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Profile: Charles Edward Coughlin

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Charles Edward Coughlin was a participant or observer in the following events:

Father Charles Coughlin.Father Charles Coughlin. [Source: Spartacus Schoolnet]Father Charles Edward Coughlin, an ordained Catholic priest, hosts what may be the first politically oriented national radio broadcast in US history. Coughlin, who started his political involvement as a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, quickly becomes a virulent Roosevelt critic, calling Roosevelt’s economic policies “socialism.” By 1930, CBS broadcasts Coughlin’s weekly radio show nationwide. Coughlin’s harsh criticism of communist and socialist governments, such as the Soviet Union, widens to encompass the US government and many aspects of American life. He accuses the citizenry of “scorn[ing] the basic family and national doctrine of Jesus Christ,” citing divorce statistics as “proof” of his assertions. He does not spare the corporations, blasting them for treating working families unfairly and warning of the dangers of the “concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.” Coughlin begins claiming that American communists have infiltrated many levels of government and corporate leadership, and lashes out at what he calls the “Bolshevism of America.” In April 1931, CBS refuses to renew his contract, and Coughlin organizes his own radio network which eventually claims over 30 radio stations and some 30 million listeners. In 1936, Coughlin, who has grown disillusioned with Roosevelt over his administration’s failure to take over the nation’s banking system and other of Coughlin’s suggested reforms, forms a hardline anti-Communist, isolationist organization called the “Christian Front.” When the US begins publicly opposing the German Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Coughlin turns on Roosevelt entirely, accusing him of advocating “international socialism or Sovietism,” and praising Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini as “anti-Communist fighters.” By 1940, according to playwright Arthur Miller, Coughlin is “confiding to his 10 million Depression-battered listeners that the president was a liar controlled by both the Jewish bankers and, astonishingly enough, the Jewish Communists, the same tribe that 20 years earlier had engineered the Russian Revolution.… He was arguing… that Hitlerism was the German nation’s innocently defensive response to the threat of Communism, that Hitler was only against ‘bad Jews,’ especially those born outside Germany.” Coughlin echoes Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels in claiming that Marxist atheism in Europe is a Jewish plot. He claims that America is overrun by “Jewry,” resulting in critics labeling him a “fascist.” Boston police discover that for several years Jewish youths in the city have been beaten and terrorized by what the Christian Science Monitor calls “Coughlinites and the Christian Front”; other assaults on American Jews are later found to have been carried out by people who support Coughlin, often with the complicity of local law enforcement and Catholic officials. The Christian Front collapses in January 1940 when the FBI raids its New York branch and finds a cache of weapons; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells the press that the organization is planning the assassinations of a number of prominent Jews, communists, and “a dozen Congressmen.” Coughlin’s influence is badly damaged by the FBI’s claims, and Coughlin’s rhetoric continues to move to the extreme. By September 1940, he is calling Roosevelt “the world’s chief warmonger,” and in 1941 says that the US, not Germany or the Soviet Union, is the biggest threat to impose its domination on the world. “Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most,” he says, “the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.” When the US enters World War II at the end of 1941, the National Association of Broadcasters arranges for Coughlin’s broadcasts to be terminated. At Roosevelt’s behest, the US Post Office refuses to deliver his weekly newspapers. And in May 1942, Coughlin is ordered by Archbishop Francis Mooney to cease his political activities or be defrocked. Although Coughlin will continue to write pamphlets about the dangers of communism until his death in 1979, his influence on American political thought ends in the first months of the war. (New York Times 1/21/1940; Dinnerstein 1995, pp. 132-133; Spartacus Schoolnet 2010)

Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights logo.Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights logo. [Source: IREHR / Facebook]The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) issues a comprehensive, multi-part report on the American “tea party” movement. The report is written by IREHR vice president Devin Burghart and IREHR president Leonard Zeskind, both accomplished authors and researchers. The report examines six national organizational networks which Burghart and Zeskind say are “at the core of the tea party movement.” These six include: the FreedomWorks Tea Party; the 1776 Tea Party (“TeaParty.org”); Tea Party Nation; Tea Party Patriots; ResistNet; and the Tea Party Express. The report examines their origins, structures, leadership, policies, funding, membership, and relations with one another. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Data Collection Methodology - The authors provide details of their data collection methodology in a separate section of the report. (Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Racism, Anti-Semitism Rampant in Many (Not All) Tea Party Organizations - The report explicitly notes that “[i]t would be a mistake to claim that all tea partiers are nativist vigilantes or racists of one stripe or another.” It shows that while tea party organizations, and many media outlets, paint tea partiers as concentrated primarily on “budget deficits, taxes, and the power of the federal government,” in reality many tea party organizations are very focused on racial, nationalist, and other social issues (see January 14, 2010). The report finds: “In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American.’ Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many tea partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the 14th Amendment.” Many (not all) tea party organizations open their ranks “to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots,” the report finds, and in many of those organizations, the racists and bigots have leadership positions. And, it finds, white supremacist organizations routinely attend and even present at tea party rallies, “looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protesters towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy.” The report notes that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is trying to find money and support among tea party organizations to launch a 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The leaders of the 1776 Tea Party organization “were imported directly from the anti-immigrant vigilante organization, the Minuteman Project,” the report notes. Tea Party Nation has attracted a large contingent of so-called “birthers,” Christian nationalists, and nativists, many of whom display openly racist sentiments; some other tea party organizations have now distanced themselves from that particular group. ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots, the two largest “umbrella” organizations or networks, are also rife with anti-immigrant nativists and racists; the Tea Party Patriots have openly embraced the idea of the repeal of the 17th Amendment (see April 8, 2010). At least one group, the Washington DC-based FreedomWorks Tea Party, has made some efforts to focus its actions solely on economic issues and eschew social or religious issues; those efforts have largely failed. There is a large and disparate “schema” of racist organizations and belief systems in America, the report notes, from Nazi sympathizers to “America-first isolationists,” “scientific” racists, nativists, “paleoconservatives,” and others. Generally, the more mainstream and less extremist racist movements and persons gravitate to tea party organizations. “[T]he white nationalist movement is divided between two strategic orientations: the go-it-alone vanguardists and the mainstreamers who seek to win a majority following among white people. It is decidedly the mainstreamers, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens… who seek to influence and recruit among the tea partiers.” The same can be said of militia groups: the more mainstream of these organizations are the ones taking part in, and recruiting at, tea party events. The two—racist and militia groups—have, of course, a heavy overlap in membership and belief structures. Tea party leaders and members tend to strongly dispute evidence that their fellows espouse racist beliefs. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010; Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Economic Beliefs Tied to Anger at Immigrants, 'Undeserving Poor' - The tea parties are most often characterized as anti-tax economic conservatives who oppose government spending; however, the report finds, “there is no observable statistical link between tea party membership and unemployment levels.… And their storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated on an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the ‘undeserving poor.’” Many tea party members and organizations, including some of the movement’s most visible political leaders, are openly anti-immigrant. The House’s Tea Party Caucus, led by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), has a significant overlap with the members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, led by tea party supporter Brian Bilbray (R-CA). The Immigration Reform Caucus has introduced legislation that would end the Constitution’s principle of “birthright citizenship.” The racist and anti-immigrant themes at play in many tea party organizations have dovetailed in these organizations’ attacks on President Obama as being a “non-American.” The report observes: “The permutations go on from there: Islamic terrorist, socialist, African witch doctor, lying African, etc. If he is not properly American, then he becomes the ‘other’ that is not ‘us.’ Five of the six national factions have these ‘birthers’ in their leadership; the only exception being FreedomWorks.”
'Nationalism' of Tea Parties - Most tea party organizations hark back to the Revolutionary War era and the Founding Fathers as their forebears, sometimes even dressing in 18th-century costumes, waving the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and claiming that the US Constitution as written should be the touchstone of all legislative policies. However, the report notes that their “American nationalism” is hardly inclusive: “[T]heirs is an American nationalism that does not always include all Americans. It is a nationalism that excludes those deemed not to be ‘real Americans’; including the native-born children of undocumented immigrants (often despised as ‘anchor babies’), socialists, Moslems, and those not deemed to fit within a ‘Christian nation.’” The report connects the tea parties’ concept of nationalism (see October 19, 2010) back to the “America First” ideology of Father Charles Coughlin, a vocal anti-Semite and supporter of Nazism (see October 3, 1926 - 1942). The report notes: “As the Confederate battle flags, witch doctor caricatures, and demeaning discourse suggest, a bright white line of racism threads through this nationalism. Yet, it is not a full-fledged variety of white nationalism. It is as inchoate as it is super-patriotic. It is possibly an embryo of what it might yet become.”
Multi-Million Dollar Complex Heavily Funded by Right-Wing Foundations - The tea party movement presents itself as a loose confederation of ground-up, grassroots groups and organizations put together by principled citizens driven by their political and social concerns. However, the reality is that many tea party organizations are for-profit corporations and/or political action committees, with some equally well-funded non-profit corporations included in the mix. Collectively, they have succeeded at trumping the Democrats’ advantage in Web-based mobilization and fundraising.
Resurrection of 'Ultra-Conservative Wing of American Political Life' - The report finds that the tea party organizations “have resuscitated the ultra-conservative wing of American political life, created a stiff pole of opinion within Republican Party ranks, and they have had a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.” The report finds: “The tea party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement by angry middle class (overwhelmingly) white people who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them. And they want it back.” Whom they apparently “want it back” from is from non-white Americans. The report notes that the tea party slogan, “Take It Back, Take Your Country Back” is “an explicitly nationalist refrain. It is sometimes coupled with the assertion that there are ‘real Americans,’ as opposed to others who they believe are driving the country into a socialist ditch.”
Three Levels of Structure - As with most entities of this nature, there are three fundamental levels to the “tea party structure.” Some 16 to 18 percent of Americans say they have some sympathy with tea party ideals—these citizens, numbering in the tens of millions, form the outer ring of the structure. The next ring as an ill-defined group of perhaps two million activists who go to meetings and rallies, and buy literature. The core is composed of some 250,000 heavily involved members who take part in the Web-directed activities of the tea party organizations. The report focuses on this group as the hub of what it calls “tea party nationalists.” As time goes on, the tea parties continue to add members to their ranks. The Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet are, at this time, experiencing the fastest rate of growth; the report notes, “This would tend to indicate a larger movement less susceptible to central control, and more likely to attract racist and nativist elements at the local level.” The tea parties as a whole will continue to wield their influence on American political and social debates, though the tea parties may begin to splinter as some members move into the more structured Republican Party apparatus and others move towards the more extremist white nationalist organizations. The report does not include local groups not affiliated with one or the other of the national networks, and the ancillary organizations that have worked alongside the tea parties since their inception. The report notes some of these ancillary organizations as Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty (see August 4, 2008), Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), the National Precinct Alliance, and the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). The report also notes the existence of the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After), but does not count that as a separate network, and goes on to note that after the 2009 9-12 rally in Washington (see September 12, 2009), many 9-12 groups joined a tea party organization. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Response - Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, responds to the release of the IREHR report by saying: “Here we go again. This is typical of this liberal group’s smear tactics.” Phillips does not cite examples of the report’s “smear tactics.” (Thomas 10/19/2010)


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