Cultura y conciencia

Father Coughlin’s Ghost

Nelson Santana

By María Encarnación

September 22, 2010

A specter is haunting the U.S.—the specter of hate

For many people in the United States and abroad, the election of Barack Obama augured a new era of racial harmony in a country where people of African descent lacked citizenship rights a few decades back. Others, meanwhile, expressed skepticism at the prospects for a more tolerant society that has just elected a black man as commander in chief.

At the end, the latter turned out to be right.

In fact, this post-election era has seen a revival of racism fuelled by hysteria that is reminiscent of Father Coughlin’s anti-Semitic speeches in the 1930s. Coughlin was a Catholic priest who used Jewish immigrants as scapegoats for the economic crisis facing the U.S. at that time. His popular radio show was a predecessor of today’s hate radio and TV luminaries such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck among others. Their target: immigrants of color who they blame for unemployment, disease, crime and terrorism. Their political and financial backers: the Republican Party and the far right organized in the Tea Party movement that claims to represent working people when in reality it is a vehicle to rally up racists and xenophobes across the nation.

The Tea partiers and Republican politicians are also attacking Muslims and Arabs who are portrayed as a threat to “American values.” The announcement t to build a Mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, has provoked hysteria among racist politicians who feel offended by it. However, many of those offended politicians-such as Peter King, Republican congressman from New York, voted “no” to provide compensation and health benefits to 9-11 rescue workers and families of those killed during the attack. Meanwhile, the mainstream media and the U.S. government do not defend Muslim and Arabs.

In fact, Islam phobia serves as a justification for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. government also carries out deportations of undocumented immigrants, propping up hate and xenophobia. Actually, the Obama administration further criminalizes immigrants by militarizing the border as though the country needs to be protected against hard working immigrants who are the backbone of the economy. Furthermore, immigrants are kept in detention centers for years in the most inhumane conditions.


Father Coughlin’s ghost serves a purpose: to scare people off and create the conditions for more xenophobic and anti-immigrants sentiment and laws in the United States. One example of that is the recent enactment of anti-immigrant and racist laws in Arizona.

In the meantime, immigrants and their allies are organizing to contain the seeds of hate and destruction that is sweeping the country.