Protesters, supporters greet Glenn Beck as he visits Seattle, Mount Vernon
As expected, Glenn Beck's return home was not met with quiet.
Seattle Times staff reporters
MOUNT VERNON — As expected, Glenn Beck's return home was not met with quiet.
For a moment, it seemed a possibility. Inside McIntyre Hall, where the radio and TV personality was to receive a key to Mount Vernon, the sound system balked, causing a brief delay Saturday in a much-anticipated event that had fired emotions and attracted throngs of Beck supporters and critics.
"It's a left-wing conspiracy!" one woman shouted.
The crowd laughed, the sound system recovered, and the event went on. Beck accepted the city's key, receiving a standing ovation that lasted about a minute.
The presentation capped a day in which Beck appeared in Seattle and Mount Vernon, attracting large crowds of fans. Outside the venues, protesters gathered — by the dozens in Seattle and the hundreds in Mount Vernon.
Early Saturday evening, outside McIntyre Hall, Beck's supporters and critics mingled and occasionally broke into debate. Cars and trucks paraded down the street, with honking and jeering. One group made an enormous sign playing off the Mad Hatter pouring a cup of tea, only their sign said "Mad Hater" — a reference to Beck and the national "tea-party" protests.
Many Beck supporters waved American flags and held signs saying Beck deserves the key and is unafraid to tell the truth.
The crowd outside peaked at about 800 people, Mount Vernon Fire Department spokeswoman Erica Work said. She called it the largest demonstration that anyone could remember in Mount Vernon, a place known more for colorful tulips than fiery politics.
Many in the crowd — which seemed fairly evenly mixed between protesters and supporters — welcomed the outpouring of passion.
"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 of 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 make democracy function and that's what defines the USA."
By early evening, there had been one arrest — of a man, standing in traffic, who had ignored repeated warnings to get off the street, Work said. He was booked into the Skagit County Jail on suspicion of disorderly conduct.
Protester Kristy Kottkey's sign said: "I drove up from Oregon to say ... I've got no respect for Beck, or Bud Norris for that matter."
It was Norris, the mayor, who decided to bestow this honor upon Beck, a Mount Vernon native whose radio show appears on hundreds of stations. Mount Vernon's City Council distanced itself, passing a resolution Wednesday saying it "is in no way sponsoring the Mayor's event on Sept. 26, 2009... "
After receiving the key, Beck spoke for about an hour, reminiscing about 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," he 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.
For the most part, Beck stayed away from politics.
When he talked about going to the Lincoln Theater with his mother, Beck wept. He said that Saturday's event, a fundraiser for the theater, had raised $10,000 — which he would match with another $10,000.
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.
Earlier, Norris gave thanks to some of the public officials who showed up to the event, including two Mount Vernon city council members, the mayor of La Conner, and state Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington. The mayor introduced his son-in-law, who he said had completed six tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then he asked other people who had served to stand up — and dozens did.
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.
Saturday afternoon, Beck appeared at a Safeco Field event sponsored by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. Before 7,000 fans, he described himself as the voice of reason in a divided America.
"I am a flawed human being," he said. "But I'm in a position to ring the bell of warning."
Beck came to Seattle amid a torrent of anger over his proclamation on July 28 that President Obama was a racist and that he believed the president has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
Outside the stadium, about 30 protesters rallied against Beck.
Don Sly of Seattle held a huge, tongue-in-cheek sign that said, "Sure he's an idiot bigot, but he's our idiot bigot, Welcome Glenn."
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