As Mitch McLaughlin stood on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, the Old Town resident was moved not only by the words of the speakers during Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally but also by the mass of humanity around him.
“There were people as far as the eye could see,” McLaughlin said by phone several hours after the rally ended. “It was truly amazing.”
Like the exact size of the crowd surrounding the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, it was difficult to even estimate how many Mainers traveled to Washington for the event. But it’s clear that hundreds of Mainers did make the more than 500-mile trek.
McLaughlin, a member of the local tea party group Maine Refounders, personally helped organize two buses that ferried nearly 100 people to the nation’s capital. Another four buses also made the trip from Maine, while others drove or flew south.
“For every person that went down, there were at least 20 who couldn’t go” but wanted to, said Jeff Cucci of Albion, who also helped coordinate busloads from Maine.
Organized by Beck, a conservative and often politically polarizing broadcaster on Fox News, the rally was billed as a nonpolitical event “that pays tribute to America’s service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.”
The rally’s timing and location — on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech, and in the same spot — was criticized by some civil rights leaders. But Beck and other speakers referred frequently to King and his message.
While the rally drew heavily from supporters of the tea party movement, it also had overwhelmingly spiritual and Christian overtones as Beck and other speakers called on Americans to return to God.
Former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also addressed the crowd, widely reported to have numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
Renee Trust of Franklin said she had never been in the midst of such a large crowd. An active member of Maine’s tea party movement who often photographs rallies, Trust described the rally as “completely positive and peaceful” as well as “very uplifting.”
“It was very emotional,” Trust said in a telephone interview. “There were a lot of veterans there and a lot of family members who have lost people in the wars.”
Despite Beck’s highly political persona, there were few if any overt political statements made by Beck or other speakers. That made the “Restoring Honor” rally different from others Cucci has attended. And he said it was a welcome difference.
“We need some honor in this nation,” Cucci said. “We need people to start speaking the truth. We need people to start honoring vets.”
A veteran himself, Cucci said that in addition to honoring veterans, the overwhelming message of the rally was “to return to the founding principles of our founding fathers.”
Maine’s tea party movement once again garnered national media attention in the run-up to Beck’s event over a “visitors’ guide” to the D.C. area for rally-goers.
The guide, which was written by Washington, D.C., resident Bruce Majors, lists good places to eat or find wireless computer access but also recommends which Metro lines out-of-towners should take and avoid for safety reasons.
Some bloggers and commentators said the guide was racist, however, because they interpreted it as recommending visitors stay only in the predominantly white parts of the district. For instance, the guide recommends avoiding altogether two entire lines of the Metro.
Although written by Majors, a tea party supporter, it did not receive widespread media attention until Andrew Ian Dodge, the Maine state coordinator with the Tea Party Patriots, posted the guide on the Maine Refounders website.
In an interview Sunday, Dodge called the flap over the guide “pathetically amusing.”
While arguably overcautious, the guide was not racist, Dodge said. He added that, using the same standards applied by some critics to Majors’ guide, most guides for major cities that recommend avoiding potentially unsafe areas could be labeled as racist.
As one example of what he said is blatant media bias, Dodge said MSNBC producers denied him a chance to respond to a scathing report on the “Rachel Maddow Show” that, like others, used an inaccurate map rendering of the guide.
“The people that did that did not care about the facts,” Dodge said. “They just wanted something to bash the tea party with.”
While eager to defend the visitors guide, Dodge was less flattering of the “Restoring Honor” rally, which he did not attend but watched from home.
Dodge wrote in a column published Saturday on the website www.examiner.com that the event — which he dubbed “Beckapalooza” — focused too much on religion and not enough on the veterans and troops it was supposed to honor. Rather than help the tea party, Dodge said, he feared the rally could hurt the movement.
“Beckapalooza was the embodiment of emotion over reason and religious right fanaticism,” he wrote. “It is representative of what has turned millions of Americans away from the Republican Party and into political independents. To Americans who believe that religion and politics should not mix, the event was one big travesty.”