August 28 marks the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best remembered as the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Few Americans have recognized the date with the enthusiasm of Glenn Beck. In 2010, the conservative radio and TV host called for a sequel to the March on Washington, and the masses followed, filling the same space between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial that the 1963 crowd had.
Five years later, Beck's cultural influence has shrunken considerably. He left Fox News for a mini-empire at GlennBeck.com and The Blaze -- a more lucrative enterprise, but one that reduced his Q-rating like a prime time show relegated to Crackle.com. This past Aug. 28, when Beck gathered conservatives for an "All Lives Matter" rally in Birmingham, Ala., the media that had once covered his every cough was largely absent.
What did they miss? The latest stage of an ongoing, scattershot campaign to turn "All Lives Matter" from a sort of taunt into a pro-life, pro-Christian clarion call. Leading Republican candidates, from former Florida governor Jeb Bush to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have criticized the Black Lives Matter movement as exclusionary. Its very slogan, in this reading, hints at a lack of consideration for the lives of white people or police officers.
"When I hear people scream ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I’m thinking, of course they do," former Arkansas governor Huckabee said this year. "All lives matter. It is not that any life matters more than another. That’s the whole message Dr. King tried to present."
Last month, Huckabee spoke at a pro-life conference in Illinois on the "All Lives Matter" theme, and Ben Carson was scheduled to join him. (Carson's appearance was stymied by a delayed flight.) Beck's Birmingham event featured a prayer from Rafael Cruz, the pastor father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and according to reporter Greg Garrison, its faithful included the California pastor Wiley Drake, who thanked God for the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller.
But the lengthy "Restoring Unity" rally (the 2010 Beck event was "Restoring Honor") was not really focused on abortion. Its general theme was that a new "Gideon's Army" was needed to save a fallen world; its most frequent prayers were for people in countries threatened by radical Islam and the rise of the Islamic State. Beck drew a straight line from the persecutions of the Holocaust to the anti-Christian and anti-gay murders of the Islamic State.
"The Germans were good at categorizing people," Beck said at one point, holding up a purple triangle of the kind that the Nazis used to identify Jehovah's Witnesses. "They made categories for everyone. But this one was extremely dangerous. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wore a purple triangle."
The Beck speech, filmed by several attendees, was broken up by musical numbers and remarks from Chuck Norris and John Voight. Like his 2010 address in Washington, it combined profundity with free association, story-telling with ambitious aphorisms, like "You move from righteous anger to peaceful action." The "movement to end discrimination" was described in the past tense, and Birmingham's Guiding Light Church lent its choir to perform a new song called, naturally, "All Lives Matter."
Beck's 2010 rally drew a reported 87,000 people to the Mall in Washington. The Birmingham rally drew a reported 20,000 -- and almost no national media coverage. Yet the location allowed Beck to call it the biggest rally in the city since 1963. And as he pointed out on Twitter, one presidential candidate has embraced his "Never Again is Now" theme.