For a guy who loves chalkboards and slogans, Glenn Beck has issued a peculiar edict to potential attendees of his “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial being held this Saturday. He has repeatedly told people coming to DC not to bring political signs. What? No signs? The hallmark of the last year’s worth of tea party rallies that he helped fuel? But it’s true. In an info packet on his website about the rally, Beck instructs, “Please refrain from bringing signs (political or otherwise) as they may deter from the peaceful message we are bringing to Washington.”
The message is reiterated in a flyer written for the media, which stresses again that Beck doesn’t think his rally is a political event: “Not only is the event non-political, we have continuously encouraged those attending to avoid bringing political signs, political flyers, ‘I heart the RNC’ t-shirts and other similar partisan paraphernalia. There are plenty of opportunities to talk about politics. This isn’t one of them.”
The idea that Beck’s rally is nonpolitical is sort of laughable, given that he will be sharing the stage with one of the nation’s most political celebrities, Sarah Palin. So the sign ban does beg the question: What’s Beck worried about? Perhaps the answer is an obvious one. Given that a single nut case with a racist sign will color the media coverage of the entire event, it’s in Beck’s best interest to try to keep them out. (The nut cases seem pretty drawn to him, too. Recall that Beck follower Byron Williams was arrested last month armed to the gills on his way to kill off the staff of the progressive Tides Foundation, after Beck had bashed the foundation on his show.) Maybe Beck is genuinely concerned about focusing on the troops, who, lest we forget, are the very people the rally is supposed to be honoring.
A more cynical read might suggest that Beck doesn’t want anything at the rally to take the spotlight off the star attraction, Beck himself. (Some tea party activists have questioned whether the event is really about anything but Beck, dubbing it “Beckapolooza”). Indeed, Beck has posted a melodramatic video promo for the event (complete with Goldline plug) that basically compares himself to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the Wright Brothers, while likening the rally to the moon landing. But Beck may also have some employment concerns as well. Despite the fact that Palin herself works for Fox News, the conservative news network has been somewhat hesitant about Beck using his show to become an outright political leader. Fox has actually declined to broadcast the event. Headlining a political rally full of angry people waving inflammatory signs might be bad for his long-term TV presence—and scare off even more of his sponsors.
Regardless of the underlying motivations, it’s hard to imagine that many of the grassroots activists headed to the rally will adhere to the no-sign rule. But just in case, Tea Party Patriots, a large national umbrella group for grassroots conservatives, will be on hand to coordinate volunteer marshals for security at the event. Presumably one of their main jobs will be crushing errant signage. As another backstop, TPP is also providing an alternate venue for all those patriots gathered for the Beck event dying to wave some signs around the nation’s Capitol. The day after the Beck rally, TPP is sponsoring a tea party at the Upper Senate Park at 10 a.m., and encouraging activists to bring signs.