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No, Glenn Beck Is Not a Civil Rights Icon | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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No, Glenn Beck Is Not a Civil Rights Icon

My gripe with Glenn Beck has always been with his absurd attempt to claim a connection to Tom Paine.

The furiously self-promotional Fox personality wrote a book last year that he suggested was a contemporary update of Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense."

In fact, Glenn Beck's Common Sense was short on Paine and long on Beck. And it failed to note the founder's canon of criticism of organized religion, concentrated wealth and know-nothing opponents of government.

But, as silly as Beck's attempt to claim Paine might have been, his attempt to associate himself with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a radical critic of not just racism but of an economic system left tens of millions in poverty, would be comic if it was not so sad.

Beck and his followers say they are out to "reclaim the civil rights movement."

Reclaim it from who? Presumably the people who were involved in the civil rights movement.

As Martin Luther King III notes:  "My father championed free speech. He would be the first to say that those participating in Beck's rally have the right to express their views. But his dream rejected hateful rhetoric and all forms of bigotry or discrimination, whether directed at race, faith, nationality, sexual orientation or political beliefs. He envisioned a world where all people would recognize one another as sisters and brothers in the human family. Throughout his life he advocated compassion for the poor, nonviolence, respect for the dignity of all people and peace for humanity.

"Although he was a profoundly religious man, my father did not claim to have an exclusionary 'plan' that laid out God's word for only one group or ideology. He marched side by side with members of every religious faith. Like Abraham Lincoln, my father did not claim that God was on his side; he prayed humbly that he was on God's side.

"He did, however, wholeheartedly embrace the "social gospel." His spiritual and intellectual mentors included the great theologians of the social gospel Walter Rauschenbush and Howard Thurman. He said that any religion that is not concerned about the poor and disadvantaged, 'the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them[,] is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.' In his 'Dream' speech, my father paraphrased the prophet Amos, saying, 'We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.'"

That reference to the "social gospel" is a direct rebuke to Beck's attacks on churches, synagogues and mosques that preach a social justice message.

It is another reminder of the fact that the folks at Robert Greenwald's Brave New Foundation are right when they say: "Glenn Beck is NOT Martin Luther King Jr."

The foundation's new campaign to clarify this point asks Americans to sign a petition that declares: "On August 28th, I will stand with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a just, diverse and equal society. I do not stand with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their attempt to destroy and distort King’s vision."

By mid-day Friday, 30,000 Americans had signed.

One of the signers, Johanna M., offers some historical perspective when she argues that: "When those like Beck & Palin say 'let's take back our country,' that just means they want to go back to pre-1963."

My only quibble, as a unsettled reader of Beck's rethink of "Common Sense," might be with the date.

I am afraid that he wants to go back to pre-1763.

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