The myth of Beck’s ‘apolitical’ event

I have no idea what Ross Douthat is doing. Now that he appears to have gotten all the baddies out constructing weird arguments against gay marriage, he’s moved on to defending Glenn Beck and his totally “apolitical” geriatric love-in.

This, among other reasons, is why I have appointed Ross my new David Brooks for his awe-inspiringly hapless work. David Brooks has been promoted to my new Maureen Dowd, and Maureen is my new drunk aunt. Congratulations, everyone!

In today’s mistake, Ross states the following:

The Fox News host had promised that the rally, billed as a celebration of American values, would be an explicitly apolitical event. And so it came to pass: save for an occasional “Don’t Tread On Me,” banner, the crowded Mall was nearly free of political signs and T-shirt slogans, and there was barely a whisper of the crusade against liberalism that consumes most of Beck’s on-air hours.

Here, Ross neglects to mention that signs and banners were banned from Beck’s gathering. You see, teabaggers have had a little problem with certain members carrying incredibly racist and provocative signs in the past, so instead of letting their racism shine through — unfiltered for all the world to see — Beck and his handlers preemptively censored his base. Furthermore, what appeared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a watered-down, “safe” version of Beck’s philosophy.

Though I frequently disagree with Ross’s articles, he’s nowhere near as batty as his compatriots within the regressive Republican Party. He does recognize that the Restoring Honor rally was “strange” and offered enough material to “justify almost any interpretation of the event.”

It really did appear as though Beck understands he’s led a frenzied, frothing-at-the-mouth mob to a precipice, and short of calling for full-out Civil War, there’s really not much he can do with his follower’s constructed anti-Obama, anti-Muslim, anti-liberal sentiments. Basically, he said a lot of nice stuff about God and country, and then something about how we’re all George Washington before he scrambled back to his world of elite media aristocracy.

But just because Beck didn’t bring his campaign of hysterical fear-mongering to its logical conclusion doesn’t make the event apolitical. Ross claims Beck successfully tapped into “identity politics” but “somehow” did it “without advancing any explicitly political agenda.” If you understand that statement, you could probably work as a columnist for the New York Times.

Of course the event was political. Sarah Palin, the sweetheart of the political Tea Party movement, was a speaker. Congressmen such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) helped with fundraising, and the astroturf experts at FreedomWorks (originally set up by David Koch, and chaired by former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, and also the group behind efforts to derail healthcare reform,) along with Tea Party Patriots, offered volunteers as well as logistical advice.

Ross’s mistake appears to be that he examined only the explicit message offered by Beck in that single day. Restoring Honor was really the neutered version of Beck’s typical tirade, something an infrequent viewer of his horrible show wouldn’t necessarily pick up on.

On MLK’s “I Have a Dream” anniversary, there was no talk of cancer AKA Progressivism, ACORN, Black Panthers, black people in general (save MLK), Socialism, etc. This was very much the safe version of the Beckian message. To truly understand the spirit of his real “behind closed doors” movement, one needs to look at the language he has used in the past, and to his followers who are definitely political animals.

Attendees wore anti-Obama buttons. ABC’s website features an article titled, “Glenn Beck’s Non Political Rally Turns Political” for the simple reason that the rally’s participants sure as hell think theirs is a political cause.

Nancy and Tom Mistele came from Wisconsin to attend Beck’s rally and events surrounding it. The two say they came because they haven’t earned a paycheck since 2006 and are afraid that Americans are losing their freedom and their country.

“I believe slowly, our rights are being taken away little by little,” Tom Mistele said. “A lot of it’s already been lost, but it’s not lost permanently. We can get it back.”

Cody Smith, an 18-year-old high school student from Indiana, believes passionately that the U.S. government should be stopped from moving toward socialism.

“We’re here because we think our nation needs to get back to the principles of liberty that our founders gave us,” he said. The rally is “going to be just historic. It’s going to be us standing up and showing people that we’re not the racist bigots that the media portrays us to be but that we love freedom, we love people and we want to show people that freedom is really the best way to go.”

I really feel badly for these people. They’ve devoted a lot of time watching their messiah rail against the racist, Socialist President Obama all these months. Then, they turned up with their visors and lawn chairs for an afternoon of liberal-bashing, and all they got was a lukewarm amalgam — not quite a sermon, not quite a history lesson, and definitely not a call to arms. The conman Beck got paid, they wasted a beautiful day, and no one gained anything from the mess.

Ross gushes at the end that Beck offered “the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat” for a single weekend. Except, the culture war isn’t always so cute and fluffy, and I wouldn’t necessarily describe Beck calling Progressives cancer, and accusing the president of being racist toward white people as a “thrill.” Ross emphasized he was only talking about this weekend, but limiting the scope of understanding in that way seriously undermines the power of Beck’s propaganda. It’s possible that for elites like Ross, Beck’s theatrical mania is entertaining, and does give him a thrill. However, the performance is also irresponsible and incredibly dangerous.

The good people over at Media Matters provide an example: For months, Beck waged his culture war against the Tides Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides fiscal sponsorship for progressive groups. Then, on July 18, Byron Williams, an ex-felon with a history of violent criminal behavior, was pulled over by California Highway Police. Williams opened fire at the officers as one approached his truck (he was reportedly heavily armed with a handgun, shotgun, rifle and body armor,) and he later told investigators that his intentions were “to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.” The ACLU is a typical right-wing target, but the inclusion of the Tides Foundation baffled many observers. Why would this man choose to target such an innocuous group that possessed no influence over his life?

According to his mother, Williams “watched the news on television and was upset by ‘the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.’” MM stresses that no one knows for sure if Williams was watching Glenn Beck, but we do know that Beck railed against the Tides Foundation many, many times.

On July 14, Beck said:

You believe that America is the last best hope for the free world. Boy, was I a moron for believing that. Nope, there are a lot of people that believe that we are the oppressor. This man states it. He states in this book “The purpose is to create mass organizations to seize power.” Wow! That almost sounds like the Tides Foundation.

On July 13, Beck said:

Well, they have the education system. They have the media. They have the capitalist system. What do you think the Tides Foundation was? They infiltrate and they saw under Ronald Reagan that capitalists were not for all of this nonsense, so they infiltrated. Now, they are using failing capitalism to destroy it.

And the list goes on…

Ah, the thrill of the culture war. And no costs of combat! Well, unless you’re a California highway police officer. But that’s like 2,413 miles away from New York, and shoot-outs are so totally cool when they’re that far away.


  1. It’s interesting to me that so many conservatives praise Beck for his knowledge of history (Dick Army most recently), but give him a pass on both the fact that he didn’t know about this date being the MLK anniversary, and also that the original speech/movement was about imploring the government to get more involved in the lives of poor/underprivileged people.

  2. Todd Bredbeck

    Also missing is a discussion of what the hell “Restoring Honor” even means. That clearly implies that the current state of the country, with liberals in charge (supposedly), is somehow without honor. That’s clearly political.

    I don’t think Brooks should really get promoted though. I think Ross just created a new entry-level position lower than Brooks.

  3. sinn4

    What’s sad is that:

    “they haven’t earned a paycheck since 2006 ”

    this IS a legitmate concern/problem.


    “I believe slowly, our rights are being taken away little by little,” Tom Mistele said.”

    this IS half-true, if not fully true.

    But they’ve been duped into seeing these problems through a Beckian prism, so they wind up with vague, warped conclusions.

    I think Chomsky said something to the effect of ‘I don’t know why the left goes around acting just amused and smug about this. What’s their plan to win them over or organize at least some of these sections of the population?’

  4. Allison Kilkenny

    Unemployment is, of course, a legitimate concern. I included the quotes to prove their concerns are political, not to dismiss the validity of them. However, conmen like Glenn Beck take those legitimate concerns, and the anger of his viewers, and direct their wrath at scapegoats like immigrants, gays, blacks, liberals, etc. He doesn’t, say, point out that corporations have been downsizing and outsourcing jobs to exploit cheap slave labor abroad.

  5. David Brown

    “The conman Beck got paid, they wasted a beautiful day, and no one gained anything from the mess.”

    The event raised over $6 million dollars for military families who lost a loved one in war. Ask those families if “no one gained” and I am sure they wouldnt have referred to the event as a “mess” either.

  6. Allison Kilkenny

    The money raised also goes toward paying for the event

    Beck’s efforts have certainly raised an unprecedented amount for SOWF. But the financing arrangement behind the event colors it less as a charitable endeavor and more as a “symbiotic relationship.” As Pickeret notes, while SOWF “gets the largest influx of donations in its history,” Beck “gets to headline a donor-funded $1 million rally in Washington, DC.”

  7. David Brown

    So what? Without the event they would have received nothing. Beck could give someone a million dollars and some liberal somewhere would bitch that he put that person in a higher tax bracket.

  8. Allison Kilkenny

    He used the event as a PR event for himself, his show, his network, and in order to give the whole ridiculous ordeal a guise of legitimacy, they attached a charity to the event (but not before using the raised money to pay their own bill).

  9. David Brown

    His TV show is #1. His radio show is #1. His network is #1. Really think they need the PR? Just asking…

  10. David Brown

    Oh come on. You’re smarter than that. You cherry picked that article. ALL of cable TV was down. Olbermann was down by virtually the exact same number. Beck’s numbers are so impressive that his show at the off peak TV watching time of 5pm dwarf that of Olbermann’s who sits in a very desirable 8pm slot.

  11. Allison Kilkenny

    …How did I cherry pick it? His numbers are down. Yes, he still gets huge numbers, but they’re down. You asked me if he needs to advertise, and yes, he does. His numbers are down by 30 percent, and his stalwart advertiser, Goldline, is under investigation for fraud. You didn’t also ask me if Olbermann needs to advertise (btw: if you had, I would have answered “yes,” as well). Don’t be naive. Beck isn’t performing and sobbing for charity. He’s doing it to stir up his base and boost his ratings.

  12. David Brown

    Trust me, the base couldnt be any more “stirred up.” We cant wait for November. Some of us are going to camp out the night before! LOL! The Goldline story is a non-starter. Goldline has always received the highest rating from the BBB. My guess is that its political and I am certain Goldline will be cleared.

  13. Allison Kilkenny

    My guess is that its political and I am certain Goldline will be cleared.

    This is almost charming in its total lack of substantiveness.

  14. David Brown

    No more or less so than:

    “Goldline, is under investigation for fraud.”

  15. Allison Kilkenny

    David, I’m beginning to think you’re not really thinking things out before you type:

    Glenn Beck’s Sponsor, Goldline, Under Investigation

    “There are two main types of complaints we’re seeing,” Adam Radinsky of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office (which is working with the Los Angeles DA) told ABC News. “One is that customers say that they were lied to and misled in entering into their purchases of gold coins, and the other group is saying that they received something different from what they had ordered.”

  16. David Brown

    Yes, I agree, there are ALLEGATIONS. Allegations are not guilty verdicts. As allegations against Rush Limbaugh, Tom Delay and the ridiculous story about Bush firing the U.S. attorneys all proved out. Being “under investigation” means nothing. (BTW, I do LOVE arguing with you, in case you hadnt noticed)

  17. Allison Kilkenny

    It gets tiresome when the argument makes no sense. Here’s you quoting me:

    “Goldline, is under investigation for fraud.”

    Under investigation. I didn’t say there was a guilty verdict.

    I’d caution you not to defend these types of elite crooks. Here is a conman who makes a living snookering poor people into buying overpriced coins. Yeah, he’s a real man of the people. Practically a new Martin Luther King, Jr. I now totally understand why he scheduled his little meet-up on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

  18. Tim

    I’m so glad you used the word snookered Allison. Keep up the good work. I love listening to Citizen Radio.

  19. Chip

    Davey, which allegations are you talking about? The Rush Limbaugh being too racist for an NFL team (, Tom Delay being bribed to allow sex shops, sweatshops and forced abortions to continue on US soil ( regardless of whether or not the government had the political wherewithal to continue the investigation to convictions, or the US Attorney firings wherein a the republican Justice Department Investigator General found that the process was “arbitrary”, “fundamentally flawed” and destroyed the “integrity of the department”? (

    Being under investigation is usually as far as the government can go in political cases where power or money is at stake.

  20. Greg

    The event seemed to me to also indicate an attempt to mold the tea party into a less rabidly aggressive, obviously racist mass of angry whiteys and into a more “respectable” political force. In essence, after the beginning phase of highly irrational and emotional devotion by early adopters, those in positions of power in and around the tea party are trying to begin a mainstreaming process that would expand the reach of the party as well as add to the prospects of its longevity. Beck was speaking about how the audience needed to focus their wills and dispense with displays of overt hatred, while trying to expand his message to those with a religious bent outside of the Mormon faith (although he did do a lot of “testifying” throughout the event). While the core principles and values of this political/social/cultural movement will likely not change very drastically, I’d be willing to bet that over the next year or so the Tea Party will undergo a rebranding of sorts along the lines mentioned above. Thoughts?

  21. Allison Kilkenny

    I completely agree. This was Beck at his best, most well-behaved, wearing his Big Boy pants, and everything. The next day, he was back to being irrational, weepy, and shrill on his network television show. There, he still calls Obama a Socialist, and accuses Progressives of being the Great Cancer.

    While I think the Tea Party will be forced to adopt a more moderate, national approach in order to be taken seriously as a political movement (i.e. Sharron Angle’s miraculous transformation,) I think the base will remain radicalized and extremely bitter. They’re jobless, broke, and buried in debt, and they blame liberals and Mexicans for all their woes, so they’ll want their leaders to spout equally radical rhetoric in order to match their own fury. Republicans will have to learn to balance teabaggers’ extremist message with a more acceptable national platform in an extremely clever way that doesn’t give away the game, or their party will dissolve into total civil war when the Tea Party realizes their elected officials flip-flopped in a profound way.

  22. Greg

    Agreed. I can’t wait to see how the try to do it :)

  23. Chris

    The rally definitely looks like the tea party being mobilized as some sort of pseudo-political movement. I think it’s great that it served a charity in some way, but there’s no way that it couldn’t. It would be terrible PR otherwise. He basically had to make it a charitable event.
    I definitely think Beck is a danger though. I actually got caught in the traffic jam caused by the gunman. Traffic was completely blocked for at least 12 hours on a main thoroughfare in California. When I found out why there was a shot up CHP car on the freeway, I could see that it was the high cost of a radicalized media and a climate of ignorance. We’re just lucky the lunatic decided to have his shoot-out at 2AM.
    Love the podcast btw.

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