The true story of Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial today is one of cognitive dissonance. In the weeks leading up to the event, Beck, perhaps fearing left-wing backlash, chose to speak only vaguely about his intentions, saying that he hoped Restoring Honor would "restore the values that founded this great nation." With the meaning of that left open to interpretation, the estimated 300,000-person crowd seemed also to have 300,000 reasons for being there.
"I don't even really like Glenn Beck," said a West Virginia man selling miniature Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flags. "I'm just here to see D.C. and try and get some money to support my community back home." Another woman told me she'd come from Ohio not to hear Beck or Sarah Palin make political speeches but simply to pray. Others said they'd come to fight the spread of big government, while still others said the event was completely apolitical, as Beck himself said.
Though Restoring Honor took place on the same date and location of Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I Have a Dream" address, a fact acknowledged by both Beck and Palin in their speeches, a Maryland man exiting the event said that he didn't believe the day was at all related to King's memory. "We're here to praise God," he said. "That's all."
As it turned out, Beck's and his guests' messages were similarly scattershot, covering everything from religion to America's founders to honoring the country's troops. "You have the same steel spine and moral courage as Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King," said Palin, who stressed that she was there as the mother of a soldier, not a Republican politician. "It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them. So with pride in the red, white and blue, with gratitude to our men and women in uniform, let's stand together, let's stand with honor, let's restore America."
During his speech, Beck choked back tears while pleading with attendees to reject hatred and adopt religion as a national virtue. "Something beyond imagination is happening," he said. "America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness."
To the surprise of many, Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece Alveda King, an anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion activist, also spoke at Restoring Honor. "I am attending this rally to help reclaim America," she told ABC News this morning before taking the stage. "I'm joining Glenn to talk about faith, hope, charity, honor. Those are things that America needs to reclaim. Our children need to remember to love each other; how to honor each other, their parents, God and their neighbors."
In the past, Alveda has criticized King's widow, Coretta Scott King, for supporting gay rights. In a 1994 letter, Alveda wrote that Coretta would suffer "curses on your house and your people … cursing, vexation, rebuke in all that you put your hand to, sickness will come to you and your house, your bloodline will be cut off."
Throughout it all, tourists, some of whom were ignorant about Restoring Honor, continued to make their way to the Lincoln Memorial for photo ops and quiet reflection. "What is this?" asked an African-American man with four of his family members. Told that it was a Glenn Beck rally, he shook his head. "We are in the wrong place," he said.
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.