Washington rally more evangelical than political


The Tea Party crowds have illustrated how anger is empowering the right, while apathy paralyses the left

GLENN BECK attributed the scheduling of his “Restoring Honour” rally on the same date and in the same place as Dr Martin Luther King jnr’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech to “divine providence”.

Beck (46) had planned to stage a political event, but “God dropped a giant sandbag on my head” and he realised that “my role . . . is to wake America up to the backsliding of principles and values and most of all God”.

The Fox News talk show host and his fellow speaker, the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, pledged not to talk about politics. Instead, they harangued hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument with religion and history.

The three-hour rally was more like an Evangelical church service than a warm-up for November’s mid-term elections.

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Beck proclaimed at the outset of Saturday’s rally. “America today begins to turn back to God.”

Later, in the confessional style of evangelical meetings, Beck recalled his days as an alcoholic.

“I come to you and tell you as a man whose life was a lie, who was on the floor in a foetal position: the truth shall set you free . . . God is the answer.” Beck rejected the label fearmonger. “I don’t think the man who saw the iceberg as the Titanicwas about to hit it and said, ‘It’s an iceberg’, was a fearmonger. He was warning the people on the ship.”

Palin (46) refrained from the cutting remarks that are her trademark, but delivered the usual pep talk. “Look around you. You’re not alone. You’re Americans!” she said. “You have the same steel spine and the moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them.”

The participation of a handful of African-Americans, including a niece of Dr King, was intended to show that the loose, populist movement know as the Tea Party is not racist. Yet in the past, Beck has called Obama’s America “Planet of the Apes” and has derided the president’s name.

“He chose to use the name Barack for a reason, to identify not with America – you don’t take the name Barack to identify, with what? Your heritage? The heritage, maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical?”

Palin recently defended Laura Schlessinger, a right-wing radio host, who taunted a black caller with a racial epithet. “Don’t retreat – reload,” Palin told Schlessinger.

Although Beck’s and Palin’s speeches were not overtly political, and placards were banned at the rally, politics permeated the event.

The crowd expressed their ideology on T-shirts: Proud to be an American; I love my country it’s the government I’m afraid of; Reagan for President; We are the People. Do you hear us now?; RECESSION: When your neighbour loses his job. DEPRESSION: When you lose your job. RECOVERY: When Obama loses his job.

Pamphlets were more explicit.

“The Democrat Party is as it always has been, the party of the four Ss: slavery, secession, segregation and now socialism,” said one. “Underdogma, How America’s enemies use our love for the underdog to trash American power,” was another.

Lyndon LaRouche’s action committee collected signatures on a petition to impeach Obama for his “stated intention to shut down and destroy the Nasa [space] programme . . . the Hitler-like healthcare policy and the general, destructive features of all other leading Obama policies.”

A retired couple from Illinois passed out fake trillion dollar bank notes. On the back of the bills was a warning to sinners: “If you have done those things, God sees you as a thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty, you will end up in Hell.”

Would you like one?” Winona Huber asked. “It’s about looking to God to restore things. The government’s going to let us down. It’s not about looking to the government for handouts.”

Hatred of “freeloaders” was widespread. “People don’t mean anything to the government any more unless they’re on the dole,” James Meehan (62), a tooling engineer from Pittsburgh, told me. “We think people should stand on their own two feet.”

Michael LeCornic (56) sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while Beck bellowed from the stage below. The heavy-set Texan in a cowboy hat said he thirsted for political leadership based on the scriptures – “not this Ivy League-educated elite”; that the recession was a plot by the Obama administration so the government could take over the economy; that America had become a socialist country. LeCornic seemed to have absorbed his assessment of Obama from right-wing radio shows.

“If he is a Christian, it’s a cult, because it’s nothing a Christian can relate to,” he said.

“Personally, I believe he’s more of a Muslim. He spent time in Indonesia. He sought out the Marxists and other radicals. He is of that orientation and that’s what he brought to the White House.”

For all the outrage over Beck’s attempt to steal the legacy of Martin Luther King, this weekend’s rally illustrated how anger is empowering the right, while apathy paralyses the left.

A few hundred people, mostly African-Americans led by the civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, held an annual commemoration of King’s famous speech. As they walked to the site of the future King memorial, the rival rallies mingled, with King’s true heirs a tiny drop in the sea of Tea Partiers. “It’s our dream,” they protested pathetically.