Glenn Beck, the popular conservative talk show host, turned preacher Saturday, telling a large crowd gathered on the National Mall that in order to restore America’s honor, it must “turn back to God.”
Standing on nearly the same marble steps from which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago, Mr. Beck, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and others called on the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to honor the country’s military members and to return the country to the traditional religious values and principles of “faith, hope and charity” that made it great.
“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck declared. “America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness.”
Despite his attempt to bill the event as “nonpolitical,” Mr. Beck’s remarks were based on the belief that the country had lost its moral compass and lost its respect for the individual — problems he often blames on President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress.
“Are we so pessimistic that we no longer believe in the individual and the power of the individual? Do we no longer believe in dreams?” he asked.
Mr. Beck warned that “our children could be slaves to debt.”
An old man carried a picture of Mr. Obama with an Adolf Hitler-like mustache; “Don’t Tread on Me” signs were scattered about; and a number of people sported T-shirts and hats affiliating themselves with the “tea party,” the loose-knit grass-roots organization that is driven by conservatives and other anti-government activists.
Still, Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin steered clear of directly attacking Democrats. “This day is a day that we can start the heart of America again, and it has nothing to do with politics, it has everything to do with God,” Mr. Beck said.
Mrs. Palin said she was there not as a politician, but as the mother of a military man. “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want. We must restore America and restore her honor,” she said, touching on the rally’s name, “Restoring Honor.”
Meanwhile, across town, the Rev. Al Sharpton, the fiery leader who also is no stranger to controversy, led a smaller rally and march that celebrated the anniversary of King’s “Dream” speech.
Mr. Sharpton reportedly criticized Mr. Beck for twisting King’s message, saying that King’s mission when he came to Washington in 1963 was to ask the government to protect the civil and economic rights of people, not to ask the government to leave people alone.
“Glenn Beck is trying to reverse what King did, and there are those of us who are not going to allow that to happen,” Mr. Sharpton said yesterday. “They’re saying, ‘We’re talking about the honor of America.’ They’re saying, ‘We’re talking about restoring dignity.’ There is nothing more dignified than our country coming together and making sure that everyone has equal opportunity.
“That’s not communism. That’s really what this country is supposed to stand for and what Dr. King gave his life for,” he said.
Signs in the massive crowd hinted at the event’s political nature.
At Mr. Beck’s event, he handed out three “badge of merit” awards to people he described as modern-day heroes, including a black pastor who called Mr. Beck “a servant of God” and St. Louis Cardinals all-star first basemen Albert Pujols, who thanked God for giving him the professional platform from which he can do charity work.
Throughout the day, the crowd responded with chants of “USA! USA!,” which were interspersed with cries of “I love you, Glenn!” and “You’re a hero, Glenn!”
Afterward, audience members said they traveled hundreds, in some cases more than a thousand, miles to listen to Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin, who abruptly resigned the Alaska governorship last year only to become an unofficial spokesperson for the tea party movement.
Christine Potter of Port Charlotte, Fla., said, “I’m all for everything Glenn Beck stands for — I’m for God.”
“I believe that we as a Christian nation have dismissed Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior,” the unemployed 40-year-old said. “If we don’t get back to God in this country, then we are in big trouble.”
Her husband, Mike, agreed.
“Charity isn’t the government taking our wealth and distributing it to others,” he said. “Charity is us giving our tithe at church and us helping people who are in need.
“It has been perverted into the idea that the government is the all-powerful, but God is,” he said.