Twitter erupted on Monday in response to conservative radio and online host Glenn Beck's sympathetic comments about the Black Lives Matter movement over the weekend. In a speech on Friday at the annual RedState Gathering, a conservative grassroots conference, Beck urged his fellow conservatives to "understand" and even sympathize with the movement.
The comments were an about-face for Beck, who since the movement sprang to the national mainstream following the August 2014 death of Michael Brown has stridently attacked the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as exclusionary and, itself, racist.
Beck told the audience he had evolved on the issue, however, following the Dallas police shootings last month. He called for dialogue between conservatives and Black Lives Matter organizers on the ground, using an "All Pies Matter" metaphor.
"All of us are sitting around a table, and we're all friends," Beck told the roughly 500 attendees. "It's time for dessert, and everybody gets pie except for me and you. And you say, 'I didn't get any pie.' Everybody at the table looks at you and says 'I know. All pie matters.' You say, 'but I don't have any pie! What about my pie?'"
The metaphor, Beck said, was intended to draw attention to white Americans' neglect to understand the very real issues, like police brutality, facing black Americans on a daily basis. He repeated the "All Lives Matter" mantra in an NPR interview the following day, where he further urged all Americans "to start listening to each other and getting out of our own little labeled bubbles."
Beck's "labeled bubbles" theory may be ground in reality. A Pew Research Center survey released Monday finds "significant differences" in the way black and white adults use social media to share and interact with race-related content. A Pew analysis of 995 million tweets over a 15-month period - from January 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 - reveals that events from Baltimore, to Charleston, South Carolina, to Dallas "often serve as a catalyst for social media conversations about race" that go beyond just hashtag activism.
The conservative backlash to Beck's new-found position was immediate. Leading sites, Breitbart News and The Drudge Report, lambasted Beck's comments, which were made just hours before riots in Milwaukee following the fatal shooting of Sylville K. Smith at the hands of police.
"While Glenn Beck would like people to believe he’s insightful, critics of Black Lives Matter don’t need his hectoring," wrote Breitbart's Lee Stranahan.
Some conservatives, though, supported Beck's position. Ben Howe, a RedState contributing editor and like Beck, a notable anti-Trump conservative, applauded Beck for "recognizing that Black lives Matter as a slogan is not necessarily an exclusionary statement.” He went on to criticize Breitbart and others for their "insincere outrage" that, he says, was indicative of a larger trend in this election year of "putting business ahead of debate."
"Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Breitbart News and the Drudge Report are withering away any credibility they may have once had in the last months of this campaign," Howe told NBC News. "Glenn has looked at the issues facing black Americans and re-thought his opinions; the others [pundits] are just in the profit-making business of feeding their audience whatever they want to hear."
He added that the disdain many conservatives hold for the Black Lives Matter movement is largely a product of the base's own doing, “This election has made a lot of us [conservatives] realize that ignoring an element within our ranks for too long has become a form for enabling it.”
While Beck came under attack by conservatives, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement had mixed feelings.
Shaun King, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who has been targeted by Beck for his work, welcomed Beck's comments, if not with caveats.
"As someone who has been targeted and attacked repeatedly by Glenn Beck, I struggle to take his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement seriously," King told NBC News. "Nonetheless, it appears he has at least grown to understand why we exist, even if he doesn't actually support the movement in any meaningful ways."