On his radio show today, Glenn Beck confuse the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries with the modern definition of progressive, so that that he could make the case that progressives are the most racist people who have ever lived in America, “The most racist people ever to live. The most racist people to ever live in America were the progressives.”
Here is the audio courtesy of Media Matters:
Beck got on his Woodrow Wilson kick again because US News and World Report wrote that he was wrong about Wilson, “All you have to do is read Woodrow Wilson and you know the truth. These people are trying to spin history yet again on Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt…He put over 30,000 people in jail for speaking about his policies. 30,000 Americans went to jail, and I find it really fascinating that the only time we have rounded people up and put them in jail for either their skin color or their points of view, progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson, progressive Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. Those are the only two times in American history, and their washed, nobody talks about them. Nobody looks at them. Nobody remembers who they did it to.”
Stu chimed in with the claim that the right has never done that to anybody, and Beck responded with, “The most racist people ever to live. The most racist people ever to live in America were the progressives, really radical, awful racist people.” While he was distorting the term progressive, Beck complained that, “These people constantly morph, and they constantly change the argument, and change the language.” (Just as Beck is doing with the term progressive and the history of progressivism).
As usual, Beck has managed to leave some details out of his history lesson. When talking about how Woodrow Wilson had 30,000 Americans arrested for disagreeing with him, Beck leaves out that this was known as the Palmer Raids, which was a red scare during World War I, where left wing anarchists, radicals, and communists were rounded up out of fear that they were collaborating with the US’s war time enemies. Notably, American Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was also arrested. The raids focused on alien foreign nationals, not US citizens as Beck claimed.
Importantly, Beck neglected to tell his listeners that the Palmer Raids took place after a series of 30 anarchist mail bombings in April 1919 against government offices and business leaders, and those arrested were held for up to four months while the Justice Department investigated them. After they were investigated all were released except for a few hundred who were deported. The claim that only progressive Democrats have imprisoned people based on their skin color is absurd. Have they already forgotten about the post-9/11 round up of American Muslims that was carried out during the Bush administration? These kinds of detentions and internments are an ugly part of American history that both parties have participated in. The point of this whole little rant was to lead his listeners to the false conclusion that the progressives of yesteryear were racist, thus the progressives of today are racist, which would then excuse the racism of the right.
These fractured history lessons are a way for the right wing to invalidate the election of Barack Obama. The fact that they are so willing to dismiss the modern progressive movement’s role in the election of the first black United States president is not surprising. These are the same people who are allowing Glenn Beck to rewrite US history so that it reflects their world view. The fact that Beck is dealing half truths is irrelevant, because they are only seeking to have their behavior excused and their ideology confirmed.