Father Charles E. Coughlin: The High Priest of Hate Radio

During the 1930s and early 1940s, as many as 30 million Americans gathered around their radio sets on Sunday afternoons to listen to the “Golden Hour of the Little Flower” program.

The voice they heard belonged to Father Charles E. Coughlin, 1891-1979, the Catholic priest who headed the local parish in Royal Oak, Michigan known as the Shrine of the Little Flower Church. At its height, this radio program was heard by more Americans than “Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Harvey and Larry King combined.”

Coughlin was a Canadian-born demagogue who mixed a message of social justice for the poor with a viciously anti-Communist, anti-Semitic rhetoric that frightened an American Jewish community that was already experiencing the worst anti-Jewish prejudice in its history. He charged that the masterminds of the Communist movement were primarily Russian Jews. He accused American Jewish financiers such as Jacob Schiff and Felix Warburg with providing the money to support the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

But Coughlin was not only a master of the airwaves. He also reached the American public through the pages of his magazine, Social Justice, which not only repeated his anti-Jewish sentiments, but published the anti-Semitic piece of propaganda, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” that accused Jews of plotting to seize control of the world. A decade earlier, the American industrialist Henry Ford had published the same lies in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.

Coughlin also organized a popular mass movement called the “Christian Front.” For a number of years, into the early 1940s, members of the Christian Front carried out physical assaults on Jews in cities such as Boston and New York.

Coughlin’s anti-Semitic activities were not unknown to authorities in Nazi Germany. After a New York radio station decided to drop his program because of numerous complaints from Jewish groups, a German newspaper wrote that “Jewish organizations camouflaged as American…have conducted such a campaign…that the radio station company has proceeded to muzzle the well-loved Father Coughlin.” A New York Times correspondent in Germany reported that Coughlin had become “the hero of Nazi Germany.”

Finally, after America entered the Second World War in December 1941, both the United States government, which banned Social Justice, and the American Catholic Church, which threatened to strip Coughlin of his priestly authority, put a stop to his activities.