Thursday, May 24, 2018

Father Coughlin: How Christian Fascists in the 1930s Perverted the Term "Social Justice"

by Nomad

Last week, Rev. Grady Arnold, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cuero, Texas, submitted a draft resolution demanding that the Southern Baptist Convention reject various forms of “social justice” philosophy. Arnold called the concept of social justice to be an example of Marxist ideology.

According to Arnold, social justice was an “evil" and not about rights and compassion but about “liberal theology.” In his resolution, he claimed that social justice activism is "a vehicle to promote abortion, homosexuality, gender confusion, and a host of other ideas that are antithetical to the gospel."
“This social justice is creeping down into local churches. If we start down this road today, where will it end?”
As a support for his argument, Armold cited conservative radio host and national hate-monger Glenn Beck. Beck,  in 2010, advised people finding the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on their church’s website to “run as fast as you can” to a different church.

Arnold is not likely to have too much luck convincing the majority of Baptists to turn their back on their fundamental Christian principles like equality.
That said, who would have thought these so-called devout Christians could ever have endorsed a man like Trump?

The Perfidy of Father Coughlin

Actually, there's another a bit of historical irony hidden in this social justice discussion. It has to do with another religious leader by the name of Father Charles Edward Coughlin.  

If the name Coughlin isn't familiar to you, it certainly was to a lot of Americans in the 1930s. A Catholic priest with an extreme right-wing bent, Coughlin was based in Royal Oak, Michigan but his weekly broadcasts reached up to thirty million listeners.
One biographer described Canadian-born Coughlin, the undisputed “Father of Hate Radio” and he has been called "the prototypical televangelist."

As far as content, Coughlin was harshly critical of President Roosevelt, and his recovery program. He blamed Jewish bankers for the Great Depression and claimed that Roosevelt's cabinet was nothing less than a Jewish cabal.

Further, he openly supported some of the fascist policies of Adolf Hitler and of Benito Mussolini, and of Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Part of that had to do with his expressed attitudes against socialism and Soviet Communism; he saw European-styled fascism as the only proper remedy against Marxism. 
NUSJCoughlin, in 1934, formed The National Union for Social Justice ( NUSJ) which promoted his populist ideology.

With his radio show, a journal and his organization, Coughlin's rants were well on the way to becoming a full-fledged political movement.

When Roosevelt proposed that the US join the World Court- a forerunner to the International Court of Justice- Coughlin mobilized his forces and allied himself with Roosevelt's critics, including the media mogul, William Randolph Hearst.
On September 21, 1936, Hearst had attacked FDR in his newspaper, The New York American. He accused the President of being a Socialist, Communist, and Bolshevik and wrote that FDR was carrying out a Marxist agenda.
Around the same time, Coughlin's followers were given marching orders.
They overwhelmed Washington with hundreds of telegrams over one crucial weekend and defeated the treaty. A jubilant Coughlin declared that he intended to slay greater dragons. “Our next goal is to clean out the international bankers.”
This was a dog-whistle for Jewish international bankers.

The organization's political goal was to influence the 1936 election serving as the basis for a third party.  This plan was a complete failure with the landslide re-election of FDR and the NUSJ eventually disbanded in 1937.
That was not the end of the story.

The Christian Front

In November 1938, at Coughlin's urging, an organization known as The Christian Front was founded. The Christian political group posed as a crusade against Marxism and blamed Jews for the Russian revolution and the spread of Communism. On the streets of New York and other cities, organization members sold a magazine called Social Justice.

In April 1939, Father Coughlin wrote for his Christian Front members:
For ten years, this country has suffered under a depression. It was not an accident. It was deliberately created.... The depression robbed you of your bank savings account, then your jobs and in many cases, your homes- and nobody in all America shot a banker! We continue without jobs, 12 million of us, 22 million subsist on dole rations- and we do not revolt! HOW MUCH WILL WE STAND?
One of its other goals was to stir up resentment against the establishment, which Coughlin claimed, was run by a Jewish cabal. The New Deal was called "The Jew Deal."

As far as followers of Coughlin were concerned, Jews were the enemy, the outsiders, who threatened to dismantle the nation. All-American hero, aviator Charles Lindbergh was one of the high-profile supporters of the view that American Jews were pushing the country into war. This was the predominant opinion America First Committee with its more than 800,000 members.
Following the broadcast, The New York Times’ Berlin correspondent reported that Coughlin had become “the new hero of Nazi Germany.”

Coughlin said:
"From European entanglements, from Nazism, communism and their future wars, America must stand aloof. Keep America safe for Americans and the Stars and Stripes the defender of God."

"Must the entire world go to war for 600,000 Jews in Germany who are neither American, nor French, nor English citizens, but citizens of Germany?"
In addition, Coughlin's Christian Front organized boycotts of Jewish businesses and held parades and rallies to stir up hate against minorities.


According to the book, Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America, by Arthur Derounian, 1943
Some of the "Christian patriots" waved small American flags as they marched slowly up and down the block. Several large pictures of Coughlin were dressed in a cluster of American flags. There were signs reading "We Need More Father Coughlins" "Keep this a Christian Country" "Read the Truth in Social Justice."
By this time, it was becoming more and more apparent that what Coughlin and his followers was the creation of an American Fascist state. 
Following in Hitler's footsteps, Coughlin was quoted as saying:
"When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing."
In 1940, Coughlin's inflammatory rhetoric would lead to the arrest of 17 "Coughlinites." They were charged with planning acts of terrorism against Jewish individuals and institutions that aided them.
Coughlin denied having any direct responsibility but later gave his whole-hearted support to the "Brooklyn Boys" in a broadcast.

Father Coughlin, Savior

Meanwhile, Father Coughlin continued to inspire and direct the incipient fascist movement. Its units functioned independently and in secret, only the unit leaders were aware of the plans of the others.

There were Front units in cities all across the US. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Detriot and many smaller cities. The message they promoted? All Jews were Communists. All liberals, New Dealers, and labor unions were Communist. A Communist revolution was about to occur any day now. 
Only a private army- a private Christian army under the guidance and inspiration of Father Coughlin- could prevent this. (Christian Front marchers reportedly called Coughlin "Savior" and urged him to "do what Hitler did for Germany.")

The inherent anti-Semitism of the Christian Front quickly became a magnet for other like-minded organizations such as the home-grown Nazi organization called German American Bund

According to one source, The Christian Front participated in the highly controversial mass rally held in Madison Square Garden by the Bund party on February 20, 1939. At that rally, George Washington's image was coupled with Nazi salutes and thugs in uniforms.
It ended up as a street brawl between American Nazis and protesters with cops on horse attempting to maintain control.
(In another post, I have written in detail on that particular rally and what transpired afterward.)

The Christian Front was clearly a fascist organization and it was one with a mission. Its ultimate aim was to establish a so-called "Christian" government modeled upon the corporate-clerical state of Spain's Francisco Franco, who had risen to power with the help of the Nazis. The tactics used by the Christian Front were identical to those used by Hitler.

The Christian Front helped the Nazi cause in another way: by promoting American isolationism as the war in Europe heated up. Keeping the US army out of Europe as long as possible was certainly an important military strategy of Nazi Germany.
With Coughlin (and others) spread the word, it was clearly an achievable goal.

The Unseen Hand

US Ambassador to Nazi GermanyNot unlike the Tea Party movement, the Christian Front was very likely an astroturf group. Who actually funded the organization is still a mystery. 
However, there were a lot of enticing hints about the sources of that financial support.  

In an earlier Nomadic Politics post, we examined one possibility. Upon his return from Europe on January 7, 1938 Roosevelt’s ambassador to Nazi Germany, William E. Dodd, in an interview, stated
"Fascism is on the march today in America. Millionaires are marching to the tune. It will come in this country unless a strong defense is set up by all liberal and progressive forces. ..."
On a tour, Professor Dodd elaborated on this allegation:
"A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government, and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. Aboard ship a prominent executive of one of America's largest financial corporations told me point-blank that if the progressive trend of the Roosevelt administration continued, he would be ready to take definite action to bring Fascism to America.
Disgruntled fat cats like to shoot their mouths off but Dodd, having witnessed the support of Hitler by German industrialists and bankers, took them very seriously.
"Certain American industrialists had a great deal to do with bringing fascist regimes into being in both Germany and Italy. They extended aid to help Fascism occupy the seat of power, and they are helping to keep it there.

"Propagandists for fascist groups try to dismiss the 'fascist scare.' We should be aware of the symptoms. When industrialists ignore laws designed for social and economic progress, they will seek recourse to a fascist state when the institutions of our government compel them to comply with the provisions."
If US industrialists backed Coughlin, they threw a lot of cash down a rat hole. Even before the US entered the war, the tide was turning. 
By 1940, Father Coughlin had stepped down from his radio broadcast. However, he continued to publish Social Justice until early 1942. That operation ended when U.S. government suspended his second-class mailing permit, charging that the paper obstructed the war effort in violation of the 1917 Espionage Act

With the US at war, there was far less tolerance for dissenting opinions. The threat posed by the Nazis was by this time clearly recognized. One unverified rumor claimed that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover threatened to reveal Coughlin's homosexuality if the priest continued his propaganda activities. Given what we now know, such a threat would have undoubtedly sent chills through the entire Catholic hierarchy. 
Coughlin lost his standing in American society (although not the Catholic Church, which allowed him to maintain his pastorship until his retirement in 1966) when he sided too openly with our avowed wartime enemies. But he never faced real punishment for his other sins: Coughlin didn’t merely use hateful rhetoric against Jews. He wasn’t just willing to use the American airwaves and mail system to foment violence against a minority of his fellow Americans.
*   *   *
I kicked off this post noting that Pastor Arnold cited Glenn Beck as a support for his argument against the concept of social justice. 
In yet another irony, many left-wing commentators, including in Harper's Magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review, pointed out the numerous similarities of Father Coughlin to the obnoxious Glenn Beck. 

The comparison is, of course, superficial. Coughlin appropriated the phrase social justice to promote the fascist agenda. In contrast, Beck uses the term to scare his listeners.
Sadly neither one of them seemed to have a clue of the meaning of social justice: a call to defend and uphold the dignity and well being of all persons, especially the poor and powerless.

Albert Einstein Quote