US & Canada

Who answered Glenn Beck's call to rally in Washington?

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Media captionSome individuals at Mr Beck's rally said honour and morality had diminished in the US because of the separation of government and religion

Thousands gathered in Washington DC for a rally organised by the conservative television presenter Glenn Beck. But who were they and why did they come?

In advance of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial, there was much controversy over the choice of date.

Beck denied he had timed the event to coincide with the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, made on the very same spot.

But the coincidence was too much for those still angry at Beck's characterisation of the first black US president, Barack Obama, as a "racist" and someone with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture".

Standing at the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looking towards the Washington Monument's obelisk, one saw a huge crowd gathered on either side of the Reflecting Pool.

Beck had called for people not to bring political signs or placards as the event was non-political, and apart from the yellow flags bearing a snake and the legend "Don't Tread on Me" - a staple of the Tea Party movement - the plea was largely respected.

But looking onto the T-shirts and caps of those present you saw a very different story.

Image caption Glenn Beck spoke for nearly an hour, interrupted only by bagpipes

Here was a profusion of the rich and varied colours of conservative America. There was everything from slogans about "big government" to a man with a shirt bearing the legend "Eat the Caribou - Drill for Oil".

Activist Jeremy Batterson, manning a stall festooned with posters of President Obama sporting a Hitler-style toothbrush moustache, explained why he was so steadfastly against the nation's leader.

"He is a British agent, a puppet of the British monarchy."

But Mr Batterson was not typical of the views in the crowd.

Joan Schwartz, of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, summed up why many were there.

"I'm here to support our men and women serving and we just want less government. We respect our government, we love our country but we want less government intervention."

There was much evidence of veterans and support for soldiers in the crowd. All profits from the event are going to fund the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which helps the children of elite soldiers with the costs of an education.

Image caption There were colourful characters at the event

At one point Beck asked the crowd to donate by text message and people were reaching for their phones before he got to the end of the sentence.

Sarah Palin too earned loud cheers when she told the crowd: "I've been asked to speak as the mother of a soldier" [her son has served in Iraq].

Despite being viewed by many as the leading figure in the Tea Party movement, Ms Palin avoided any overt political statements.

The crowd responded rapturously both to her description of "that special love of country that we call patriotism" and also to the exhortation: "Look around you. You are not alone."

"We must restore America" got the biggest cheer of the day.

While there was no partisan politics on stage, there was plenty of it out in the crowd. And much of that was anti-Obama.

"We don't like the way things are going," said Ron Kilmer, of Springfield, Missouri. "It is being shoved in our face since Obama took office."

He alluded to the "birthers", those who believe Obama was not born in the US and therefore not eligible to be president, and also questioned the president's religion. President Obama is a Christian.

"Where was he born and what religion is he? I believe he is a Muslim," said Mr Kilmer.

Charles Rush came with friends from Tennessee for the rally and thought there was no problem that the event coinciding with the anniversary of King's famous speech.

He said he respected Martin Luther King, adding: "Who is to say Glenn Beck is not as good as Martin Luther King, or better?"

The audience at the rally was predominantly white, but there was the occasional African-American in the crowd, some Tea Party-aligned, others without symbols of affiliation.

Student AJ Williamson came down from Howard University with friends and is interested in Beck's television programme. "I like how he challenges you to go and research for yourself."

Despite the coincidence of the event's timing Beck and Ms Palin were happy to embrace it and made frequent references to the work of King.

Indeed, when the civil rights leader's niece, Alveda King, took to the stage, there was perhaps the most rousing reception of the day.

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Media captionSarah Palin: "You have the same spine and moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King"

At the climax of the event Beck spoke for nearly an hour, interrupted only by a bagpiped interlude of Amazing Grace.

Any Beck-haters attending, looking for true controversy, would have left disappointed.

Since Beck was not criticising anyone or anything specifically, it would be rather hard for anyone to disagree with much of what he was saying.

"Our children need people to look up to," he said. There were cheers.

"America is only what we choose her to be," he intoned. There were more cheers.

"We must be good so that America can be great," he proposed. Cheers again.

His message was also replete with references to God, and the crowd often murmured its approval.

Beck dealt with the critics who label him a wild conspiracy theorist. He used the example of the lookout on a ship who could surely not be labelled a "fearmonger".

"He was warning the people on the ship," he said to laughter.

To the thousands who turned up to see his rally, Glenn Beck is that lookout.

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