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Beck says he wanted to reclaim civil rights 'from politics'

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Civil rights movement was about "people of faith," Beck says
  • "I don't agree with" the movement's economic agenda, he says

Washington (CNN) -- Conservative commentator Glenn Beck says his weekend revival-style rally at the Lincoln Memorial was meant to reclaim the U.S. civil rights movement "from politics," arguing that the movement was about "people of faith."

Beck told Fox News, the network that carries his weekday television program, that the essence of the movement was about "people of faith who believe you have an equal right to justice."

"If it's not the essence, then we've been sold a pack of lies. The essence is that everyone deserves a shot -- the content of character not the color of skin," he told "Fox News Sunday."

Beck drew a crowd that stretched six blocks down the National Mall on Saturday, but drew fire for its timing and location -- the same date and location as the 1963 March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

See the view from the crowd

Handbills promoting the King-headlined event called it rally "for jobs and freedom," with marchers demanding not only voting rights for African-Americans but "full and fair employment" and a "decent housing." Beck told Fox that the civil rights movement's economic agenda was "a part of it, but that's a part of it that I don't agree with."

Video: Beck, Sharpton hold competing rallies
Video: Sharpton: 'Dream not achieved'
Video: Conservatives disagree over Beck message

Beck has come under fire from civil rights leaders and other critics because of the timing of the rally and some of his previous statements, such as his 2009 that President Barack Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." And earlier this year, he urged viewers to quit churches that preached "social justice," a term he equated with socialism.

In his Fox interview, taped after Saturday's rally, he said he regretted his remarks about Obama, but said the first African-American president's worldview was shaped by "Marxism disguised as religion."

Beck's address to his "Restoring Honor" rally, nominally held in support of U.S. troops, resembled more a revival than a political rally. In it, he urged those attending to return America to the religious values on which he said it was founded.

"Something beyond imagination is happening," he told participants who packed the National Mall in Washington. "America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness."

Park Service officials have stopped giving crowd counts after previous controversies. But an estimate commissioned by CBS News, using aerial photography, put attendance at between 78,000 and 96,000. ABC News reported more than 100,000, while Fox -- and Beck -- estimated it at above half a million.

Rallies clog D.C Metro system

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who led a commemoration of the King rally's anniversary Saturday at a Washington high school, dismissed Beck's address as a "motivational speech" that ignored the policies King promoted.

"It might be good, but it's not civil rights," he told CNN.

Beck also has tried to organize viewers into a "9/12" movement, aimed at restoring a spirit he said Americans shared after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. He told Fox that Americans "should be looking for people with the right ideas," but dismissed any ambition for elected office himself.

"My feeling right now is the country is in trouble. And I don't see a political solution, because I think we're too divided. I think both parties have sold their souls," he said. "And you know, our founders, if you read their speeches and their documents and their letters to each other, when they founded our country, they all said it would happen if the people turned from God.

"So let's take them as people who knew what they were talking about," he added. "What do you say we give the whole 'let's turn back to God' thing a try and see what happens?"