Joseph Hansen

Father Coughlin: Fascist Demagogue
A New Series on the Radio Priest

Who Is the Man, What Is His Program,
How Did He Rise?

Aided by Big Business, America’s Number One Fascist
Rose from Obscurity to Lead a Movement

(June 1939)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 41, 13 June 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2016 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2016; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

The Rise of the “Radio Priest”

In the summer of 1926, an obscure Catholic priest began broadcasting over the radio in Detroit.

For three years he spoke steadily without gaining any following beyond a local one. His speeches were not particularly striking. He said nothing to distinguish himself as different from hundreds of others who performed for America’s loudspeakers.

Then the 1929 crash ushered in the worst depression United States capitalism had yet experienced.

Something different did occur then. The obscure priest launched a series of violent attacks against “communism.” His name zoomed into the national spotlight.

He began broadening his activities like a business man who has succeeded in selling a huge issue of stock for a newly formed company.

In the lowest depths of the depression, he built himself a million dollar shrine. He began publishing a sleek magazine that carried not a line of advertising, yet sold for only a dime – an editor’s day dream come true. He organized a wide political movement. He added radio stations to his network until today forty-eight are broadcasting his speeches – at an estimated cost of $8,000 each – to an audience that may number millions.

Big Business tycoons count him an intimate. Many Congressmen consider him the greatest political force outside of the White House. Fascists the world over hail him as among the chief of their dark number.

The labor movement has denounced him repeatedly.

This is the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin.

Political Checkerboard

The political program he has followed is as astounding as his rise from obscurity.

At first the “radio priest” urged his listeners to put their trust in President Herbert Hoover, the “great engineer.” As late as January 11, 1931, he declared that “we have lost no faith whatsoever” in President Hoover and his cabinet.

Then he switched to the New Deal and supported it so eloquently that he became one of the most influential spokesmen for the Roosevelt Administration.

Roosevelt or Ruin” was his slogan.

Millions believed him and chose Roosevelt.

On November 11, 1934, shortly after the rise of Adolph Hitler to power in Germany, he launched his organization, the National Union for Social Justice. He wrote the program for this organization himself. It has never elected him as its leader or constituted itself on democratic lines. Political discussion at its unit meetings is strictly forbidden. Coughlin is self-appointed supreme dictator.

In the 1936 presidential campaign he switched from the New Deal and supported William Lemke for president.

When Lemke was beaten at the polls, the “radio priest” retired from public life. But his retirement was only temporary.

He came back on the air with a new twist to his political program – against the Jews ... revolution ... prepare for violence ...

Now his movement is spreading from coast to coast. In every city unemployed youths hawk his magazine Social Justice. He is conducting an essay contest with prizes amounting to $16,000.

Many people consider him the only hope, the only way out of the depression. Many others consider him the most dangerous menace yet to appear on the American political scene.

Father Coughlin Promises

The magazine and the radio speeches, copies of which Father Coughlin mails out free by the hundreds of thousands, are designed to appeal to those who have been crushed by the depression – the millions of unemployed, youth who see only a blank future, farmers facing ruin, those who have no more hope in Roosevelt’s New Deal.

“I am for a just annual living wage,” he declares. “I am for labor’s right to organize. I am for the cost of living being maintained on an even keel; and I am for preferring the sanctity of human rights to the sanctity of property with government’s chief concern for the poor.”

Who could be against a program like that?

But Father Coughlin was not the first man to stand for labor’s right to organize, nor the only one to point out the high cost of living. Father Coughlin is not the first orator to round out pungent and stinging phrases about the sanctity of human rights.

Why should a program so commonplace as that create such excitement and clamor, and out of an obscure priest create a national political figure with apparently unlimited funds at his disposal?

Because that is not his real program.

Coughlin and the New Deal

At one time, if your memory goes back as far as President Roosevelt’s election campaign, the New Deal promised these very same things.

And Father Coughlin backed the New Deal one hundred per cent.

“The international bankers are on their way out,” he promised, side by side with Roosevelt. “The prosperity identified with the year 1926 is not too far distant.”

And he waxed eloquent:

“March 4th, 1933! What a memorable day that was! It was the birthday of the ‘new deal.’ On that date a voice went ringing around the world announcing a new Declaration of Independence. Before the minds of the millions who listened there was revived the drama of Christ as He lashed the money-changers from the Temple.” (The New Deal in Money, p. 36)

Father Coughlin described Roosevelt to his rapt followers as the “New Lincoln,” the “protector of the common people,” and he declared himself ready to follow “our leader to the end.”

“I still proclaim to you that it is either ‘Roosevelt or Ruin.’ I support him today and will support him tomorrow.” (Radio Speech, March 11, 1933)

Father Coughlin even held a number of secret conferences with “New Lincoln” Roosevelt himself. The nature of those conferences has not been divulged to this day. Frequently he called the President’s personal secretary over long-distance telephony.

High, wide, and handsome, Coughlin rode the great wave of popularity that swept Roosevelt into office amidst golden promises.

Roosevelt was going to end the depression, put everybody to work, give everybody an annual wage, permit labor to organize, and MAINTAIN PRIVATE PROPERTY.

Coughlin was a key man in the propaganda machine that deluded the people into supporting Roosevelt.

Father Coughlin, the Detroit spell-binder, was a fellow-traveler of Roosevelt’s, a high pressure salesman of his wares. When he abandoned the job it was taken over by Stalin’s Communist Party.

Of course, Coughlin has since turned against Roosevelt. His reason is very simple.

Highly sensitive to the moods of the masses, Coughlin understands that Roosevelt’s answers no longer satisfy the people, especially the unemployed. They are restlessly seeking a way out. Coughlin is not blind to the finger writing Roosevelt’s doom on the wall.

The obscure “radio priest” of 1926 has come a long way. The future seems bright for his particular talents. Strife and dissension, wars and rumors of wars, these ring a sweet clangor in the ears of Father Coughlin.

(To be continued in next issue)


Last updated on: 12 March 2016