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Alexander Zaitchik Headshot

The Farce of Glenn Beck's "Rally for America"

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America, the first step in your spiritual and political redemption is finally at hand.

Or so Glenn Beck would have us believe. After an eight-month build-up that began at an Orlando retirement community last November, Beck is now making the final preparations for his "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall, scheduled to begin early on Saturday morning with a salute and a prayer in front of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the Fox News host's loyal fans.

On a stage at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, Beck will headline a bevy of conservative guest speakers familiar to his radio and television audiences. Most notable among them will be Sarah Palin, whose political career received early and enthusiastic support from Beck. Despite the event's sponsorship by the NRA, the host maintains the rally will be a "non-political" event, meant to honor American troops overseas and grounded in the nonpartisan themes of "faith, hope, and charity."

Since Beck first announced the event, much critical attention has been paid to the date. This Saturday is the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," a landmark event in the history of the civil rights movement that is also enshrined in the national mythology as one of the finest expressions of American ideals. Beck claims that the scheduling is mere coincidence. But he has eagerly claimed King's legacy, and the meaning of Aug. 28, as his own.

On the May 24 edition of his radio program, he described himself and his conservative-activist legions as "the inheritors and the protectors of the civil rights movement;" liberals, he claimed, "are perverting it." He said he "wouldn't be surprised if in our lifetime dogs and fire hoses are released or opened on us. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of us get a billy club to the head. I wouldn't be surprised if some of us go to jail -- just like Martin Luther King did -- on trumped-up charges. Tough times are coming." Two days later, he reiterated his intent to "reclaim the civil rights movement," since "we were the people that did it in the first place." More recently, he has described the alleged scheduling coincidence as "divine providence"--as God's way of telling Beck he walks in King's footsteps.

If this is true, and a supreme being did in fact decide that Beck should hold his self-branded Tea Party rally in the shadow of Martin Luther King, then we should take this as proof that God has a very dark sense of humor.

Far from being a civil rights icon, Glenn Beck has built his empire and fame in part by being a master divider along racial lines. Especially since the inauguration of Barack Obama on the eve of his Fox News debut, Beck has emerged as the media's boldest manipulator of white racial anxieties, fears and prejudice. His willingness "to go there" has even earned him grudging respect from hardcore white nationalists who usually have little patience for major media.

Most people are aware by now that more than 100 sponsors have fled Beck's program since his June 2009 claim that President Obama was a racist "with a deep-seated hatred of white people." But this is only the best known event in a 30-year career in broadcasting that has been partly defined by racist humor, racially charged venom, and advocacy for far-right foes of the civil rights movement.

Throughout his career in Top 40 radio, Beck was known for his imitations of "black guy" characters and racist tropes. According to Beck's former colleagues in the late 90s, this included mocking unarmed blacks shot and killed by white police officers. Such was the case of Malik Jones, the victim of a controversial killing that took place in 1997.

"After the shooting, Beck sometimes did a racist shtick," remembers Paul Bass, a former radio host and Beck colleague at a Clear Channel station cluster in New Haven. "Glenn did routines about Jones' grandmother being on crack. Generally he made fun of his family and the loss of life--as joke routines."

Beck's racially tinged tirades did not disappear after he switched formats in 1999. During his first talk radio stint in Tampa, he often referred to the Rev. Jesse Jackson as "the stinking king of the race lords." Most recently, Beck has worked to resuscitate the names of famously anti-civil rights figures from the history of his adopted Mormon faith. He has respectfully played tapes of Ezra Taft Benson, who thought Martin Luther King was a communist agent out to destroy the Mormon Church (and who once wrote the foreward to a book of race hate whose cover illustration featured the severed, bloody head of an African American).

Beck has also implored his viewers to read the "divinely inspired" books of W. Cleon Skousen, another John Birch Society fantasist who believed that the civil rights movement was part of a worldwide Communist (and, later, "New World Order") conspiracy.

The above gives some sense, but barely scratches the surface of, Beck's long and disgraceful record on race. The Fox News host has also played a key role in the conservative attempts to whip up white opposition to Barack Obama by painting the president's health and environmental agendas as Trojan horses for "stealth reparations" for black Americans.

For much of the summer of 2009, Beck ranted about the alleged "black nationalism" of Van Jones, a White House environmental official who resigned last September after what Jones described as conservatives' "vicious smear campaign" against him. Beck also helped lead the racially charged cavalry charges against ACORN and Eric Holder's Justice Department (for its handling of the New Black Panther Party "scandal".)

So, no, Glenn Beck is not the inheritor of Dr. King's mantle. Had the two men been contemporaries, it is a very safe bet that Beck would have excoriated King for being a "progressive cockroach" and an enemy of the Constitution seeking to destroy America by spreading the "virus" of social justice. We know he would have done this because it's the same playbook he uses every day on radio and television. That's just who Glenn Beck is and always has been. It's a fact that all the deranged posturing in the world can't hide, regardless of the date printed on his coveted event permit.