Saturday, April 13

So many Coughlins

On a night in that grey depressive season of 1938, a filth blanketed New York City.

The bandwidth occupied by WMCA.

The pro-Mussolini pro-Hitler priest-turned-radio host Father Charles E. Coughlin made an address to his substantial audience (tens of millions of Americans every week), that bore a closer resemblance to something out of the toxic leaves of Der Stürmer than to any text in the New Testament.

Back in 1934, Father Coughlin established a political organization called the National Union for Social Justice. At one time a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, Coughlin fell out with the president over his perceived warmth to bankers. His union’s platform called for monetary reforms, the nationalization of major industries and railroads, and the protection of labour rights. While not effectively run, its membership would run into the millions, which bore witness to his incredible reach, in a time of material hardship and global instability.

While the original plan of a radio show was to preach the word and share his flavour of social justice, an attack on Jewish bankers changed the course of his radio career. If one was concerned with numbers only, the evolution to a fascist mouthpiece was a smart one.

He became an absolute phenomenon and undoubtedly a pioneer of conservative radio.

On that fateful night in 1938, Coughlin’s oration was dubiously christened “Persecution: Jewish and Christian,”. In it, he made the claim that Jewish persecution at the hands of the Communists in Russia had only followed the persecution of Christians.

What made Coughlin’s denialism especially hard to swallow was that it was delivered not a fortnight after Kristallnacht – a pogrom of Jews in Germany and Austria that stripped Hitler’s intentions for the Jews of Europe naked for all the world to see.

WMCA reacted immediately, with a nervous announcer apologising for Coughlin’s misinformation shortly afterwards. Several affiliate stations demanded Coughlin’s scripts ahead of future broadcasts, which Coughlin declined. They dropped the show, prompting a predictable accusation from the priest that they were under Jewish control.

The ensuing weeks saw Coughlin’s acolytes besiege WMCA’s headquarters, their protests marred by vile antisemitic outbursts, hinting darkly at the kind of society they envisioned under their prophet’s guidance. Coughlin, ever the demagogue, could sometimes be spotted among the throng.

Are we rid of the Father Coughlins?

Far from it.

Tucker Carlson’s recent visit to Russia, where he allowed the crime boss-in-chief Vladimir Putin to rewrite history in a rambling interview can be described as Coughlinesque.

Seeing an answer to America’s ills in a despotic homicidal maniac made a buffoon of Coughlin, just as it is making a buffoon of Carlson in real-time. While Coughlin was exploiting the nascent platform of radio to spread his lunacy, Carlson is doing so to sizable audiences on a likewise developing technology.

Coughlin, and the 1938 broadcast specifically is also echoed is NZ Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s incitement against Jews in the Auckland Domain last November. Like Coughlin, she chose to vent her spleen but weeks aftermath of a pogrom, and remained defiant after the pushback she would have known well was coming. It was a calculated act of demagoguery, straight out of the Coughlin playbook.

So, why is antisemitism the toxin of choice for statists?

Because a liberal doesn’t require emergency conditions for their political project.

A statist invariably does.

This was evident in the central plea from the last government in its drive for hate speech laws: our society, we were told, had been made more fragile by multiculturalism and therefore demanded a drastic anti-democratic measure to guarantee cohesion.

And on the further reaches, the extremes of the Left and Right, the crisis will often be a Jewish one.

This is possibly because of the Jewish instinct to sniff out false messiahs. We are a show don’t tell people.

And because we’re best placed to inform the masses that democracy really is your only friend…

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