Who is Glenn Beck? Well, it depends. His hardcore viewers think of him as a teacher, if you can believe it. Critics such as MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann regard him as a demagogue and a con man. I have referred to him as a cable news jester — with his daily, on-air snake oil-salesman act, complete with fake tears. Whatever people think of Glenn Beck, there is no question that he is currently the most popular personality on the Fox News Channel. And while critics have denounced him and his theatrical rants and conspiracy theories as dangerous for America, now they have proof.
As they say, it’s funny until somebody gets hurt. Well, Glenn Beck is not funny, and his incendiary words are dangerous and have incited violence — including an assassination plot.
Drummond Pike, the founder and CEO of the Tides Foundation, a social justice non-profit organization, recently wrote a letter to advertisers of Beck’s program, including the board chairs of JP Morgan Chase, GEICO, Zurich Financial, Chrysler, Direct Holdings Americas, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Lilly Corporate Center, BP, and The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. The mission of Pike’s organization is to “promote economic justice, robust democratic processes, and the opportunity to live in a healthy and sustainable environment where human rights are preserved and protected.”
Pike had a very good reason to write the letter. A criminal was encouraged by Beck’s show to plot an assassination against Tides staff. On July 18, Byron Williams, a 45-year old ex-con, traded gunfire with ten California Highway Patrol officers after the police stopped him for erratic driving, as reported by Media Matters. Williams—who had three firearms, a .308-caliber rifle and an arsenal of ammunition, was saved by the body armor he was wearing. Sixty rounds were fired, and two officers were injured. In a statement after his surrender, Williams said that “his intention was to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.”
Williams was inspired by Beck’s chalkboard conspiracy theories on liberal groups. He said “Beck would never say anything about a conspiracy, would never advocate violence. He’ll never do anything…of this nature. But he’ll give you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need.” According to Williams’ mother, he “watched the news on television and was upset by ‘the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.’”
“Beck is a self-described ‘Progressive Hunter’ who relies on violent rhetoric. Do you really think that the millions of Americans who describe themselves as ‘progressive’ need to be ‘hunted down’? If so, to what end?” Pike asked Beck’s advertisers in his letter. He added that “there will be blood on many hands” if the next assassin succeeds. “I respectfully request that you bring this matter of your company’s sponsorship of hate speech leading to violence to the attention of your fellow directors as soon as possible. I believe no responsible company should advertise on Fox News due to its recent and on-going deplorable conduct.”
Beck, who denies responsibility for the assassination plot, “stand[s] by each one” of his attacks. And the cable personality set up the Tides Foundation on his Fox program, referring to the low-profile group 29 times for the 18 months leading up to the incident. Beck includes Tides in his conspiracy theories, claiming billionaire George Soros started the organization as a means of anti-capitalist indoctrination. Beck has vilified social justice churches and charities, claiming that social justice is synonymous with Communism and Nazism. He rails against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — once joking about poisoning her drink — and health care reform.
Beck enjoys targeting African-Americans on the left. He is known for his inflammatory attacks on prominent African-American activists, personalities and political figures. He labeled black liberation theology as Marxist, socialist and racist, and relentlessly hammered at former green jobs czar Van Jones as part of an Obama agenda that is “radical, revolutionary and in some cases Marxist.” Beck called the president a racist, and claims the first black president is planning a communist takeover of the nation with concentration camps. Beck also accused Michele Obama of summoning demons and mixing “voodoo magic” with her Christianity. The Fox host even went after the Obama daughters, and mocked Malia Obama. Clearly, the man has no shame in his game.
And while he seems to have nothing but hatred for black America and the civil rights movement, Beck tried to steal the legacy of Martin Luther King at his “restoring honor” rally. He even had Alveda King — the estranged and crazy ultra-right wing niece of Dr. King — on hand at the event. Surely, the nonviolent Dr. King was spinning in his grave that day, as his niece attended a protest filled with racist Obama haters and angry Tea Baggers, the NRA, militia members and would-be assassins. And the event was hosted by a man who himself foments violence, and is associated with white supremacists and white nationalists.
“I was pleased to see the MLK nonviolence pledge on Glenn Beck’s website, and to hear that he learned about the pledge during his preparation for his speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28,” said Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners. “But I cringe when I hear him boast about being a “progressive hunter,” and when I hear Beck regularly demonize the people he disagrees with.” Wallis noted that Byron Williams “sees Glenn Beck as his ‘teacher,’ and that he was agitated by the virulent things his teacher had to say about the people at Tides.” Wallis urged Beck to “make the connection that King did between the violence of the tongue and that of the fist, and to take responsibility for how he speaks about those with whom he disagrees.”
Beck is a delusional and opportunistic little man who, like other bullies, taunts and demonizes people to mask his own foibles, his own inadequacies. Either that, or he’s just doing it for the money and the ratings. Nevertheless, Beck is a prominent face on the network of hate, part of a Southern Strategy if you will, an overall campaign of violent racial rhetoric throughout the Fox News lineup. Ultimately, Fox must decide if Beck’s incitement to violence is good for their bottom line. Based on the successful anti-Beck boycott effort, in which 296 advertisers have asked Fox not to air their commercials on his show, maybe they already have the answer.