Washington: Tens of thousands of people gathered at the site where Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I Have a Dream" speech 47 years ago to hear right-wing icons call on them to "restore America”.
In wide-ranging and often religious terms, Fox News talks show host Glenn Beck told Americans that their country was "at a crossroads" and urged them to return to "faith, hope and charity”.
"Today we must decide, who are we? What is it we believe? We must advance or perish. I choose advance," he said to a cheering crowd that stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument about a mile (1.6 kilometres) away.
Beck, who hosted the event to "restore America`s honour”, said he was told that between 300,000 and 500,000 people attended the event. But an AirPhotosLive.com estimate for CBS News based on aerial photographs of the rally said only 87,000 people showed up.
An average of two million viewers watches Beck`s show, which airs daily on weekdays.
Many streets in downtown Washington were closed off and patrolled heavily by police, while rally participants packed Metro stations before heading to the site with folding chairs, baseball caps, cameras, strollers and children in tow.
The rally, billed as a non-political, faith-based salute to US troops and values, attracted many members of the conservative Tea Party movement, who eschewed their usual practice by honouring organisers` requests to not bring signs.
Hardly an African American was in sight.
The rally drew criticism because it was staged at the very same location where King made his call for racial equality nearly half a century ago.
Critics said Beck and fellow conservative icon Sarah Palin`s political stances were sharply at odds with King`s civil rights legacy.
Black leaders, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, held a competing march and accused Beck of misrepresenting the slain civil rights leader`s message of equality among all races.
"The folks who criticise our marches are now trying to march themselves," Sharpton said. "They may have the Mall, but we have the message. They may have the platform, but we have the dream. The dream was not states` rights."
Beck said the timing was coincidental, and argued he had every right to commemorate King`s struggle.
"Whites don`t own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don`t own Martin Luther King," he said earlier this month.
The event came ahead of Congressional Elections in November, when Republicans hope to wrest control of Congress away from President Barack Obama`s fellow Democrats.
The rally`s goal was loosely defined, with Beck telling viewers of his Fox News talk show -- a must-watch for many US conservatives -- that it would pay tribute to "heroes, our heritage and our future”.
Lou Tribus, a 67-year-old retiree, said he had travelled hundreds of miles (kilometres) from Tennessee in the south for the rally.
"We want to see our nation return to its foundation principles," he said.
Another attendee, who only gave her fist name, Dawn, said she wanted to "bring back the values that my country was founded on”.
Palin, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, shared top billing at the event with Beck. Avid supporters chanted "USA! USA! USA!" as she appeared on stage.
She took a jab at Democrats -- Obama chief among them -- who have campaigned on promises of change in US politics.
"We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want," she said. "We must restore America and restore her honour."
Beck focused heavily on the need for Americans to embrace religion.
"We will be the shelter for the world, because the storm is coming. It is not just an American storm, it is a human storm. It is a global storm," he warned, adding that Americans would be called on to "save" the world.
"God is the answer and he always has been."
Beck`s critics said it was inappropriate for a man who has accused Obama, an African-American, of having "a deep-seated hatred of white people”, to stage a rally on the anniversary of King`s speech.
The August 28, 1963 address drew a quarter million people and was designed to raise Americans` awareness of racial inequities that made blacks second-class citizens.
The predominantly white US conservative movement, now most visibly represented by the Tea Party, has faced persistent allegations of racism, after group members held up openly racist signs at rallies.
Dawn, 47, a small business owner from northern Virginia, expressed surprise at criticism of the rally.
"I think Martin Luther King would agree with us," she said. "I don`t see why they think we shouldn`t be here today."