Glenn Beck to hold controversial 'Restoring Honor' rally at Lincoln Memorial

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Critics condemn event for being held on anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Glenn Beck in February 2010
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Conservative American political commentator and Fox News radio and television host Glenn Beck plans a "Restoring Honor" rally for August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Critics condemn choosing the 47th anniversary and same location of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to hold the rally. Events related to King's speech will still be held in Washington, DC.

Beck and the rally's organizers say the "Restoring Honor" event is meant to recognize those "who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor." Criticized for holding the event on the anniversary of King's speech, Beck claims it was a scheduling coincidence and that he is trying to bring back the spirit of the civil rights movement. Civil rights activist and minister Al Sharpton said, "When you start saying you're going to reclaim the civil rights movement that's not even coded, that's a blatant attempt to hijack a movement that changed America."

Reverend Sharpton said in a press conference on Friday that Beck's rally goes against the intent of Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated unity in national government. He questioned whether Beck understood the message of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, saying Beck's supporters "have the right to rally, ... what they don't have the right to do is distort what Dr. King's dream was about." Sharpton described Saturday's event as "anti-government," saying, "You can't have a march telling government to leave us alone and say you're reclaiming a march where they came to appeal to government to protect us. They're having an anti-government march on a day that King came to appeal to government. You can't have it both ways."

Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, giving his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial

Members of the U.S. Tea Party movement say Beck's event will be bigger than last year's Taxpayer March on Washington, held on September 12, 2009. The "9/12" march was the first major national Tea Party demonstration, but exact attendance numbers are unknown. Jamie Radtke, who founded the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots, said that Saturday's event may be twice as big as last year's, based on the number of buses that have been chartered. Organizers of the event hope to see up to 100,000 people, while Sharpton says he expects a lower turnout for his annual event to honor King's speech.

Although Beck says the "Restoring Honor" rally is not about politics, it raises questions how it may affect Republicans during November's mid-term elections. The event, which will be held from 10 a.m. EDT (1400 UTC) to 1:00 p.m. EDT (1600 UTC), is to feature speakers such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place where King gave his famed speech 47 years ago to the day. Beck, who called the date and location a result of "divine providence," said, "Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Those are American icons, American ideas, and we should just talk about character, and that's really what this event is about. It's about honoring character."

Video and sound equipment will be set up along the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool and will stretch all the way to the Washington Monument for the rally. Beck, who has been promoting the event via radio and television, says that "Restoring Honor" is not meant to give a boost to candidates in this November's elections. No signs will be allowed at the rally, and no elected official presently in office will speak. In addition, a spokesperson for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele claimed that he had no prior knowledge of Beck's rally when asked about it.

Sharpton is participating in a separate rally at an area high school to celebrate the anniversary of King's speech. He said his event will "stay way away from" Beck's event, and that "people will judge for themselves whether ["Restoring Honor"] has anything to do with civil rights." It starts at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC) at Dunbar High School and includes a march to the site of a planned King memorial, which is located on the other side of the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial. Sharpton has been promoting the event on his radio show, and a spokesperson said that the event had been planned in April, not as a counter-rally to "Restoring Honor."

In the past, Beck has accused US President Barack Obama of reverse racism, and Republicans may be afraid to speak up, due to the possibility of party-damaging clashes over race during the event. Democrats, however, are still labeling the event as Republican-endorsed. "Republicans for well over the past year have firmly embraced the tea party and some of these right-wing fringe groups that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have rallied around, and these are becoming serious campaign liabilities in the general election," a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in interview with The Washington Post. "The fact that they're trying to plead ignorance is just completely absurd."

Conservatives, on the other hand, are saying that "Restoring Honor" is a symbol of their unity. Although it is still unclear what effect the rally will have on November elections, some voters could be drawn to support Republicans as a result, despite the controversy over the event's date.

Alveda King, a niece of King's, will appear at Beck's rally. She said, "The theme of the 8/28 rally is not political. We're putting honor over politics. I will not be talking about any political position or any political party. I'll simply be calling all Americans to pray, to have faith, to honor God and all humanity. I am very interested in agreeing that this is not a political event and so those expecting to be offended will not receive that kind of approach from me."

The weekend will be a beehive of activity for activists. In addition to Beck's and Sharpton's rallies, conservative group FreedomWorks held a convention in Washington, DC on Friday, and Democrats plan to knock on over 200,000 doors throughout the US on Saturday and Sunday.

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