The rally was held at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago to the day.
People posed with an Abraham Lincoln impersonator while arriving for the rally on the National Mall. More Photos »
“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck told the crowd, in what was part religious revival and part history lecture. “America today begins to turn back to God.”
The rally organized by Mr. Beck, a Fox News broadcaster who has been sharply critical of President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats, had been attacked as dishonoring the memory of Dr. King by being set on the anniversary of his speech. Despite Mr. Beck’s protestations, his event and a much smaller and mainly black counter-rally seemed to underscore the country’s racial and political fissures.
Critics have suggested that Mr. Beck was trying to energize conservatives for the midterm elections in November. Mainstream Republican leaders remain skittish about the group emerging on their right — and the influence it displayed in primary elections Tuesday — and had little to say about the Beck event.
But in an interview aired Sunday, Mr. Beck denied any political motivation — or political aspiration — and shrugged off conservatives’ suggestions that his ability to mobilize so large a crowd made him presidential material.
“There’s nothing we can do that will solve the problems that we have and keep the peace unless we solve it through God,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
He also expressed regret for having asserted last year that Mr. Obama was a racist with a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” a comment that many critics felt undercut Mr. Beck’s assertion of racial tolerance.
“It was poorly said — I have a big fat mouth sometimes,” Mr. Beck said.
He said he had come to see Mr. Obama not as a racist but as an advocate of “liberation theology,” which he said pitted victims against oppressors. Liberation theology has generally been used in reference to a movement, begun in the Roman Catholic Church in poor parts of Latin America in reaction to social injustice, that some critics say has been taken over by leftists.
The overwhelmingly white and largely middle-aged crowd Saturday was a mix of groups that have come together under the Tea Party umbrella. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism, not religion or social issues, the rally was overtly religious.
Mr. Beck imbued his remarks with references to God, and he urged a religious revival. “For too long, this country has wandered in darkness,” Mr. Beck said. “This country has spent far too long worrying about scars and thinking about scars and concentrating on scars. Today, we are going to concentrate on the good things in America.”
Mr. Beck was followed on stage by Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor. She said she was asked not to focus on politics but did say, in a veiled reference to Mr. Obama, “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want; we must restore America and restore her honor.”
Many in the crowd said they had never been to a Tea Party rally, but they described themselves as avid Glenn Beck fans.
Even Mr. Beck’s critics acknowledge that he is one of the most powerful conservative voices. With a mix of moral lessons, frequent outrage and a dark view of the future, his programs draw millions of followers.
Chris Wallace, a veteran Washington journalist who interviewed Mr. Beck on Fox, told Mr. Beck that he had never seen a public figure quite like him.
Mr. Beck acknowledged that he was not cut from ordinary cloth. He is a largely self-educated man who took a single college class (at Yale University) before dropping out; a tough-talking critic who frequently breaks into tears; a man now wrapping himself in a religious mantle but whose religion (he is a Mormon) is not considered Christian by some of his ardent followers.
Yet, many of those at the event Saturday said they had been motivated to come by faith.
Becky Benson, 56, traveled from Orlando, Florida, because, she said, “we believe in Jesus Christ,” and Jesus, she said, would not have agreed with the economic stimulus package, bank bailouts and welfare. “You cannot sit and expect someone to hand out to you,” she said. “You don’t spend your way out of debt.”
People in the crowd echoed Mr. Beck’s ideas that “progressives” were moving the United States toward socialism and that entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid must be ended.
“The federal government is only to offer us protection from our enemies and help us when we need it,” said Ron Sears, 65, of Corbin, Kentucky.
The event had the feeling of a large church picnic, with people, many from the South or Midwest, sitting on lawn chairs and blankets.
Washington officials do not make crowd estimates, but NBC News estimated the turnout at 300,000, while Mr. Beck offered a range of 300,000 to 650,000. By any measure it was a large turnout.
“People aren’t happy about things,” he told Fox. “A good number of people are not happy with the direction we’re going.”
Asked whether his ability to mobilize so large a crowd meant that he should be considered for a 2012 presidential ticket with Ms. Palin, Mr. Beck replied, “Not a chance.”
He said he had “zero desire” to be president, adding, “I don’t think that I would be electable.”
Across town, several hundred people, most of them black, packed a football field at Dunbar High School to commemorate Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“We come here because the dream has not been achieved,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. “We’ve had a lot of progress. But we have a long way to go.”
Referring to Mr. Beck’s event, he added, “They want to disgrace this day.”
Raymond Hernandez contributed reporting.