“I hold no animosity toward the Jews”: The Father Coughlin Factor

Listeners tuning in to station WHBI (Newark, New Jersey) on this day, 11 December, in 1938, were reminded that what they were about to hear was “in no sense a donated hour.” The broadcast was “paid for at full commercial rates”; and as long as they desired Father Coughlin into their homes, he would be “glad to speak fearlessly and courageously” from the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, from whence he spread what was billed as a “message of Christianity and Americanism to Catholic and Protestant and religious Jew.”

As Siegel and Siegel point out in their aforementioned study Radio and the Jews (2007), Father Coughlin was increasingly coming under attack and, in the fall of 1938, some stations no longer carried his weekly radio addresses, once heard by as many as forty-five million Americans. While anxious to defend himself, Coughlin was not about to recant or withdraw. In his 11 December broadcast, he expounded again on his favorite subject, “persecution and Communism,” by which he meant the persecution of American Christians by Communist Jews. It was his “desire as a non-Jew,” Coughlin insisted, to tell his audience, including “fellow Jewish citizens,” the “truth.”

The adjective “religious,” attached as it is only to Jew, not to either Catholic or Protestant, is significant in Coughlin’s defense of his special brand of anti-Semitism, a distinction between “good” and “bad” Jews that enabled him to denounce “atheistic Jews” as Communists. “Show me a man who disbelieves in God, and particularly who opposes the dissemination of knowledge concerning God, and I will show you an embryonic Communist.” In his condemnation of the “insidious serpent” of atheism as manifested in Communism, however, Coughlin makes no mention of atheist Catholics or non-believing Protestants. According to his preachings, the Jew, rather than the Catholic or Protestant, was that “embryonic” Communist.

To inform you what thoughts millions of persons are entertaining. In Europe particularly, Jews in great numbers have been identified with the Communist movement, with Communist slaughter and Christian persecution.

He urged American Jews—the “Godless” among whom were conspiring to do away with “the last vestiges of Christmas practices from our schools”—to disassociate themselves from the Jews in Europe at the very moment in modern history when the Jews in Europe were most in need of support from the free world:

O, there comes a time in the life of every individual as well as in the life of every nation when righteousness and justice must take precedence over the bonds of race and blood. Tolerance then becomes a heinous vice when it tolerates the theology of atheism, the patriotism of internationalism, and the justice of religious persecution.

While “graciously admit[ing] the contribution towards religion and culture accredited to Jews”; while claiming to have spent “many precious hours” in the “companionship of the prophets of Israel,” he got down to the nastiness that was his business at last; for, as he put it,

when the house of our civilization is wrapped in the lurid flames of destruction, this is not the time for idle eulogizing. When the house is on fire, its tenants are not apt to gather in the drawing room to be thrilled by its paintings and raptured by its sculpture, its poetry, its tomes of music or its encyclopedia of science, which are there on exhibit. When the house is on fire, as is the house of our civilization today, we dispense with gratifying urbanities and call in the fire department to save our possessions lest they be lost in the general conflagration.

Any acknowledgment that the “conflagration” threatened the Jews more than the Christians so shortly after Kristallnacht—the atrocities of which he gainsaid in his 20 November 1938 broadcast—are pushed into the attic that are the dependent clauses of Father Coughlin’s rhetoric, which, in its far from courageous concessions, is as disingenuous and invidious as the language of Bill O’Reilly today.

8 Replies to ““I hold no animosity toward the Jews”: The Father Coughlin Factor”

  1. Associative thinking disorder strikes again! Your mention of New York\’s Little Flower immediately sent my brain to Royal Oak and Father Coughlin. A major blog entry is forthcoming. Sad note: Bettie Page, greatest of all the pin-up girls, has died.

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  2. I got to see one of Fr. Coughlin\’s last public appearances, shortly before his death. This was in the late 60s or early 70s (faulty memory is letting me down here). Here in Chicago we had a right-wing radio guy named Howard Miller who, during the period I\’m referring to, had managed to get a late-night talkshow for himself on the local ABC station. Miller\’s stage set was a stylized waving American flag, which took up the whole wall behind him and his guests, who, as you might expect, tended to be \’hard to starboard\’ in their views. A biography of Coughlin appeared at this time, and many were surprised to learn that he was still alive, in retirement in Michigan. Miller flew Coughlin down to Chicago for a taping; this was long before the VCR, and I don\’t know if Channel 7 retained a copy of the appearance. I regret to say that I don\’t rcall anything particlarly outrageous that Coughlin might have said; he was well into his seventies, and compared to his radio persona of the 30s, he seemed kind of subdued. In any case, the show aired to no reaction, one way or the other – Fr. Coughlin was yesterday\’s news. Still, I\’m reminded of Coughlin every time I see William Donohue pushing his self-styled \”Catholic League\” on this right-wing forum or that; his demon term of choice is \”secular Jews of Hollywood\” (now where have I heard that first word recently?). Thanks for this post, and for giving me the chance to tell this tale from the real Dark Side.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this story, Mike. I don\’t suppose the subject of anti-Semitism came up during the broadcast. Father Coughlin might have been yesterday\’s news then, but his rhetoric and his brand of hatred are being recycled to this day.

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  4. It\’s not hatred to speak out against evil. Karl Marx was evil and marxism is being spread out throughout the world. Communist Russia killed millions of people and many were Catholic/Christian. Fr. Coughlin was a light in a world of darkness. May his soul rest in peace.

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  5. Oh please, so now you're calling Bill O'Riley a dishonest newsman, right along side Coughlin? Based on what, specifically? Such outbursts undermine the rest of your entire article and discredits your authority as an even-handed broker of historic fact. Oh well, thanks for the tip off.

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