Bein’ a Hater: Glenn Beck, Mormons, and Hate Speech

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Politics

Saturday’s On the Media — an NPR news program that discusses media — focused on the rise of hate groups in the United States. It featured Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who (about halfway through the discussion) talked about, among many other things, how right-wing media figures and politicians are mainstreaming hate speech — and among those cited by name was Glenn Beck. To be fair, Beck wasn’t the focus of Potok’s discussion. Hate was. But Beck was one of the very few people whose names were mentioned as troubling.

For Mormons, that should be a distressing assertion. As a Mormon himself, Beck has always been something of an oddball. However, Potok’s point wasn’t that Beck is simply extreme, or embarrassing to people of one political persuasion or another. It wasn’t even that he personally disagrees with Beck and those like him. Rather, it was that Beck and others are actually helping hate become more common. Tellingly, Potok also points out that hate crimes in the United States are becoming more widespread, which could obviously correlate with the increase in hateful rhetoric.

Ironically, and because I too am a Mormon, I listened to this segment of On the Media between sessions of LDS General Conference. As some surely know, that’s a bi-annual event that teaches Mormons to strive for Christ-like attributes, like love and respect. Yet in the midst of that message I also ended up listening to an expert on hate speech point out that one of the most prominent Mormons in the United States is doing the exact opposite of what the Church teaches.

In the past, I’ve had friends argue that Beck and other commentators are wrong primarily in style. They’ve said that while people like Beck don’t accomplish much with their belligerent tone, the underlying message these figures endorse is still worth dignifying with attention.

Yet, Potok wasn’t arguing that Beck has an abrasive tone. He was saying that Beck’s content itself is the problem because it promotes hate. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of general conference, that seemed like it would disturb all Mormons, regardless of an individual’s political orientation.

Others might argue that NPR and Potok merely epitomize the “liberal media,” whose goal is to tear down “patriots” like Beck. Judging from Beck’s Arguing With Idiots — which I recently received as a gift — that’s the argument I’d expect Beck himself to make. Yet, whatever biases the radio network may have, it routinely invites conservative commentators on its shows and strives for neutrality. Recently, for example, I even listened to another conservative Mormon, Mitt Romney, on Talk of the Nation. The point, then, is that irrespective of any supposed biases, Potok and On the Media are serious sources presenting, in this case, findings based on empirical research. In other words, these accusations deserve to be taken very seriously.

Of course, Beck was little more than a footnote in Potok’s discussion, but the larger trend of increasing amounts of hate obviously conflicts with the values the LDS Church teaches. During general conference, at least one talk pointed out the need to maintain respect in public and private discourse, and more generally the Church routinely emphasizes temperance and civility. Unfortunately, however, those are attributes about which Beck and the Church now appear to disagree.

Listen to the original segment from On the Media here.

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