Glenn Beck's Disturbing Plans to Co-opt MLK's 'I Have a Dream' Speech
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The following is an adapted excerpt from the author's new book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.
Glenn Beck deserves every shell of heavy fire he's getting for his "Restoring Honor" rally scheduled for August 28 on the National Mall. His critics are right about the absurd audacity of his loud claims on the legacy of Martin Luther King, who delivered his "I Have a Dream speech" 47 years to the day before Beck's own planned (and long coveted) spotlight on the Mall.
But as perverse as Beck's fantasies about being an heir to MLK may be, the most notable aspect of Beck's planned August rally is its lack of originality. To grasp the extent to which the August rally is straight out of Beck's playbook, all you need to do is review Beck's biggest success of 2003. That was the year Beck organized another event he described as being "all about the troops." Then, as now, he asked his listeners to send in donations to pay for what was little more than a massive Glenn Beck, Inc. promotional extravaganza.
Before revisiting the 2003 "Rallies for America," it's worth emphasizing just how grotesque is Beck's attempt to co-opt a landmark anniversary of the civil rights movement. Beck has been anything but shy about his intentions. On May 26, he told his radio audience, "We will reclaim the civil rights moment. We are on the right side of history."
This from a man who once called Jesse Jackson "the stinking king of the race lords."
Had Beck been a public figure at the time of King's famous speech, there is little doubt on "which side of history" he would have stood: the same side as every other far-rightwing Mormon. Had they been contemporaries, Beck would have condemned King as a "progressive cockroach" surrounded by communists, or as an outright communist himself. We know this not only because he has imported such tactics into the present. We know this because his Mormon heroes were viciously anti-civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.
Beck has repeatedly, respectfully, and recently played audio of men like Ezra Taft Benson, a Mormon apostle who thought the civil rights movement was a dastardly communist plot. Benson also wrote the foreward to a book of race hate whose cover illustration featured the severed, bloody head of an African American. Beck's favorite author and biggest influence, meanwhile, is W. Cleon Skousen. The author of four of the ten books on Beck's 9.12 Project required-reading list, Skousen embodied the Birchite view captured in the title of a September 1965 cover story in the John Birch Society Bulletin, "Fully Expose the 'Civil Rights' Fraud, and You Will Break the Back of the Communist Conspiracy!"
The Benson/Skousen axis of the 1960s, to which Beck would have been an energetic party, was a multi-generational affair. In 1965, Salt Lake City was plunged into hysteria when Reed Benson (son of Ezra) and Mark Skousen (nephew of Cleon) spread rumors that the NAACP was sending two thousand Black Muslims to attack the Tabernacle. When general panic ensued, the Utah National Guard was placed on alert and began practicing riot maneuvers in anticipation of the invasion. After calm was restored, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP both condemned the Bircher-fomented race-war fearmongering in Utah. (Both groups have also condemned Beck.) The next month, the Bulletin published articles describing blacks as "savages" and civil rights leaders as "animals."
Although Beck is now advertising his rally with references to the legacy of Skousen's "animals," and with paeans to "the troops," the real focus of the event is the same as all his other events: Glenn Beck. If anyone doubts Beck's record of shamelessly orchestrating mega-events funded by appeals to patriotism to further his own fame, it's useful to revisit his 2003 "Rallies for America."