Details, details—Beck’s tailored history was much more inspiring than the truth. After he wrapped, the conservatives fanned out to clean the mall, dozens followed behind Beck to watch him work, share their stories, or join him in picking up a few cigarette butts and tossing them in garbage bags. After a few blocks, Beck reached one of the useless gates, warning passersby that the mall was closed. “He’s going to flagrantly defy the law!” laughed a cameraman.
Beck cartoonishly “sneaked” around the fence in the manner of Bugs Bunny coming up behind Elmer Fudd. His reward on the other side: A garbage can where one of the “DO NOT ENTER” signs had been junked. “That’s too good,” said Beck. “We’ve got to keep that for the museum.”
The clean-up went on for hours. If you stood anywhere on the mall between the Capitol and the World War II Memorial, you’d see a conservative activist, or two or three, hunting for garbage on wet grass. It wasn’t cynical for them. The media was cynical. The Republicans who trusted the media was cynical. When Beck wrapped up at the World War II Memorial (“humbling to meet our veterans”), he zoomed up Connecticut Avenue to the Values Voter Summit. “You're on the verge of winning,” he told conservatives and C-Span cameras. “It's going to happen quickly if you don't compromise your values—if you stay the course.”
After Beck left, I stuck around the summit for some conversation and a couple of closing breakout sessions. With the cameras off, the optimism about defunding Obamacare this year faded.
“John Boehner’s primary fear is the media,” said Terry Jeffrey, a conservative journalist who now edits the Media Research Center’s news arm. “He doesn't believe he can win with a conservative message in media.”
“The inside game has failed,” said Dean Clancy, vice president for policy at FreedomWorks. If Republicans couldn’t be trusted to fight, conservatives needed to get 34 states to launch a new constitutional convention and undo the damage of the Progressive era. “We ought to look at the other way of amending the Constitution, and that’s the Article V process. I think Mark Levin is right. I think George Mason and the founders put that in there for a reason. It’s an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ provision.”
Jeffrey agreed with that. “We are going to have to engage in organized, peaceful disobedience,” he said. On Sunday, the conservative movement did just that. Lee returned to the mall alongside Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and hundreds of activists who swore to “storm” the World War II memorial and liberate it from the “Barrycades.” Activists picked up the hated gates and dumped them as close as they could get to the White House, a few blocks away.
“This belongs to you!” thundered Lee at the memorial. “This does not belong to the government—this belongs to the people!”
“Is this any way that a commander-in-chief would show his respect, his gratitude, for our military?” asked Palin.
In the conservative new media, and among House Republicans, the protest was a powerful success—a game-changer even. “The press will try to keep today’s events secret, but I doubt whether they can succeed,” wrote Powerline, the blog that became famous in 2004 for breaking and aggregating news about Dan Rather’s botched story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service. “Time will tell, but this seems like the sort of revelatory moment that will reverberate and gain force with time.” And if it doesn’t? Conservatives have a long, long list of the people they’re ready to blame.