There’s only one person who might know what’s going to happen on Saturday, August 28 in front of the Lincoln Memorial — Glenn Beck — and there’s a good chance even he’s not sure. Beck’s “Restoring Honor” event has gone through so many different changes that it’s impossible to nail down what will or won’t be included. First it was an educational seminar, then it was a political rally, then it was a book release party, then it was a veterans benefit, then it was a civil rights rally, then it was a celebration of Martin Luther King, then it was a religious revival, then it was all of the above, none of the above, and some of the above all at once.
And Beck is keeping everyone guessing by contradicting himself all over the place. On the radio this week Beck said that even though the event will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the same spot, he is “not trying to be Martin Luther King.” That statement, however, was incongruous with his many, many, many, many, many previous self-comparisons to King. It also didn’t help that later in the same show, Beck channeled King’s final sermon in telling the prospective rally attendees that “you may not make it to the mountaintop.”
But there has been one unifying theme in Beck’s relentless promotion of the event: history. Specifically, Beck wants you to believe that his rally will be an event of such historical magnitude that decades from now our progeny will look upon it as the moment America did that thing that put it back on the right course, or something. We will all see a “miracle” on August 28, Beck insists, even though miracles, by definition, can’t be scheduled ahead of time. It will be, says Beck, an experience that will “change the world.”
Those looking for a miracle will almost certainly be disappointed, as will anyone earnestly expecting to forward the struggle for civil rights or find spiritual enlightenment. What they will get, more than likely, is a standard-fare series of attacks on the evils of liberals and progressivism interspersed with celebrations of America’s veterans and fighting men and women. (He insists the rally will be apolitical, even though it’s supported by conservative groups, boasts Republican members of Congress as fundraisers, and features Sarah Palin as a keynote speaker.) And there’s good reason to suspect that Beck would use a celebration of America’s military as a vehicle to promote himself and his ideology. He’s done it before.
Alexander Zaitchik’s Common Nonsense describes Beck’s 2003 pro-Iraq war “Rallies for America,” and the similarities to “Restoring Honor” are too great to ignore: “Flags, soldiers, and oaths to God, leader, and country dominated Beck’s rallies, just as they did the political theater of Nazi Germany. The Rally for America also featured speakers who made threats against the Left, echoing the threats of violence that were routinely heard on Beck’s radio show. Although Beck made much of keeping politicians out of his spotlight, some rallies featured Jumbotronic messages from President Bush, whom Beck declared in need of his nation’s prayers.”
And the whole idea of “Restoring Honor” is making a lot of people very uncomfortable, even in some unlikely corners. Beck’s Fox News colleague Greta Van Susteren thinks Beck is wrong to have the event at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of King’s speech, and Fox News insists that it has absolutely nothing to do with the rally and will only cover it as a “news event.” Of course, Fox has also givenBeck a huge platform to promote the rally, but consistency was never its strong suit anyway. Even conservative activists are casting a leery eye on Beck’s rally, suspecting that Beck’s in it for himself and not the cause.
So one can’t help but believe that all the grandiose statements of historical relevance and civic health are merely cover for the fact that 8-28 is all about Beck. It’s all about selling the Glenn Beck brand and the Glenn Beck books and the Glenn Beck style, and it’s a rather audacious sales pitch. You would have to be audacious to take up the mantle of Martin Luther King when you despise pretty much everything he stood for. You’d have to be audacious to claim the rally is about “civil rights” when you’ve built your career by exploiting racial tensions and are currently under an adverti ser boycott for calling the first African American president a racist who hates white people. Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” is a cynical ploy that exploits the hopes, fears, and faiths of his followers, a “sick farce” in which Beck is trying to advance his own politics and ambitions while hiding behind “deranged posturing.”
And the build-up this week has featured all the usual trappings of a Beck narcissism-fest — grossly revisionist historical accounts; prophecies of impending doom; and Beck playing the divinely ordained role of spiritual savior (Glenn Beck is my shepherd, I shall not want). Of course, salvation isn’t cheap. It requires a deep spiritual commitment, a willingness to ask tough questions about yourself, and $6.95 to view the livestream of “Glenn Beck’s Divine Destiny” (presented by Glenn Beck), the 8-28 prologue/religious revival which Beck promises will “heal your soul.” And since you’re already at Beck’s website, why not shell out a few extra bucks for classes at Beck University and the right-wing history books he promotes?
After all, Beck just wants you to be a better person — for a nominal fee, of course.
Simon Maloy is a Research Fellow at Media Matters for America.