Fox News' reliably provocative Glenn Beck is mounting what many consider his boldest move yet: This Saturday's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C., which is expected to draw up to 300,000 conservatives. Not only has Beck courted controversy by scheduling this ostensibly "non-political" rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech, he's booked the same location: The Lincoln Memorial. Here's a concise guide to the goings-on:
Why is Beck holding a rally?
According to Beck's website, Restoring Honor is a "non-political event" conceived to pay tribute to our nation's "heroes, our heritage and our future." Attendees will be invited to "pledge to restore honor" to America at the steps of the memorial. Critics have labeled the event "Beckapalooza" and accused the Fox host — whose company earned $32 million last year — of trying to pass off a mere self-promotional stunt as a headier endeavor. (See a breakdown of Beck's 2009 earnings.)
Who is speaking?
Sarah Palin is a keynote speaker, as is Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, who says her uncle would attend the rally if he were alive today. Other orators include Beck himself and executives from the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that provides funds for the surviving children of Special Ops personnel killed in battle. Also featured: Choir performances and "literature distribution." (Read reviews of Beck's new novel, The Overton Window.)
Wait, Sarah Palin is speaking? I thought this was non-political.
Palin's attendance, and the involvement of Tea Party groups, has prompted suspicions that the event is a conservative anti-tax rally in disguise. Beck insists, however, that the former vice presidential candidate will not be addressing political issues: "Sarah's Palin's role is introducing the heroes of the military, as a mother, not as a candidate." Attendees have been asked not to bring political signs or slogans.
How many people will be there?
Authorities in the capital say they're prepared for up to 300,000 people. Fellow Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has scoffed at such estimates, promising Beck he'll give up his own show if more than 100,000 people attend. (Some Tea Party groups have distributed a conservative-friendly guide to Washington D.C, warning people to avoid the Green and Yellow subway lines, which cover what the guide's authors suggest are sketchy parts of the city. Alas, says Mike Madden at the Washington City Paper, activists who follow this tip would miss the chance to visit the National Archives, where their "beloved Constitution now resides.")
Are people angry about Beck's choice of date and place?
Civil rights groups have expressed outrage. Marc Moria, president of the National Urban League, told CBS News it was "insulting" to King's legacy. Rev. Al Sharpton has also organized a Saturday march through Washington, D.C., to commemorate King's speech, an event supported by the NAACP, the National Urban League, and Martin Luther King III. Sharpton says he began planning his event in April, and that it is "not a countermarch to Beck."
How does Beck explain the choice of date?
He's shrugged it off as a coincidence, telling Bill O'Reilly that civil-rights critics have nothing to complain about: "Do white people own the legacy of Abraham Lincoln? I don't think they do, and I don't think black people own the legacy of Martin Luther King." Beck has said "divine providence" led him to select the date.
What do pundits make of it?
If this is "divine providence," says Alexander Zaitchik at AlterNet, then clearly God has a "very dark sense of humor." Beck is "the media's boldest manipulator of white racial anxieties, fears and prejudice." Were King alive today, Beck would likely excoriate him for being a "progressive cockroach." But the Fox News firebrand is right that black people don't own MLK's legacy, says Cynthia Tucker at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Dr. King "belongs to America" — and the Bill of Rights he so passionately believed in guarantees Beck the right to his rally, no matter how "odious" civil rights groups think it is.
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