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Glenn Beck rally will be a measure of the tea party's strength

Beck's decision to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech leads to criticism by social activists and civil rights leaders.

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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010; 9:40 PM

Full coverage of the 8/28 rallies here.

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When Fox News and talk radio host Glenn Beck comes to Washington this weekend to headline a rally intended to "restore honor" to America, he will test the strength - and potentially expose the weaknesses - of a conservative grass-roots movement that remains an unpredictable force in the country's politics.

Beck, who is both admired and assailed for his faith-based patriotism and his brash criticism of President Obama, plans in part to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero. He will speak on the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech, from the spot where King delivered it.

Some "tea party" activists say the event, at which former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is also scheduled to speak, will have a greater impact than last September's "9/12" march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the attendance figures for that anti-tax rally are disputed, it was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and influence of the tea party movement.

But with just a few days before the Beck rally, basic questions linger, including how big it will be and whether the event, which Beck says is nonpolitical, will help or hurt Republicans in November. Also unanswered is whether Beck can pull off the connection to King without creating offense - or confrontation with another event the same day led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

(Photos: Glenn Beck, civil rights leaders spar over MLK anniversary)

Beck said in a recent broadcast that he did not intentionally choose the "I Have a Dream" anniversary for his rally - but that he believes the coincidence is "divine providence."

"Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln," he said. "Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Those are American icons, American ideas, and we should just talk about character, and that's really what this event is about. It's about honoring character."

The rally, which is also being billed as a tribute to U.S. troops, will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Video screens and sound towers will be positioned along the reflecting pool and as far east as the Washington Monument.

It will be a weekend of political activity, with tea party organizer FreedomWorks hosting a convention in Washington on Friday, Beck's and Sharpton's events Saturday, and a major effort by Democrats to knock on 200,000 doors nationwide Saturday and Sunday.

Beck is expecting as many as 100,000 people and is heavily promoting his event on his TV and radio shows. Sharpton expects a smaller number for an annual commemoration of the "Dream" speech. That event, which focuses on education, will begin at 11 a.m. with speeches at Dunbar High School in Northwest. It will continue with a march to the site of the planned King memorial, at the same end of the Mall as the Lincoln Memorial, placing participants of both events in close proximity.

(Photos: The tea party's tax day protest)


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