The year was 1940, and I began, a boy of fourteen summers, my career as a voyeur of fringe groups.
Sundays were a particular treat. In the afternoon the old Socialist Labor Party hosted lectures in an Eight Avenue hotel. There was much talk of industrial unionism and other forms of very democratic arrangement, even though the Party itself (now all but defunct) was ruled with an iron hand, for fifty-five years, by the apparatchik Arnold Petersen (1885-1976).
That meeting ended early in the afternoon, to the sound of the SLP’s own version of the Internationale. But no sooner was the Final Conflict concluded than I headed one block east, to Broadway in the fifties, where the Christian Front of Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) was picketing radio station WMCA. The station styled itself “at the top of the dial,” but to Fr Coughlin’s folks it was “at the bottom of the pile.” It seems that the station had incurred the Father’s displeasure by banishing his anti-Semitic rants from its airways. I must say that I did enjoy this picketing show, more so than the staid SLP lectures to the west.
And I learned, for the first time, about Social Justice. This was Fr. Coughlin’s pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic magazine until the Roosevelt administration, with the help of a friendly bishop, found ways of silencing the “radio priest.” Looking back now, I must say that I was never struck by the enormity of the conceit — the enormity of the falsehood — of presenting the Christian Front ideology as a call for justice, social or otherwise.