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BC Professor Talks New Book on the Christian Front

Rev. Charles R. Gallagher, S.J., an associate history professor at Boston College, said no one believes Nazis were in Boston.

“When I was doing my research, people would ask me what I’m researching, and when I would say Nazis in Boston, everyone would laugh because no one believes that there were Nazis in Boston,” Gallagher said.

On Thursday, Gallagher spoke to the BC community about his new book Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front. The book explores the Christian Front—a right-wing, anti-Semitic association influenced by prominent radio host Charles Coughlin—and its presence in Boston under Francis Moran, an organizer of a New England Christian Front. 

Gallagher said he wanted to highlight the impact of theology on politics in his book. 

“In my experience, political historians writing about the Catholic Church stick to politics because that’s where they’re most comfortable,” he said. “My effort was to show how theology impacts political action.”

According to Gallagher, the ideology of Judeo Bolshevism connected both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin’s Jewish lineage to Marxism and Leninism—coinciding with the Catholic Church facing persecution in Mexico.

“Consequently, the persecutions which Coughlin saw in both Mexico and Spain were being meted out not simply by communists, but by Jews who had succumbed to communism as a secular religion,” he said. 

The Christian Front formed during World War II and operated in New York before moving to Boston. In Boston, Gallagher said Moran ran the Front in a suite of rooms in the Copley Square Hotel.

Gallagher said Father Michael J. Hearn was a BC Jesuit who influenced attraction to the Christian Front through his radio program. 

“He gave an hour-long speech about the moral permissibility of Boston Catholics joining the Christian Front,” Gallagher said. “While the anti-Semitism was unseemly, the anti-communism could be counted as Catholic action, and therefore Catholics would be morally permissible to join Moran’s group.”

Gallagher said his book highlights new historical perspectives about Catholics in the United States during World War II and their impact on the war.

“This book kind of bumps up against the ideal that Catholics in the 1930s and ’40s were on the ascendancy and assimilating into American life,” he said. “This case always interested me because they were charged with sedition, and it went against everything I was being taught in graduate school about Catholics.” 

The book also challenges the common historical concept that Nazi spies during the war was utterly useless. It was Nazi espionage, Gallagher said, that faciliated the Christian Front’s set up in Boston. 

“This goes against the historiography that, in World War II, Nazi espionage in the United States was a bumbling and fumbling affair and didn’t have any effect,” he said. “My book tries to put that in contrast.”

A part of the inspiration for his book, Gallagher said, has to do with his curiosity with the motives and thought processes behind those in the Christian Front. Gallagher said it was a picture of armed Christian Fronters that captivated his interest. 

“That picture kind of jogged me, jolted me, and I said, ‘how do Roman Catholics pick up rifles, and their object here is to try to overthrow the government of the United States?’” he said. “And as far as I could see, the historians who write about [this] never even asked those questions.”

Although the Christian Front was recognized and known during its time, Gallagher said that it is heavily forgotten in studying the history of World War II.

“Liberal historians had a dominant view [that] downplayed the academic study of the right wing,” he said. “The idea of liberals was ‘We don’t want to study the right wing because we don’t want to give it academic credibility.’” 

Featured Image by Molly Bruns / Heights Staff

January 31, 2022