WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of people streamed onto the National Mall for a rally featuring Fox News personality Glenn Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate.
Beck said he wanted to focus on American heroes, not politics, and early in the event, he invited people to text a $10 to his charity, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The event, with the title "Restoring Honor," is about reminding people of the legacy of the founding fathers, Beck said.
"Where are the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Lincolns today?" he asked.
No crowd estimates were available, but thousands lined both sides of the reflecting pond facing the Lincoln Monument. Hotels throughout the Washington, D.C., region were sold out, and Metro, the Washington-area subway system, put out an advisory Saturday morning warning of crowded conditions on all lines.
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It was so crowded that many people had a limited view and couldn't hear the event well. That was to be expected, said Maria Conto, 47, of Albany, N.Y. She and her 11-year-old son, Anton, had staked out a spot on a beach towel, but in a place where they could enjoy a crowd of like-minded people.
"I like the idea that it isn't a straight-ahead political thing, and it's about honoring our heroes," Conto said.
Straining to hear Beck and the other speakers, people spoke in the hushed whispers of a worship service. The crowd chanted "louder, louder, louder" at one point early in the event. Beck complied.
Even if their sightline was limited, their aim was make their presence resonate in Washington, said Wayne Batten, 70, of Mount Dora, Florida.
"We're here to stand up and be counted," he said. "If no one showed up, it would defeat the purpose."
Conscious of the stigma of some of the anti-Obama imagery of tea party rallies during the health care debate this spring, Beck has urged attendees not to bring signs. But there was still plenty of self expression.
People carried flags -- the Stars and Stripes and the tea party standard, the yellow 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, all waved above the crowd. And plenty of people wore T-shirts or stickers with pithy sayings such as "I can see November from my house, too."
The reverent tone shifted, though, when Palin took the stage to a roar of approval. Beck said he didn't want to politicize the event by inviting someone from the military--instead, he said, he called Palin, who is the mother of a soldier.
Although she had been asked to speak as a mother and said she wanted to avoid politics, she drew some of the biggest applause with a line aimed straight down the street at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
"We must not transform America, as some would want," Palin said. "We must restore America."
For many civil rights leaders, the time and place of the "Restoring Honor" event, though, is an affront.
As Beck and Palin, two of the loudest critics of Obama, addressed a sympathetic audience from the same steps where King spoke on Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders conducted a "Reclaiming the Dream" countermarch. Their event will conclude nearby, at the site of the future King memorial.