Beck and Call

Glenn Beck’s rally on the Washington mall was scarier than you’d like to think
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  August 31, 2010


Washington, DC — Glenn Beck maintains that he didn't purposely schedule this "Restoring Honor" rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

I say bullshit. He wants nothing more than to lead his people to the promised land.

I know, for today I am among his legionnaires.

The troops are decked in their combat best, sporting Old Glory in her every form along with such prized accessories as autographed NASCAR hats. Some of their motto tees are cute and familiar ("THE CONSTITUTION: I READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES"), while others are ironic choices for guys wearing sensible cross-trainers ("I'M THE COLONIAL REVOLUTIONARY THAT YOUR HIPPIE FRIENDS WARNED YOU ABOUT"). Many younger attendees have on shirts advertising their unaccredited colleges, while senior citizens wear visors and a look of permanent disgust.

I find myself blending in: back in Boston, the camo shorts and yellow T-shirt were just an outfit, but here, from a distance the latter looks like a "Don't Tread On Me" flag. I decide to go with it, telling folks that the scroll tattoo on my right forearm represents the Constitution. In a momentary redneck transformation, I go so far as to join in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, lifting my voice for the "under God" part.

I have no choice. It's a matter of survival. Or at least the difference between my taking notes in peace, and having to argue with the idiots who are beleaguering other journalists who roam beyond the press box. I feel especially bad for one telltale liberal blogger, who might as well have worn an Obama-Biden hoodie to complement his Merrell boots and Nalgene jar.

Beck's titanic power base might seem like old news, but not if you consider the rally coverage. Blinded by stubborn denial, left, middle, and mainstream outlets are still unwilling to concede that the Fox News charlatan has soldiers at his beck and call. In its Honor Rally wrap-up, reports in the second paragraph that "tens of thousands of people showed up" — even though the article notes further down that counts ranged from 78,000, to quack Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann's not-so-conservative estimate of more than one million.

I'm not often afraid of dummies. Even "tens of thousands" of them. But the energy here is more alarming than any health-care town-hall hysteria I've witnessed, and there's a much larger draw than at the NRA rally I covered here four months ago. I spent last night with other smug progressives, all of us mocking Beck's tendency to exaggerate turnout tallies. But as I watch hordes of wretched retirees and their ugly children descend toward the Lincoln Memorial, I'm absolutely dumbfounded.

My awakening to growing trends of mob-style "independence" actually began in Greater Boston, where I've spent much of the past year studying Beck and the local spawn of his slogan-happy clan. Following my first Tea Party rallies in the commonwealth this past April, I mostly ogled from a distance, viewing Fox voraciously, and, more recently, interviewing Alexander Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. I ended up riding the Amtrak down to DC with Zaitchik, who convinced me that it's impossible to comprehend the Fox zeitgeist from my soap box in Massachusetts.

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