They came for many reasons — to see Sarah Palin, to pray, to hope, to socialize — but come they did. Hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, lawn chairs and Gadsden flags in hand, to participate in “Restoring Honor,” a nonpartisan rally hosted by Glenn Beck, a Fox News host.
In a surprise appearance at the FreedomWorks conference in Washington on Friday, Beck had explained why he decided to spearhead what was, in many respects, an ecumenical revival. “My role, as I see it, is to wake America up to the backsliding of principles and values and most of all of God,” he told the assembled conservative activists. “We are a country of God. As I look at the problems in our country, quite honestly, I think the hot breath of destruction is breathing on our necks and to fix it politically is a figure that I don’t see anywhere.”
The following morning, as Beck’s event opened, soft piano notes swelled from gargantuan loudspeakers as images of America — purple mountains’ majesty, oceans white with foam — slowly streamed across the high-definition video screens positioned around the Memorial grounds. Then, to a great roar, Beck took the stage. “Something that is beyond man is happening,” he said, his voice echoing all the way to the Washington Monument. “America today begins to turn back to God.”
Beck’s opening theme, calling the assembled to embrace God and remember the traditional, foundational values of the country, was carried on by the ensuing speakers. Calls for unity and inspiration were ubiquitous, interspersed with history lessons, personal testimonials, sermons, and a bit of country music — John Rich and others performed. “For too long, this country has wandered in darkness,” Beck said, gazing out toward the reflecting pool. “This country has spent far too long worrying about scars and thinking about scars and concentrating on scars. Today, we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished, and the things that we can do tomorrow.”
Beck’s healing message also included numerous citations of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the site 47 years ago to the day. Dr. Alveda King, a niece of the civil-rights activist, was a featured speaker. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, also addressed King’s legacy. “You have the same steel spine and moral courage as Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King,” she told the crowd. “It will sustain you, as it sustained them.”
According to Beck, the event raised over $5.5 million for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that supports veterans. Patriotic tributes to the men and women of the American military were frequent. Palin, who son Track currently serves abroad, said that she had “been asked to speak as the mother of a soldier and I am proud of that distinction.” She then told her critics: “Say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet and you can’t take that away from me.”
Ultimately, however, it was Beck’s call for a religious rebirth that dominated. He urged the throngs to “recognize your place to the Creator” and to “realize that He is our king.”
“He is the one who guides and directs our life and protects us,” Beck said, his voice rising. “I ask, not only if you would pray on your knees, but pray on your knees with your door open for your children to see.”