November 20, 1938 – Influential Catholic Priest, Father Charles Coughlin, Blames Jews for Nazi Violence Against Them

Charles Edward Coughlin (October 25, 1891 – October 27, 1979) was a Canadian-American Roman Catholic priest serving in the United States near Detroit, Michigan. One of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience, he was known throughout the country as Father Coughlin. During the 1930s, an estimated 30 million listeners tuned to his weekly broadcasts. The Holocaust Museum history of Coughlin reports that a new post office was constructed in his Michigan town just to process the letters that he received each week—80,000 on average. He also produced a journal, Social Justice, that eventually reached one million subscribers.

Coughlin was antisemitic, anti-Communist, pro-fascist, and isolationist.

A Photo of Charles Coughlin by Hamilton Spectator, circa 1938.

Coughlin attacked Jews explicitly in his broadcasts, in particular after Kristallnacht (or “Night of Broken Glass”) on November 10, 1938. This was the name for the coordinated terror against Jews all over Nazi-controlled areas. The brutal action was characterized by burning, looting, and murder.

Coughlin defended the state-sponsored violence of the Nazi regime, arguing that Kristallnacht was justified as retaliation for Jewish persecution of Christians. He explained to his listeners on this day in history, November 20, 1938, that the “communistic government of Russia,” “the Lenins and Trotskys,…atheistic Jews and Gentiles” had murdered more than 20 million Christians and had stolen “40 billion [dollars]…of Christian property.”

Coughlin also began to promote fascist dictatorship and authoritarian government as the only cure to the ills of democracy and capitalism. He increasingly attacked President Franklin Roosevelt’s policies, which probably was what ultimately led to his demise.

The Roosevelt administration decided that, because the radio spectrum was a “limited national resource” and regulated as a publicly owned commons, broadcasting was not afforded full protections under the First Amendment. In October 1939, the Code Committee of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) enacted new limitations on the sale of radio time to ‘spokesmen of controversial public issues.’ Manuscripts now had to be submitted in advance, and radio stations were threatened with the loss of licenses if they failed to comply. As a result, on September 23, 1940, Coughlin announced in “Social Justice” that he had been forced from the air.

In addition, the U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle met with banker Leo Crowley, a Roosevelt political appointee and friend of Bishop Edward Aloysius Mooney of Detroit. Crowley relayed Biddle’s message to Mooney that the government was willing to “deal with Coughlin in a restrained manner if he [Mooney] would order Coughlin to cease his public activities.” Bishop Mooney complied, ordering Coughlin to stop his political activities and to confine himself to his duties as a parish priest, warning of potentially removing his priestly faculties if he refused. Although forced to end his public career, Coughlin served as parish pastor until retiring in 1966.

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