profile Irish Communist union official in New York — was attacked and nearly broken up by rightist mobs.
One of the failings of popular histories of the U.S. is the notion that, when individuals like Coughlin falter or disappear, the hatred they created does too. It doesn’t–the assholes who were willing to beat the crap out of Jews–and the many more who sympathized with them went somewhere. They didn’t vanish. They had families, raised children, and, unfortunately, taught some of them to hate.
While the problem of ‘the Internet never forgets’ is real, one positive side is that someone who does awful crap like this–not a stupid tweet, but flat-out bigotry–can’t shake it. That might be a good thing. Because history may not repeat, but it does rhyme.