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Charles E. Coughlin


Charles E. Coughlin was an anti-Semitic American Catholic priest and a popular radio figure of the 1930s. Coughlin ministered at the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, from 1926 to 1966, when he retired.

In the first year of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, Coughlin supported the Democratic president, but broke with him after a short time. Throughout the 1930s Coughlin used his popular weekly radio program — which averaged 3.5 million listeners every week--and his magazine, Social Justice, to spread his ideas and attack his enemies. From 1934 onward Coughlin's targets included Roosevelt, individual Jewish leaders, and Jewish institutions, all branded as Communists.

Coughlin, a right-wing populist, advocated a form of corporatism influenced by Italian Fascism. In 1934, Coughlin organized the National Union for Social Justice through which he argued that neither capitalism nor democracy had a future in America. In 1938 the National Union developed into the Christian Front which was even more ardent in its support of fascism and became a mouthpiece for Nazi propaganda. Subsequently, as war loomed in Europe, Coughlin supported isolationism, charging that Jewish financiers were secretly behind efforts to involve the United States in the war.

Coughlin believed in the existence of a secret world Jewish conspiracy. In 1938, his magazine Social Justice serialized the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Coughlin believed to be accurate. This tsarist forgery purported to be the minutes of a conference of Jewish leaders plotting to take over the world.

Coughlin repeatedly used the “Judeo-Bolshevik threat” as a theme, asserting that the entire Soviet leadership, including both Lenin and Joseph Stalin, was Jewish. Coughlin also accused American Jewish financiers, primarily the Wall Street firm of Kuhn-Loeb, of collaboration with the Bolsheviks in their efforts to uproot Christianity in Russia. Publicly proclaiming that he was not an antisemite, Coughlin nevertheless argued that all the ills of modern society were caused by a Communist-Jewish conspiracy.

During the 1930s, Jewish efforts to force Coughlin to tone down his anti-Jewish rhetoric or to get him off the air altogether failed due to his popularity and the support he received from the Bishop of Detroit. Coughlin continued to argue against American participation in World War II even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. These arguments led to his undoing. When a sedition trial seemed possible, the Bishop of Detroit ordered Coughlin to cease broadcasting and leave politics altogether.

At the height of his popularity, Coughlin received more mail than President Roosevelt. Indeed, a public opinion poll taken in 1938 showed that 25 percent of those polled supported all or most of Coughlin's ideas. Coughlin was thus the most visible of the American right-wing activists during the 1930s and his anti-Semitism deeply troubled American Jewry.

Source: Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.