HOW THEY SPENT THEIR SATURDAY…. Depending on one’s perspective, there was very likely an event honoring the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks yesterday offering an appealing message. There was, for example, a ceremony at the Pentagon, where President Obama appealed to American ideals.

“[T]he highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most — to stay true to who we are, as Americans; to renew our sense of common purpose; to say that we define the character of our country, and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are. […]

“Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America — those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world. Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.

“For our cause is just. Our spirit is strong. Our resolve is unwavering.”

About 200 miles north, one could hear a very different message.

In downtown Manhattan today, about 1,500 people gathered to protest the planned Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero. Speakers assured the crowd that it’s not that they’re intolerant, because this isn’t about tolerance, exactly — but so what if it is, because Islam is intolerant? Or something. […]

Ralliers carried signs like “No Bloomosque, No Obamosque, No Victory Mosque,” and frequently broke out into chants of “No more mosque,” “No-Bama,” and even “USA.”

Unhinged conservatives will do what unhinged conservatives do, and their pro-hate message is neither new nor interesting. What did seem relevant, however, was just how small the size of the right-wing crowd turned out to be. Jillian Rayfield’s TPM report quoted local law enforcement, which put the figure at 1,500. The NYT had a slightly higher estimate at 2,000. (When Fox News tells viewers 17 gajillion people were there, please be skeptical.)

As offensive as the rally was, the modest turnout is heartening. Organizers intended to bus people in from across the country, to take a bold stand on 9/11 against Muslims, the White House, religious liberty, and the conversion of closed clothing stores. Organizers also had plenty of leading hateful figures speaking to attendees, to help boost attendance.

And in the largest city in the country, they managed to maybe pull 2,000 people together.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.