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What Glenn Beck Gets Wrong: How he Misunderstands Martin Luther King, Jr.

Glenn Beck, as even Jon Stewart admitted in his TV interview with Bill O’Reilly, is a talented guy.  A week ago, I reviewed and praised Beck’s first documentary on Communism, although I did note a few shortcomings. I have also given him credit for his role in bringing to light the appointment by the Obama administration of people like Van Jones, who largely because of the exposure Beck gave to Jones’ largely unknown Communist views and belief in a 9/11 conspiracy theory, was forced by the administration to resign from his position as the “green jobs czar.”

But when it comes to history, Beck’s limitations are revealed. He often claims that he will admit to errors when he gets something wrong. I’d like to take him up on it.

On January 21st, Beck spoke on his radio program about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Until this time, Beck, like most other Americans, considered King a great American hero, and honored him on his birthday. This is not surprising. King, through his leadership of the civil rights movement and his adherence to non-violence, pushed our nation to fulfill its democratic promise to all citizens.  King mobilized thousands of black citizens to peacefully demonstrate, in the face of brutal force employed by racist Southern law enforcement agencies.  TV viewers of the time saw -- as did all of Europe as well as those who lived in the Soviet Union and its satellite states -- how the movement  faced the violence imposed upon them by the likes of Sheriff Bull Connor, who used dogs and police hoses to try to disperse the non-violent  demonstrators.

The nation also saw the dignity and strength of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that propelled King onto the national stage, and later, the principled opposition King voiced to the extremist radicals on his left, including Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael and other black nationalists and revolutionaries who regularly branded King as a sell-out.

But this past January, Beck heard NAACP Chairman Julian Bond -- the leader of SNCC during the period when it expelled white activists from its ranks and ousted moderates like now Congressman John Lewis from its leadership -- say on an NPR radio interview that people forget that King was “a critic of capitalism” and favored what Bond said was a “modified form of socialism.”  Beck played this section of Bond’s interview:

"We don't remember the Martin Luther King who talked ceaselessly about taking care of the masses and not just dealing with the people at the top of the ladder. So we've kind of anesthetized him. We've made him into a different kind of person than he actually was in life. And it may be that that's one reason he's so celebrated today because we celebrate a different kind of man than really existed. But he was a bit more radical. Not terribly, terribly radical but a bit more radical than we make him out to be today."

Beck, it appears, was aghast and shocked. “Correct me if I’m wrong, America,” he stated. “But I didn’t think it was politically correct…to say that Martin Luther King was a socialist.” He then went on to say, and I put this in highlighted form: “I believe this is the first time I've ever heard this from someone, you know, on the side of praising Dr. Martin Luther King. I've heard people say, oh, well, you know, he was a communist, he was a socialist.”

We must first digress with a brief history lesson. Actually, what J. Edgar Hoover accused King of was not that he was a communist, but that he was ignoring what he saw as a main danger: that the civil rights movement was a key target for communist subversion. And as the FBI’s historian Richard Gid Powers writes, Hoover was “deaf to calls for racial justice.”  As King rose to leadership of the movement, Hoover learned that one of King’s top advisors was an attorney named Stanley Levison, who had been in the 1950’ the major financial chief of the American Communist Party. It was Levison’s ties with King that became Hoover’s pretext for his now well known persecution and slander of King. Levison, in fact, was no longer a Communist. But the Bureau also learned that King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had hired one Jack O’Dell as head of its New York office. O’Dell was in fact most likely still an active member of the CPUSA.