Saturday, August 28, 2010

Glenn Beck Said Not to Bring Signs!

I just attended Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the Mall in DC. He took the steps of the Lincoln memorial on the 47th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the same locale. Beck promised not to stand on the same stair as King. But his point, if not entirely clear, had been made.

I have seen Beck speak before and while he may be many things: a drama queen, a narcissist, an unabashed crybaby, a clean shaven man with a slight Jesus complex, no one can say that he is not a compelling public speaker. He knows how to work a crowd, how to fill them with emotion, how to get them angry, sad or introspective. He has a way with words that sometimes belies the grave nature of the overall message that he is preaching. He is clever, there is no doubt about it.

When I first arrived at the rally – which had nowhere near the numbers of Obama’s inauguration or the concert that preceded it by just a few days, but can nonetheless boast an unbelievable turnout with people from all over the nation (or at least the east coast as far as I could gather) – I happened to walk in behind one of the few open dissenters in the whole place. To be fair, he had a handful of friends with him, so he was not alone. But he alone carried a sign, over his head and with bravado, as he walked into the lion’s den. His sign was short and to the point, it said simply “Glenn Beck is lying to us for profit.”

Glenn Beck is lying to us for profit is a pretty soft accusation as far as today’s political climate is concerned. This sign was not calling anyone a Nazi, a war criminal or even a murderer. Just a liar. Well, a money-making liar.

But Glenn Beck had asked the crowd to refrain from bringing signs with them to the rally. Of course there were those that ignored the call. After all, this is DC, there are those that cannot go to the grocery store without a political button or placard. Certainly the American flags in their Red, White and Blue and the “Don’t Tread on Me” in their slightly-dehydrated-piss yellow were out en masse. People wore buttons and t-shirts with what was on their minds. All of the aforementioned paraphernalia was being hawked by ambitious locals who looked surprisingly like some guys I saw selling Obama t-shirt and hats at the inauguration. And of course there were some hand-written and typed signs around, including one gentleman who deemed it very important that the world know that the Koreans in Union Station had been hypnotized to kill him and another who wanted to remind us that Obama had once donned a local outfit when visiting a village in Kenya and that he was actually best friends with Daisy Khan, American Enemy Number One. But these outlawed signs were few and far between all things considered. This seems to be a huge testament to the power that Beck holds over this particular crowd.

So back to my lone dissenter, a tall and gangly guy with cargo shorts and bushy hair. I happened to wade into the crowd only a few feet behind him. And what was so fascinating was the way that his message rippled through the immediate surrounding crowd. People repeated it out loud, either to themselves or for the benefit of their friends and cohort who could not get a good look at this mostly-silent protest. It was said with derision and laughter, it was said with disgust. This little sign clearly had an impact on people. Some yelled at the message-bearer, some took his picture. One woman’s reaction stood out. She shouted at him, angrily, “Glenn Beck said not to bring signs.”

Of course this is an absurd thing to be mad about, and one of the sign-holder’s signless posse shouted back that “Glenn Beck doesn’t make the law.” The boy with the sign just smiled and kept working his way through the crowd.

The irony was rampant; this particular woman was not necessarily mad (at least not outright vocally so) that someone had come to the rally to protest its main event, her issue was that they were doing so in a way that this same main event had specifically asked people to refrain from. Perhaps if his message had been on a t-shirt or button, she would not have minded.

Towards the end of the rally, Beck invited 240 members of clergy onto the stage to join him. He claimed that these 240 clergy, from every faith, represented thousands of other religious leaders, who in turn represented 180 million people. It was not clear if this number was limited to Americans, or if it was a global representation. But obviously 180 million people is more than 50% of the population of our country. Quite an ambitious boast.

Beck had spoken for about an hour. His tone was not subtly religious, it was outwardly so. He spoke of God throughout. He told people not to just pray, but to do so on their knees and with their doors open so that their children would see them do it. He spoke often with tones of plurality, often following references to Churches with those of Synagogues and Mosques. God was the answer for this Mormon speaker, but how you related to God was not important. While Beck might not have left much room in his America for atheists or general disbelievers, he made it clear that as long as you had God as a central component of your life, and that you thought that God should be a factor in ever facet of the governing of your country, then everything could, and would, be alright.

When he was finished, he invited one of his clergymen to step forward and offer us a prayer. A very impassioned Vietnam veteran named Dave Reever came forward and spoke with all of the excitement of a mega-church Preacher. In it, he praised Beck himself with the highest of regards as well as Sarah Palin and all those who had made the day possible. He talked at length about the troops fighting for our freedoms overseas today and those who had fought for our freedom in Vietnam and had not been welcomed home as heroes. He asked us, and God, to welcome them home as heroes now. There were many Vietnam vets in the crowd and this clearly meant a great deal to them. He then thanked God for the President and the Congress. It seemed to be said in earnest and sincerity, but it was one of the few statements made throughout the day that received refutation from the crowd. One particularly over-zealous protester to the idea of thanking God for Obama, Reid or Pelosi informed no one in particular that he would like to spit on the President, not thank him. He was ignored, but not shunned.

At this point, the Pastor exclaimed "We love you Jesus, you're the best and most wonderful gift to the human race." The crowd was elated. I wondered how the Rabbi(s?) and Imam(s???) on the stage felt at that moment and if they had any regrets about getting out of bed that morning and working their way to the mall for this particular rally. For the Rabbi, it was how he had chosen to spend his Shabbat, a day of the week that would find most in his profession in shul. For the Imam, he took his place on the crowd on that stage during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. While Glenn Beck might claim plurality and purport a non-denominational stance, it was clear that this only really applied under the umbrella of Christianity and was mostly just required ear-candy for the sprinkling of non-Christian supporters on the stage, in the crowd and following the speech in the comforts of their own homes. It is worth mentioning that while I myself saw no signs of Islam in the crowd, I did see quite a few t-shirts in Hebrew, an occasional yarmulke (or Jewish skull cap) and a surprising amount of buttons that used Obama’s notorious O as the first letter of the Yiddish exclamation Oy Vey. Non-Christian supporters might be embraced in every capacity, but when it comes down to it, this was a Christian God Beck was talking about, despite ample claims to the contrary.

Following our “closing prayer,” a bagpipe troupe took the stage playing Amazing Grace. The crowd joined in and several hundred thousand people raised arms, held hearts and sang-along. What had blinded them, and what exactly had opened their eyes on this fateful day and had finally allowed them to see was slightly beyond me, but it was sung with conviction and that alone made it a sight to see. Had Beck’s speech opened their eyes, or their Fox News sponsored Woodstock on the Mall been the impetus for their new found vision? Will they still see tomorrow, or if the Democrats keep the house in November? What if Obama wins reelection in 2012? Today was a big day for the Tea Party, but today is almost over. What will they do tomorrow?

I saw one other t-shirt, in the mostly white, pensioner-heavy crowd that is worth sharing here, as I think it speaks to the larger point of the day. A middle-aged woman had on a black t-shirt that said “Beware of Liberals Posing as Americans.” This rally was about restoring honor, even if it was never made exactly clear when we last had it or what exactly needed to happen in order to bring it back. But the America of which they spoke was a small place, with enough room for them and their ideas. Anyone else was an outsider, an impostor, and their ideas were illegitimate and dangerous.

But America is a massive place and it can survive anything. America is endless. It embodies plurality. It can welcome all who come to its shores (legally) and it can make room for them within its boundaries. There is nothing that this great nation cannot accept, if asked to do so peacefully and with respect. Without question, it even has room for the Tea Party. But does the Tea Party have room for the diversity of America?


  1. Great article, right up until the last paragraph. America cannot survive anything and it is not endless. It cannot afford to welcome those to its shores who wish to overthrow the government with say, Shari'a law, a totalitarian, authoritarian, repressive and supremacist belief system. It cannot withstand socialism either - one can see how the "rugged individualism" that America was known for only two generations ago has been so degraded that many young men today act like women, and many women seem to be looking for a daddy for president. It's sad, and I believe a direct result of the collectivist-victimization mindset which has overtaken us. Even Beck and his NeoCongelical congregation complain about being victimized. I hate living in the last days of American greatness, it makes me so sad.

  2. Ah yes, mean Americanism has arrived, draped in its flag and carrying its cross.

  3. I'm trying to decide whether you REALLY don't get the reason people sing Amazing Grace, or you were just feigning ignorance for the sake of whit. Regardless, Amazing Grace's lyrics simply refer to having previously been spiritually lost and then finding God at some point in time. It is a revelation and transformation that is so beautiful and life altering. For each person in the crowd, this would be personal. You sing Amazing Grace in reverence to this moment in you life.