Beck’s D.C. rally draws 500,000 to honor heroes
WASHINGTON — Glenn Beck fans, drawn by the conservative TV and radio talk show host’s promise of an American revival, streamed to the National Mall on Saturday from the four points of the compass.
Beck’s organizers had told the National Park Service that they expected as many as 300,000 people at the rally. Attendance might have exceeded that mark, with a crowd estimate of as many as 500,000 from rally organizers.
The Park Service no longer provides crowd estimates.
Beck fans — many toting water bottles, small picnic chests, sunscreen, blankets, camp chairs and flags — jammed shoulder-to-shoulder on the nation’s front yard, from the Lincoln Memorial to the base of the Washington Monument.
People thronged the steps, sides and walls of the Lincoln Memorial for hours in advance, then filed up the steps and walls of the World War II memorial and the grounds of the National Mall.
A blue sky and fleecy clouds made for a picture-perfect late summer day to hear Beck, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other speakers.
Taking a stage backed by the Lincoln Memorial and framed by a giant “Restoring Honor” arch, Beck greeted the crowd as a series of giant screens flashed images of America to composer Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
A critic of the Obama administration, Beck is considered by many to be a galvanizing force of the conservative backlash that has blossomed since the nation’s 2008 financial meltdown. And while there were many Tea Party buttons and T-shirts at yesterday’s rally, Beck sidestepped political commentary, opting instead to ask supporters to honor American heroes, commit to an American renewal of integrity and responsibility, and turn to God.
Gospel music and finally, a bagpipe band playing “Amazing Grace” as the crowd softly sang along, added to the atmosphere of a religious revival.
“Look past the monuments,” Beck implored the crowd. “Where are the heroes of today?”
Beck and Palin pointed to the military, fighting the nation’s longest war.
Palin, whom some see as a potential Republican contender in the 2012 presidential race, honored a trio of veterans for their sacrifices in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, calling each man to the stage and recounting their acts of valor.
“Their stories are America’s stories,” Palin said as the crowd chanted, “USA! USA!”
That spirit resonated with military families.
Linda Bennett, 59, of Elizabeth Township wept repeatedly during the event. Her son, Chad, 30, an Army captain, flies Black Hawk helicopters and is on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“It was so unbelievably moving and touching. When you have somebody over there, well, it’s just a pride, an honor,” she said.
Rally proceeds, which Beck said totaled $5.5 million after attendees phone-texted contributions, were earmarked for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The group provides support and scholarships for the children of elite soldiers who die in action.
Patricia Durham was happy to hear speakers taking pride in the military and voicing conservative values.
“If we don’t speak up now, we can cry later,” said Durham. The 67-year-old widow, who lost her husband decades earlier in Vietnam, now cheers on a son who has spent 23 years in the Army.
“We can tolerate just about anything in this country except those who speak out in a conservative fashion,” Durham said. The Florida woman walked to the National Mall with her sister, Brenda Shelton of Atlanta, at 4:30 a.m. to be sure to get a seat close to the action.
Others came from as far away as California, Texas, Louisiana and Maine, as well as points closer to Washington, including at least 1,800 who boarded buses in the Pittsburgh area.
Chad Pawlikowski, 31, of Mansfield, Ohio, traveled to the rally with family and friends in a convoy of pickup trucks.
“Glenn Beck hits it on the head. The government just doesn’t listen to you,” he said.
Dan Eller, 20, took the train from St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York with about two dozen fellow students to hear Beck.
Beck has said his decision to schedule the rally on the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was coincidental.
Civil rights leaders, who held a rally several miles away, criticized the talk show host.
Relatively few black faces could be seen in Beck’s National Mall crowd.
Nevertheless, he repeatedly praised King and later introduced the slain civil rights activist’s niece, Alveda King.
King, who Beck said attended despite threats, echoed her uncle, repeatedly referring to his dream.
“I have a dream that America will repent of the sin of racism and return to the Lord. I have a dream that America will repent and God will forgive us our sins,” she declared.
Beck also honored a black pastor, the Rev. C.L. Jackson of Houston; St. Louis Cardinals baseball great Albert Pujols; and Salt Lake City philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman Sr. with medals symbolizing lives dedicated to Faith, Hope and Charity.
Finally, the conservative icon issued a challenge to supporters.
“It is time to start to heal this nation and put it where it belongs — with God,” he said, as he invited a group of 240 clergy members from various faiths to join him on stage.
One hundred Tribune-Review readers who entered a contest sponsored by Trib Total Media attended the event, courtesy of the newspaper’s parent company.
“This rally was intended to honor the troops, unite the American people under the principles of integrity and truth, and to make a pledge to restore honor within ourselves and our country. We as an organization wanted to give our readers an opportunity to participate,” said Lindsay Berdell, director of promotions and community relations for Trib Total Media.
Trib readers submitted more than 2,500 entries by mail and online, and the company randomly selected 50 readers to attend the rally with a guest.