Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin exhorted tens of thousands of fans and activists gathered in Washington to embrace religion and the nation’s traditional values as part of their decision-making and daily lives.
“Something beyond imagination is happening,” Beck said, looking out onto a sea of people before him on the National Mall. “America today begins to turn back to God.”
Palin, 46, told the crowd yesterday to look at the monuments around them for inspiration and urged them to “restore America” by displaying the kind of courage shown by presidents and leaders before them.
“You have the same steel spine and moral courage as Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King,” she said. “It is in you. It will sustain you, as it sustained them.”
Beck and Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and now a contributor to News Corp.’s Fox News, are both stars of the Tea Party movement, a loose-knit coalition of voters seeking limits on government spending, taxes and debt.
The “Restoring Honor” rally where they appeared was billed as a celebration of the military, patriotism and American heritage. Beck said the event has raised $5.5 million so far for Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which assists veterans and their families.
Palin said she was appearing as the mother of a soldier, not a politician. “Say what you want about me, but I raised a combat vet and you can’t take that away from me,” the former Alaska governor said, referring to her son, who served a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
Beck, 46, insisted the assembly -- with a stage at the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech exactly 47 years earlier -- was not political.
A video clip of King’s speech was played before an appearance on the stage by Alveda King, the slain civil rights leader’s niece. Beck has said it is a coincidence that his event was held on the anniversary of King’s speech.
The gathering began assembling before dawn yesterday as people carrying lawn chairs and water arrived. Attendees, many wearing patriotic outfits or T-shirts from local Tea Party groups, were discouraged from bringing signs and no current officeholders were allowed to speak.
Before the event began, organizers estimated it would draw somewhere between “tens of thousands” and 300,000. While there is no official source for such estimates on the National Mall, Beck told the audience that the accounting from his vantage point showed more than 500,000 people.
“This is about we the people,” said Coral Haven, a 62-year-old from Crescent City, Florida.
Rick Majors, an electrician from Delaware, said he waited an hour to get on a train to travel to the rally because the crowds were so large.
“I think we’re going to see a big change in November,” he said. “The government is involved with too much, trying to control too much.”
The rally took place at about the same time as another in Washington organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders to commemorate King’s speech.
At the Sharpton rally, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s non-voting member of the House, mocked Beck.
“You can’t blame Glenn Beck for his March-on-Washington envy,” she said. “Too bad he doesn’t have a message to match the place.”
Sharpton referred to the Beck event in his remarks before a march to the National Mall. “They ought to read Dr. King’s speech,” he said. “Then they ought to talk to some of us who walked up the rough side of the mountain.”
Last year Beck said on Fox that President Barack Obama is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” Beck later told CBS’s Katie Couric that he was sorry about the way he phrased his comments.
“This country has spent far too long worried about scars and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars,” Beck said yesterday. “We must get the poison of hatred out of us.”
Beck said he realizes many consider him a “fear-monger,” a charge he disputed by comparing himself with a sailor who reported the iceberg that led to the sinking of the Titanic. “He was warning the people on the ship,” he said.
While the rally was designed as apolitical, there was plenty of political activity before and after.
Activists gathered at a warm-up event Aug. 27 organized by FreedomWorks, an advocacy group affiliated with the Tea Party, to listen to candidates and pick up campaign signs supporting Tea Party-backed candidates.
“What happens this year will make what happened in 1994 look like a Sunday picnic,” Mike Lee, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Utah, told the gathering in a reference to Republicans gaining control of the House in that year’s election.
Americans for Prosperity, a group with Tea Party ties, held its political action convention in Washington over the weekend and bused people to Beck’s rally.
The head of the House Democratic campaign committee, Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, challenged Beck’s claim that the event is nonpartisan, calling it “a blatant political effort.”
“You’ve seen Glenn Beck and a lot of the talk show hosts on Fox News out there talking about this election,” he told reporters Aug. 27 at a Washington press conference.