Controversial Beck rally is an event heavier on religion than politics

Fox News conservative commentator Glenn Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) urged thousands gathered at a Saturday rally at the Lincoln Memorial to turn toward God and conservative values with the nation at a "crossroads."

Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, repeatedly emphasized religion and the faith of the country's Revolutionary founders. He said the event was not meant to be political, but to honor the country's military service members and veterans.

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"America today begins to turn back toward God," Beck told a crowd estimated at more than 100,000 that stretched from the steps of the memorial on the banks of the reflecting pool to the World War II memorial. Attendees waved flags including the "Don't tread on me" banner, a Revolutionary War icon and adopted symbol of the conservative Tea Party movement.

"Today is a day to start the hearts of Americans again, and it has nothing to do with politics," Beck said.

Beck said he asked Palin, the 2008 vice presidential GOP nominee and a potential 2012 presidential candidate, to speak as the mother of a U.S. soldier. Palin's son Track is a soldier in U.S. Army and has served in Iraq.

"I've been asked to speak today not as a politician; no, something more, much more. I've been asked to speak as the mother of a soldier, and I'm proud of that distinction. You know, say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet, and you can't take that away from me," Palin said.

Palin called the setting "the symbolic crossroads of our nation's history" and invoked Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King during a patriotic speech peppered with biblical language.

She struck also struck a defiant note, arguing that men and women in uniform are a force for good in the U.S. and shouldn't be the subject of apologies from the American government.

"We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want,  — we must restore America and restore her honor," Palin said to loud applause. Beck and conservative critics of the administration have argued that President Obama is "fundamentally transforming" the country in the wrong direction.

Beck came under heavy criticism for holding the rally on the anniversary of King's speech. The Rev. Al Sharpton led a dueling rally Saturday, marching to the planned site of the King memorial between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

"Today, the Tea Party and allied conservatives are trying to break that national stance on justice and, in turn, break the crux of what the civil rights movement symbolized and what Dr. King fought and literally died for," read the rally release on Sharpton's National Action Network website.

At Sharpton's rally, NAACP President Ben Jealous said that the day of Obama's inauguration felt like "our country was a place of big hearts and big minds. And for a year and a half we have been subjected to small hearts and small minds on our small screens."

Jealous took digs at the Beck rally, where attendees had been implored on the event website to not bring "signs political or otherwise."

"No. 1 on their list is don't bring your sign," Jealous said. "No. 2 on their list is don't bring your gun. What is our country coming to?"

On CNN Saturday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson accused Beck of mocking the King legacy.

"I really think that he's mimicking Dr. King, in some sense humiliating the tradition," Jackson said. "And one can hardly imagine Glenn Beck marching from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King or going to jail in Birmingham with Dr. King."

Sharpton's rally included Martin Luther King III; Beck's rally featured King's niece, Alveda King, as a speaker.

"If Uncle Martin could be here today he would surely commend us for giving honor where honor is due," Alveda King said to loud cheers. Her speech carried the same "I have a dream" refrain, as she called for a greater role for religion in public life.

Beck said the rally was not "only a bunch of Tea Partiers" but included an unidentified Democratic speaker who took a great personal risk to appear.


"That person stood on this stage because of honor. There's a lot we can disagree on, but our values and our principles can unite us. We must discover them again," Beck said.

While the rally focused largely on religion, many of those attending the rally were visible supporters of the Tea Party, donning T-shirts, hats and buttons from allied conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity.

Tom Stirling of Savannah, Ga., rode up to Washington with the "13th Colony Patriots" in three busloads from his home state.

"I've been watching this outrageous spending from George W. Bush on down," Stirling told The Hill. "It's like the escalator is on high speed. We can't sustain this."

"I'm not Republican," he said. "I'm not Democrat. I just want smaller government."

Palin spent a large portion of her speech honoring three combat veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, recounting their stories of bravery and holding them up as examples of the strength and compassion of the American people.

"Today we honor fallen around the world. We honor those that served something greater than self, who made the ultimate sacrifice," Palin said. "Also, those that did come home forever changed by the battlefied. Though this rally is about restoring honor for these men and women, honor was never lost."

Palin closed by asking the crowd to summon similar courage while facing the ongoing economic recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She asked the crowd to turn the rally into a point of inflection.

"I know that many of us today — we are worried about what we face, sometimes our challenges they just seem insurmountable," Palin said. "But here together at the crossroads of our history, may this day be the change point. Look around you, you're not alone. You are Americans."

"You have the same steel spine and moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you, it will sustain you as it sustained them."

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