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Originally published September 26, 2009 at 6:37 PM | Page modified September 28, 2009 at 8:23 PM

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Dispatches from Glenn Beck event in Mount Vernon

Glenn Beck spoke for about an hour, reminiscing about his time growing up in Mount Vernon, which he described as a "magical place," connected to the values of small-town America. "I believe in Norman Rockwell's America," Beck said.

Seattle Times staff reporter

UPDATE 9:26 PM

Glenn Beck spoke for about an hour, reminiscing about his time growing up in Mount Vernon, which he described as a "magical place," connected to the values of small-town America.

"I believe in Norman Rockwell's America," Beck said.

He talked about the old wooden flagpole in town, the time he got busted stealing chewing gum, and how he used to act as the remote control in his household by sitting close to the TV. He said he used to be the boy who came to school smelling like cake, because his parents ran a bakery in the town.

For the most part, Beck stayed away from talking about politics.

He said that when he was growing up, he couldn't get out of the small town fast enough.

"Now, I would give my right arm to live in a town like Mount Vernon. And I discovered today that there are a ton of people ready to cut it off," he joked. "It doesn't bother me, because I have the key to their house now."

At one point, when talking about going to the Lincoln Theater with his mother, Beck wept. He said that tonight's event, a fundraiser for the theater, had raised $10,000 — which he would match with another $10,000. He also told the crowd that he'd put down $500 at the Big Scoop ice-cream parlor — which he used to enjoy as a kid — for them all to go and get free ice-creams.

Beck said he didn't remember politics being divisive growing up, and that if people now could just stop "tearing each other apart" there was a bright future for the country.

UPDATE 8:23 PM

Inside McIntyre Hall, there was a problem with the sound system at first. "It's a left-wing conspiracy" shouted one woman, to much laughter.

Mt. Vernon Mayor Bud Norris gave thanks to some of the public officials who showed up to the event — including two Mount Vernon city councilmembers, the mayor of La Conner, and state Sen. Val Stevens. He introduced his son-in-law, who he said had completed six tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, to much applause. Then he asked other people who had served to stand up — and dozens did. Norris thanked the police for making it a safe place: "It's a pity we had to spend the kind of money we had to" to make it safe, he said. "But it's the price we pay for free speech."

Norris said it's been an interesting six weeks, with all the attention, but he wanted to emphasize that the honor was for Beck's professional success rather than his political views.

At just after 8 p.m. Norris presented Beck with a key to the city, mounted on a plaque. The crowd gave a standing ovation for about a minute. Norris declared today, Sept. 26, 2009, to be Glenn Beck day in Mount Vernon.

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The crowd has been loud and boisterous. "We love you Glenn," yelled one woman.

As Norris' speech went on, Beck sat down and motioned for the crowd to do the same, to much laughter.

Beck is currently being affectionately roasted by some of his childhood friends.

UPDATE 7:28 PM

By 7:15 p.m. the crowd outside McIntyre Hall had thinned and the honks were dying away.

Mt. Vernon Fire Department spokeswoman Erica Work said the crowd peaked at about 800 people and was the largest demonstration anybody could remember in city history. She said that, as of 7 p.m., there had been one arrest — a man standing out in traffic had ignored repeated verbal warnings to get off the street. He was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and booked into the Skagit County Jail.

Many in the crowd — which seemed fairly evenly mixed between protesters and supporters of Beck — said it was a good thing that people are passionate about politics.

"It's the biggest demonstration of freedom of speech that's ever happened in Skagit County," said Glenn Bordner, a Mount Vernon resident for all his 68 years. "That people should care about government this much is great. For them to get out, get involved, and express their opinions on issues — that's what makes democracy function and that's what defines the USA."

Marc Oommen, the president of the Young Democrats of Skagit County and a protest organizer, said that many Latinos who live in Mount Vernon are outraged at Beck's opinions on immigrants.

One man with an unusual sign was Gary Harden, of Bellingham. His sign read: "Gays 4 Glenn."

Harden said he agrees with Beck's fiscal views — if not his social ones.

"I just don't think we need extra government," he said.

UPDATE 6:24 PM

Hundreds upon hundreds of protesters and Glenn Beck supporters are lined up along the street in front of McIntyre Hall, where Beck is due to accept the key to the city tonight.

It's a raucous and colorful scene, as people on both sides of the issue mingle and occasionally break out into debate. There's a parade of cars and trucks going up and down the street with a constant honking and jeering. One group has made a huge sign playing off the Mad Hatter pouring a cup of tea, only it says "Mad Hater" — a reference to Beck and the tea parties.

Other signs say things like "Deadbolt Your Doors" — a reference to the key ceremony. Many Beck supporters are waving American flags and holding signs saying that Beck deserves the key and is one person who is unafraid to tell the truth.

Protester Kristy Kottkey's sign says, "I drove up from Oregon to say ... I've got no respect for Beck, or Bud Norris for that matter."

Kottkey, a teacher who grew up in Mount Vernon, said she debated whether it was worth giving Beck more attention by joining the protest, but in the end went with her gut.

"There are so many other people who live and work in Mount Vernon who have done wonderful things who deserve the key," she said.

She said she'd seen Beck's show, and she thinks he presents his material in a hateful way.

Dawn Duncan-Lewis, on the other hand, is holding a sign that depicts President Obama with a Hitler moustache. She said some have found the sign offensive and asked her to turn it around. However, she feels it's fair.

"I appreciate what he's doing. He's doing deeper research on the government than anyone else," Duncan-Lewis said of Beck. "He's really going the distance for the American people."

Some supporters around Duncan-Lewis warned her not to speak to the media, because, as one man put it, her words would be "turned into a pretzel." Duncan-Lewis said she didn't care.

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