Glenn Beck and stagecraft wizardry: Why his NRA talk trumped all

The conservative talk show host deployed no fewer than five props during his keynote address to the NRA over the weekend. (So there, Sarah Palin.) And not one of them was a chalkboard.

Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle/AP
Glenn Beck speaks during the NRA convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Saturday, in Houston.

Here's one thing you can say about Republicans: They sure like their props.

First there was Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. Then there was Sarah Palin chugging down a Big Gulp at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, and a couple months later, waving a tin of chewing tobacco at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston this past weekend.

But in the prop-toting antics category, Glenn Beck may take the cake. He used not one but five props at his keynote address at the NRA’s “Stand and Fight” convention Saturday, a rousing almost-two-hour talk during which he paced, mocked, pontificated, and of course, referred to props in classic Beck fashion.

He presented a series of firearms: the gun owned by serial killer Charles Manson before police confiscated it and Manson had nine victims slaughtered – with knives, not guns; a 9/11 first responder’s handgun, which Mr. Beck called a “small token of liberty;” and an antique rifle used by an American “the first time we fought against Muslim extremists” – the Barbary pirates.

A parade of arms? A firepower fashion show? A gun pageant? No, Beck was hammering home his point.

“So, what is this gun, good or evil?” he asked. “It is nothing! A gun is only the reflection of the people that use it.”

In other words, the classic gun rights supporters’ argument – guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

But Glenn was just getting started. His next prop? A pressure cooker.

“What was my grandmother’s summer pastime has now been defined as a weapon of mass destruction,” he said, gingerly carrying out a pressure cooker and placing it on a stool.

(A reference, of course, to the Boston Marathon bombings in which the suspects allegedly used pressure cookers as explosives.)

“Have we gone insane? Have we gone insane?” he shouted. “Guns save lives, guns protect homes, businesses … they feel they must regulate us until we comply. I will not comply.”

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a strange segue to Beck’s final, bizarre, “prop” of sorts.

Taking aim at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Beck mocked the mayor’s “soda ban, popcorn ban, salt ban,” then unveiled his off-color twist on the “I Heart New York” motto: a giant image of Mayor Bloomberg (who is Jewish) as Adolf Hitler, delivering a Nazi salute, with the words “You will” love New York printed below.

We can’t explain that one.

The only thing missing from Beck’s wide-ranging talk – which, in addition to pirates, Nazis, and Charles Manson, encompassed Michael Moore, the Ku Klux Klan, and Winston Churchill?

His rambling chalkboard flowcharts.

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