The density of cars in the parking lot was unremarkably low and the multiplex lobby was nearly empty. On Long Island last Thursday evening, people had somewhere else to be, it seemed. Yet, when I passed down the barren corridors of the theater and entered the sloping auditorium, I confronted a silent army. There may have been only a dozen free seats left. Did they file through a secret entrance? Ninety-nine-percent white and at least 75 percent over 50, a couple hundred ticket-buyers just sat in an obedient hush. On the screen, a video feed played of an all-minority girls’ chorus, on an overlit stage, warbling carols. Behind them, a looming projected image of a book, titled The Christmas Sweater. Logos for NAPA could be seen from almost every angle. In the corner of our screen, a video gadget appeared periodically with a clock ticking the seconds backwards, titled “Countdown to Glenn.”
Glenn Beck was about to arrive, in simulcast real-time, but the nature of his thrust remained unclear, at least to me. I sat as if unprepared for a calculus final, or as if in a stadium of Moonies waiting for the Reverend to marry us all at once. Were they supposed to have let me in if I hadn’t read the book first? “A Return to Redemption” was the official subtitle of the “show,” although on the electronic board in the lobby it was called only “GB Returns.” Redemption? My God, was Beck an evangelist now? There was no visible advertising. It seemed as though Beck’s message had gone out along brainwash backchannels, received only by the body-snatched.
But maybe that’s not fair. Maybe. We could dismiss Beck’s devotees as being bigoted, reactionary fools, because Beck, on his Fox TV show and radio program, tells obvious lies and panders absurdly to the basest levels of American jingoism and terrified ethnocentrism, and if you’ve passed the seventh grade in any decent public school in New York, Massachusetts or California, you know better than to take him seriously.