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Glenn Beck to Hold Tea Party Rally on Anniversary of MLK Speech: How Conservatives Are Trying to Hijack Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream

Glenn Beck is exploiting MLK's 'I have a Dream' speech. This isn't the first time conservatives have abused King's memory to push an ideology opposed to everything he stood for.

Only a few weeks after whitewashing the entire slave trade by falsely claiming our Founding Fathers were both black and white, Glenn Beck is on another mission: the Fox news host is planning a massive “take our country back” Tea Party rally at the Lincoln Memorial -- on the anniversary of the day Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Beck's publicity event pulls the rug out from under civil rights champions who planned a rally honoring King’s memory on that day, but they are organizing to fight back. “We're going to get together because we are not going to let Glenn Beck own the symbolism of Aug. 28, 2010,” said National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial. “We need to collaborate and bring together all people of good will, not just black people, on Aug. 28 to send a message that Glenn Beck's vision of America is not our vision of America.”

Glenn Beck has a long history of Kingsploitation. He has in the past compared himself to King, pilfered King’s words to deflect criticism and spun King’s legacy to promote himself, his show and his tribalistic us (patriotic, hard-working, conservative white Americans) against them (lazy, socialist, government-dependent minorities) rhetoric. But now, he is actually hijacking King’s legacy for purposes that run counter to everything King stood for. This -- even more than calling President Obama a racist, more than his ludicrous crying spells -- seems to be the most vindictive and spiteful move yet.

In the last years of King’s life, he was vilified by conservative politicians as a communist. He was wiretapped by that nut-job, J. Edgard Hoover. He was followed and his inner circle infiltrated by the FBI. He was Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of conservatives and segregationists. He may now be commodified for church hymnals and one-dimensional historical interpretations, but let’s not forget he was not considered an American hero until after his death.

During his life, King was, in the eyes of conservative Americans, the enemy. His life was ultimately ripped away from him because he stood up to hate and bigotry, the very thing that still ties the conservative base of the Republican party together. (I am not claiming all Republicans are bigots. But I am unabashedly saying that bigorty and fear are cornerstones within its conservative base and that rank-and-file Republicans routinely use that bigotry to perpetuate divisions and distrust among the races.)

Beck's absurd appropriation of King's legacy seems shocking, even for a shameless shock jock chasing attention and ratings. But the right wing's trickery when it comes to race, King and African-American history is old hat.

Other conservatives hijacking King’s legacy

Back in 2008, Libertarian darling Ron Paul was the subject of criticism due to scathing racist remarks that appeared in a Ron Paul newsletter. In response, he decided to hold a fund-raising event called freeatlast2008 on Martin Luther King Day.

In 2006, the ultraconservative think-tank Heritage Foundation also took to spinning King’s legacy. In an essay titled "Martin Luther King’s Conservative Legacy," it directed conservatives to lay claim to King.

“King was no stalwart conservative, yet his core beliefs, such as the power and necessity of faith-based association and self-government based on absolute truth and moral law, are profoundly conservative,” wrote Carolyn Garris. “Modern liberalism rejects these ideas, while conservatives place them at the center of their philosophy. Despite decades of its appropriation by liberals, King's message was fundamentally conservative.”

Garris even appropriated King's own words toward advancing “conservative principles.”

Today, it is conservatives who seek to unite. In a nation divided by cultural diversity, conservatives defend and celebrate the characteristics that we share as Americans. As America drifts from the ideas and ideals of the Founders, conservatives stand with King as believers that the principles of the American Founding are as relevant today as in 1776.