On his radio and TV show, Glenn Beck regularly pays tribute to the civil rights movement, claiming that one of his goals is to “reclaim the civil rights movement” and that his followers are “the inheritors and the protectors of the civil rights movement.” He’s drawing heavy criticism from top civil rights leaders now, who say that he is “hijacking the imagery and symbolism” of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by planning a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the speech’s anniversary.
Beck denies the claim and says he plans to “salute Dr. King and the civil rights movement” at the rally. But Beck seriously hurt his civil rights credibility on his Fox News show yesterday when he used a quote from a 1966 speech by former Eisenhower Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson to justify his claims that communists are infesting America:
BENSON: “You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept communism outright; but we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you’ll finally wake up and find that you already have communism. We won’t have to fight you; we’ll so weaken your economy, until you fall like overripe fruit into our hands.”
BECK: Are we here? We were warned that the communists were not going to go away. They were just getting started. Ezra Taft Benson knew that serious threat. He saw it first hand. He knew communists were in the government. He knew they were in the government.
Beck then went on to favorably cite disgraced Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his claim to have in his “possession the names of 57 communists who are in the State Department.” Watch it:
Who is Ezra Taft Benson? He’s a former Mormon Church apostle who, according to his AP obituary, was “closely identified with the John Birch Society” and “once told a reporter he could not see how a person could be both a liberal and a good Mormon.” He also once called the civil rights movement “a communist program for revolution in America.” [Associated Press, 5/31/1994] Benson also authored a pamphlet titled “Civil Rights — Tool of Communist Deception” and reportedly referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as the “Communist leader of the so-called civil rights movement.”
On the morning of October 31, 2008, Beck played for his radio audience a scratchy recording from the 1960s. He set up the clip by identifying the voice on the tape belonging to Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson. While serving in that position, Beck explained, Benson had met with Nikita Khruschchev during one of the Soviet premier’s visits to the United States. In that meeting, Benson claimed to have gained valuable insight into the global communist conspiracy. Three days before the election, Beck was eager to share Benson’s insight with his audience. “Listen carefully,” said Beck. The voice on the tape began to speak:
I have talked face-to-face with the godless communist leaders, though I still feel it was a mistake to welcome this atheistic murderer as a state visitor. As we talked face-to-face, [Khruschchev] said to me, “You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept communism outright. But we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you wake up and find you already have communism. We don’t have to fight you. We’ll so weaken your economy until you fall like overripe fruit into our hands.”
Beck stopped the tape there and asked, “Is that where we’re headed?” He quickly answered his own question. “I contend we’re already there, gang.” In fact, Beck had proof that we were already there. He then played an audio clip of a giddy African American woman who had just left a Barack Obama campaign speech.
“It was the most memorable time of my life,” she says. “It was a touching moment. I won’t have to worry about gas or mortgage. If I help him, he’s gonna help me.
In these words, Beck heard the fulfillment of Khruschchev’s threat, as relayed by the grandfatherly seer, Ezra Taft Benson. “I never thought this day would happen,” said Beck, as if extraterrestrials had just landed a spaceship in Central Park.
Beck’s decision to feature Benson on his show was a revealing one. As Beck knew quite well, Benson was not just a member of Eisenhower’s cabinet. He was a notoriously illiberal Mormon Church president who helped pioneer Mormonism’s apocalyptic hard-right strain, which Beck latched on to and appropriated following his conversion. Had Beck allowed the tape of Benson’s lecture to continue, it is possible that listeners would have heard Benson ask, “When are we going to wake up? What do you know about the dangerous civil rights agitation in Mississippi?” Or they might have heard the sound of Benson’s voice railing against “traitors within the church” who criticized the mixing of religion and extreme right-wing politics.
In an interview with the blog Scholars and Rogues, Zaitchik noted that “Benson actually wrote the forward to a Mormon-authored book of race hate called Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence, and White Alternatives, which had on its cover the bloody, severed head of an African-American.”
From a November 8, 1985 New York Times article, via Nexis:
In a speech in Logan, Utah in 1963, he said civil rights campaigns in Mississippi were ”fomented almost entirely by Communists.” Legislation then proposed to protect the liberties of black people, he said, was ”about 10 percent civil rights and 90 percent a further extension of socialistic Federal controls.” No long after that he was sent to supervise missions in Europe.
In 1965, on returning to Salt Lake City, Mr. Benson spoke at a church conference. ”When are we going to wake up?” he asked. ”What do you know about the dangerous civil rights agitation in Mississippi? Do you fear the destruction of all vestiges of state government?”