Glenn Beck -- who's been doing his best to rip off Martin Luther King's legacy for some time now -- of course continued to do so in MLK's birthday yesterday, claiming he has a special affinity with King. How, you may ask? Why, because King too was accused by leading papers of the day of fomenting violence associated with the Civil Rights movement:
BECK: So here they are -- blaming Martin Luther King -- they're blaming him for the violence! That's the opposite of what he was. But this is the Establishment. This is the elitist view. It's what they wanted to print at the time -- that was the script. It didn't matter what people were seeing on TV -- it clearly was not Martin Luther King's fault. It might have been Malcolm X -- not related to the Martin Luther King movement. It was not William Ayers -- I mean, William Ayers was doing it, but William Ayers was not connected to Martin Luther King. Black Panthers -- not King. But that didn't matter to the media. The media just stuck to what was previously written because the elites had their story.
Of course, there's an important component that Beck is omitting here: The violence that often accompanied civil-rights marches were called "race riots," and they largely entailed assaults by angry conservative whites on the black marchers. This was the violence for which the editorialists in Chicago were absurdly blaming King.
Which underscores the real context that Beck loves to omit from his Martin Luther King encomiums: The people who were attacking King, viciously and violently, were conservatives. The people who supported him and marched with him were progressives.
Indeed, it wasn't just elite white newspapers who were accusing King of fomenting violence -- most notably, it was the deeply right-wing segregationists and race-baiters who were themselves the cause of so much of the violence around the marches who were then (in classic Southern "bloody shirt" style) claiming to be victims of black violence at hands of King and his marchers. These were the accusations the editorialists blithely picked up and ran with.
As Rick Perlstein explains in his great history of that era, Nixonland: "The notion that Martin Luther King was seeding violent confrontation became a conservative article of faith."
Nixonland also makes clear just who in Chicago was responsible for the violence that the editorial writers were blaming on King (p. 119):
August 5. Six hundred open-housing activists, ten thousand counter-demonstrators. Some wore Nazi helmets. Others waved Confederate battle flags, carried George Wallace banners, swastika placards that helpfully explained "The Symbol of White Power."
Martin Luther King, Mahalia Jackson by his side, led his legions forth: "We are bound for the promised land!"
"Kill those niggers!"
"We want Martin Luther Coon!"
Police trying to keep the two sides apart were screamed at: "Nigger-loving cops!" "God, I hate niggers and nigger-lovers," a reporter overheard an old lady say.
Martin Luther King walked past.
"Kill him! Kill him!"
"Roses are red, violets are black, King would look good with a knife in his back."
Instead he got a baseball-sized rock above his ear. He slumped to the ground -- the Gandhian moment of truth. "I think everybody in that line wanted to kill everybody that was on the other side of the line," a marcher later recalled. King got up and kept on marching. We shall overcome.
On the approach to Halvorsen Realty, someone did throw a knife at King's back. It caught some white kid in the neck instead. King had marched six weeks earlier through the Mississippi town where the civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney, and Schwermer were murdered. He had called it the most savage place he had ever seen. Now revised his opinion: "I think the people of Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate."
Here's a representative sample of the kind of things "elite" conservatives said about King at the time:
As I explained previously:
This, you see, was a flier that was distributed widely as part of a campaign to discredit King as a Communist. Among the foremost leaders in that campaign, especially among Mormons, was none other than the Church's future president, Ezra Taft Benson.
Here are some prime quotes from Benson:
“LOGAN, UTAH-Former Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson charged Friday night that the civil-rights movement in the South had been ‘formatted almost entirely by the Communists.’ Elder Benson, a member of the Council of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a public meeting here that the whole civil-rights movement was ‘phony.’” (Deseret News, Dec. 14, 1963)
“The Communist program for revolution in America has been in progress for many years and is far advanced. While it can be thwarted in a fairly short period of time merely by sufficient exposure, the evil effects of what has already been accomplished cannot be removed overnight. The animosities, the hatred, the extension of government control into our daily lives–all this will take time to repair. The already-inflicted wounds will be slow to heal. First of all, we must not place blame on the Negroes. They are merely the unfortunate group that has been selected by professional Communist agitators to be used as the primary source of cannon fodder. Not one in a thousand Americans–black or white–really understands the full implications of today’s civil-rights agitation. The planning, direction, and leadership come from the Communists, and most of those are white men who fully intend to destroy America by spilling Negro blood, rather
than their own.
Next, we must not participate in any so-called ‘blacklash’ activity which might tend to further intensify inter-racial friction. Anti-Negro vigilante action, or mob action, of any kind fits perfectly into the Communist plan. This is one of the best ways to force the decent Negro into cooperating with militant Negro groups. The Communists are just as anxious to spearhead such anti-Negro actions as they are to organize demonstrations that are calculated to irritate white people.
We must insist that duly authorized legislative investigating committess launch an even more exhaustive study and expose the degree to which secret Communists have penetrated into the civil rights movement. The same needs to be done with militant anti-Negro groups. This is an effective way for the American people of both races to find out who are the false leaders among them” (Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference Report, Oct. 1967).
See, in order for Glenn Beck to convince his fellow conservatives to claim the mantle of the Civil Rights movement, he essentially has to persuade millions of people who have opposed it with every fiber of their beings for most of their lives to completely reverse course and claim the opposite of their former beliefs.
This is the juncture where Beck's "Civil Rights" campaign runs smack into one of his own long-running threads -- namely, he has doggedly accused the Obama administration of harboring "Marxists" and "Communists": that was, after all, the predicate of his attacks on Van Jones. That happens to be consonant with Beck's running espousal of the works of Mormon leader W. Cleon Skousen -- a man who was in fact a close friend and ally of Ezra Taft Benson's, and shared Benson's belief that Martin Luther King was a secret Communist.
Does all this talk of secret Communist affiliations sound familiar? It should -- because one talk-show host in particular has been using it to smear, of all people, African American leaders, as a way to smear the nation's first African American president:
[oldembed src="https://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/mediaplayer316.swf" flashvars="config=http://mediamatters.org/embed/cfg2?id=200909010028" width="425" height="300" resize="1" fid="10"]
We saw how that turned out, didn't we?
Beck doesn't remind us of Martin Luther King. He reminds us of the people who fomented lethal hatred against him. And then tried to claim that their violent and vicious rhetoric had nothing, nothing at all to do with his assassination.
Seems like a good lesson to remember on his birthday.