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  FATHER COUGHLIN, HUEY LONG, & UPTON SINCLAIR; VOICES FOR THE DISAFFECTED IN 1930s AMERICA

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FATHER COUGHLIN

Vote CommunismCoughlin's later political and priestly career was also marred by another radical group, the Christian Front, which was indirectly created by Coughlin through a May 23, 1938 Social Justice article asking readers to form groups of 25 or fewer individuals as study groups based on the readings in Social Justice. In June 1938, Social Justice asked its readers to organize as before, but now as platoons (the word itself smacks of militarism). By July 1938, a full-page article appeared in Social Justice urging these platoons to form as the Christian Front against communism. When Father Coughlin told them to pick up arms and to be ready to fight against the Jewish-Communist conspiracy, they did just that. Many street fights broke out in New York City alone and in the wake of violence, Coughlin backed away from the Front and gradually disassociated with it, at least publicly, and especially since the Front was German-American Bund Rally2now overlapping in support with the Bund (Tull 208-209). On February 20, 1939, the Bund held a Pro-Americanism rally in Madison Square Garden QuickTimeAudio , where most of the 20,000 participants were also members of Coughlin's Christian Front (Holocaust Chronicle). This only added more confusion on where Father Coughlin, an active priest of the Catholic Church, stood on the issue of hate, and, further, should the Church be condoning this by letting him continue his radio messages and printed propaganda distribution. 

With American on the brink of war with fascism rising in Europe, and with Coughlin's increasingly volatile messages of of anti-Semitism and sharp, often vicious criticism of FDR, the Catholic Church and the Federal government couldn't hold back much longer.  And, they didn't. In 1940, after a long investigation into tax evasion, funding to and from foreign (enemy) embassies, and a variety of minor violations, the Federal government, via the United States Postmaster, permanently revoked the mailing permit for Social Justice. Subsequently, the Catholic Church silenced his other political activities, including his radio broadcasts (Warren 260-267). In an interview on his 77th birthday, Father Coughlin said:

The press ignored it at the time but the real reason I couldn't take any more of Roosevelt was because he recognized the atheistic, Godless government of the communists in Russia...I could have bucked the government and won—the people would have supported me. But I didn't have the heart left, for my Church had spoken and it was my duty to follow (Angelus 1).

His populist message of equitable distribution of wealth had become clouded with his irrational fear of a Communist-Jewish conspiracy all of which led to his association with and by radical groups in the U.S., and some have argued even abroad. Despite his tragic political demise and flagrant, and unwarranted, anti-Semitism, Father Coughlin's message of equitable distribution of wealth and of social justice met favorably with the hearts and minds of his audience throughout the 1930s. His platform and rallying cries were most likely not heard, or were ignored, by New Dealers in Washington, but to many his voice and message were ones of comfort. Today, however, he's largely remembered by groups akin to the Bund, such as the Stormfront White Nationalist Community (Stormfront.org), where one can buy Coughlin writingsPDF File, and The Nationalist Movement (Nationalist.org), where Coughlin is on their family tree of key NationalistsPDF File, i.e, haters of non-Aryans. (NB: Huey Long is also listed in the lineage, though Long actively recruited black votes in Louisiana). Sadly, Coughlin is realized today more for his rabid nationalism and anti-Semitism than for his messages on the redistribution of wealth and the comfort his message provided the disaffected during the Great Depression.

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Note on Father Coughlin's papers: Charles J. Tull, in his 1965 book, Father Coughlin and the New Deal, notes that all requests by him to Father Coughlin and the Detroit Archdiocese for viewing of the Coughlin papers from the period were denied and he said more specifically that they would not "cooperate in any fashion." As we've seen, Coughlin's attack on FDR embarrassed the Church, and he was thus censored. It's possible that both Coughlin and the Church wanted to avoid further embarrassment, and, therefore, denied Mr Tull access to the documents.



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