9/12 Rally Crowd Estimates: Two Million?


(Picture 075 uploaded by DrrDot)

The Glenn Beck/FreedomWorks 9/12 DC Taxpayer Rally was on Saturday, with conservative Tea Party activists congregating in Washington to protest various things like healthcare reform, federal taxation, government deficit spending, and the President being a Stalinist Nazi Fascist Kenyan Hitler. They drew a healthy-sized crowd, by many accounts much larger than the 30,000 names registered online by FreedomWorks. DCFD estimates are said to be in the 50,000-70,000 range.

Given these numbers it seemed a bit unrealistic for a much-cited article from the right-wing Daily Mail to claim “up to two million.” This AP photo does show an impressive crowd gathered from the edge of the Capitol Lower Terrace to just west of East Capitol Circle/1st St NW/SW, filling up the entire Capitol lawn:


But that’s a wide angle shot from right behind the hedges by the Grant Memorial, much closer to the Capitol than the depth of field makes it appear. Let’s pull back a bit farther, past Grant Memorial, the Capitol Reflecting Pool, and 3rd Street, to the National Mall itself:

Not much going on in that afternoon photo, despite some protestors’ claims that the National Mall was solid with people up to the Washington Monument. In truth, the FreedomWorks event had permits only for the Capitol Grounds and not for the National Mall, prompting speakers to urge those in attendance to pull in closer to the Capitol, an announcement which at one point led to some grumbling.

Before arrival at the Capitol the real bulk of the crowd was contained in the march down Pennsylvania Ave NW, which filled up the avenue and lasted three hours, captured in this timelapse taken from an overlooking building:

Based on the density and duration of the march, rally organizers’ and supporters’ estimates range anywhere from “hundreds of thousands” range to about 1.5 million — but Penn Ave NW is much narrower than the National Mall, and fills up with people a lot faster, even for smaller marches. (This hasn’t stopped supporters from claiming that this narrow view of the march is proof that the crowd extended to the Washington Monument, even though the camera was closer to Freedom Plaza.)

Going back to the National Mall, here are two past DC rallies: the 1995 Million Man March, for which the NPS lowball estimate was in the 400,000s, and higher estimates went to 850,000:

And an aerial shot of the 1997 Promise Keepers march, for which estimates run from 500,000 to a million:

The Million Man March clearly extends well past the National Gallery of Art’s West Wing, and the Promise Keepers easily stretch from Capitol to Washington Monument. (Coincidentally, the aerial view of the Promise Keepers event continues to be passed around by somewhat more credulous linkers as being of the 9/12 rally, despite the clear absence of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and the older configuration of paths around the Washington Monument.)

Now, here’s the crowd at the Obama inauguration in January, an event which NPS estimated had 1.2 million to 1.8 million in attendance:

For comparison, here’s a photo of the 9/12 rally at its peak, taken more or less from the same vantage point as the inaugural photo above, the Upper Terrace of the Capitol looking west towards the Monument:

Lots of people gathered on the Capitol lawn, around the Reflecting Pool, and reaching a few blocks down Penn Ave NW and Maryland Ave SW. Farther down the grassy Mall you can see the crowd thin out, well before reaching the tents of the National Black Family Reunion, on the Monument end of the Mall.

David Shuster tweeted his estimate that the rally had under 50,000 people, since the crowd didn’t go past 3rd Street, but considering that they had to pack in on the Capitol Grounds to keep from overflowing too much onto the Mall, and Penn Ave NW was clogged for up to a good three hours, I think the upper reaches of the DCFD’s 70,000 esimate are good; if the grounds around the US Botanic gardens, Senate Parking Garage Fountain, and Constitution and Independence avenues were packed, too, maybe even up to 100,000 is possible — a significant number.

Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks has since apologized for misrepresenting the “two million” crowd estimate as having come from ABC News, and the official FreedomWorks recap says “hundreds of thousands,” which is a reasonable statement if they got up to 100,000. This, of course, hasn’t stopped 9/12 rally supporters from continuing to insist on two million, or even “2 to 3 million.”

As a useful visualization tool, Philip Bump of Mediaite depicts the difference in rally crowd estimates in terms of pixels.

Roving Asian mendicant, can occasionally be seen wandering the streets of downtown Washington, muttering unintelligible gibberish to passers-by while pushing a “bag lady” shopping cart full of old blankets, American flags, soda cans, and healthy secondhand snacks from organic food shop dumpsters. Used to live in a cardboard box at 16th and K but the rent was too expensive.

37 thoughts on “9/12 Rally Crowd Estimates: Two Million?

  1. Nicely written. I hadn’t noticed the lack of the Indian museum in the Promise Keepers photo, but now that you mention it, the gap is pretty obvious.

  2. I was there. I’ve been in DC several times with crowds of about 1/4 million and at a few concerts with about 50,000. My best estimate for the day is 60,000 to 75,000. Your afternoon shot is after the crowds dispersed somewhat. There are shots that clearly show the crowd out to 4th street.

  3. I was there checking out the teabagging crowd, which really thinned out around 3rd Street. Freakin’ Sen. Jim DeMint, who probably knew he was lying, even yelled from the podium that there were more people there than on Inauguration Day, a claim that was absolutely nuts but got the crowd cheering anyway.

    My guesstimate is in the 75,000-100,000 range.

  4. Really, Harold? Metered and verified by whom? Do send the official link or reference, so I can update this post with an erratum, and figure out the physics involved in cramming more than ten times the volume of that packed mass of humanity into a fraction of the space taken up by other gatherings of similar size.

  5. Teabagging? Way to toss the ad hominem attacks, “Phil”…

    I’ll bet you had that straight from the Comedy Channel…

  6. @setnaffy, what adjective would you use to describe the tea bag protesters? I knew you guys weren’t fond of math and physics, but I didn’t think English was a problem, too.

  7. I was there – the people weren’t on the Mall because we did not have a permit to be there – PA Ave was packed for quite a while because of this – however, your piece is more fairly written than most I’ve read. I still think there were more than 100,000. Thanks.

  8. I was there too.I have seen good size crowds up to
    95,000 plus for Georgia football games. But this crowd was much much larger. The park ranger said this was the biggest crowd he has ever seen before!
    That includes the inauguration.But who cares? We losing our country right be for our eyes!!!
    With GREED CORRUPTION and POWER!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    By all the BUMS in our Government!!!!
    Democrats and Republican a like!!!!!!!!!!!!
    They work for us!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. best accounting yet on this “estimate” issue!!

    Your picture plays are persuasive and that “pixel link” (http://pbump.net/912.html) is like a metered count to Bridge some perspective.

    Just wish there was some additional reality check to remember the protests before the Iraq War. Small numbers to compare for the magnitude of morass.

  10. Well, all I can say is, see ya next time.
    i talked to someone who claimed, for every person there, at least 20 would have liked to have gone, and more supported the effort but wouldnt go.
    Now, if we could get those 20 per person to actually GO. . . Im wondering if this whole “count” controversy could be put to rest.
    I have been to huge sporting events, and i cannot even imagine there having been less than 500 thousand. I dont know about what all this talk about not being able to be on the Mall, the Mall was packed, as well as every street for as far as you could see, and that was about 2 ish or later, the crowds were still coming down the streets toward the Capitol, from FAR away… far as the eye could see.. on the Mall, in the streets.
    I looked at the innauguration pics. streets were Empty, Mall was fair full, but not a soul in the streets.
    Next year, it will be on a Sunday, and I think we can effectively fill every street and grassy area in the entire DC mile if we put our minds to it… mmmm

  11. @912′er — the streets were empty on Inauguration Day because EVERYONE WAS ON THE FREAKING MALL. Or lining the parade route. When that ended, EVERYONE spilled into the streets at the same time. There is NO WAY that there were 500,000 people here on Saturday. Anyone who says otherwise is just buying propaganda or on crack (or maybe both). I’ve been to MANY protests and several inaugurations in DC, and Saturday’s “9/12″ thing was NOTHING compared to them. The crowd “estimates” I kept hearing people yell out — from “several hundred thousand” to “two million” to “bigger than the Obama Inauguration” — were a COMPLETE JOKE. Or possibly lies to get the crowd ginned up. There’s no way to fit two million people into that small space — as Scotty says, you cannot change the laws of physics.

    Plus, the “9/12″ crowd was so white it was blinding. I saw a total of 8 non-white protesters in four hours (yes, I actually kept count), and one was a counter-protester. And about half the crowd appeared to be over 50. Nice “cross-section.”

  12. I was home, watching college football, like a REAL ‘Murr-ican. (American) Wait, what was going on now? :)

  13. Wow… a whole posting just to prove a couple of far right nuts wrong. Dont hurt your self.
    FYI: Teabaggers…. really… This only proves you get your info from Bill Mahr or John Stewart. Debate the ‘teabaggers’ on the issue.

  14. @Geb: from my experience, most “teabaggers” don’t want a debate. They only want to shout. Try laying some facts down, and they only shout their Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh/Laura Ingraham/Dick Cheney talking points even louder. There’s no point.

    Also, to be fair, Griff Jenkins on Fox News coined the phrase “teabag the White House.” It’s all on tape. And the rest is history.

  15. As I recall, it was the people who started sending teabags to Congress who started calling themselves teabaggers first. It was just so perfect that everyone else ran with the moniker.

  16. There’s no way- none- that two million people were on the Mall. I’d be shocked if it were more than 50,000, tops.

  17. Good point Jonathan – and certainly not everyone rode the Metro Rail – besides there were also 450 buses that came into DC for the day. And, the people who stayed in nearby hotels did not use the Metro either.

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  19. The metro count for the day was 437,624. The second Saturday in September 2008, September 13, 2008 had 233,433 for an increase of 204,191.

    That doesn’t count the people who were bussed in and dropped off near the march.

    I wish teapartypatriots kept up the list of buses that brought people in. That would be a quick way to estimate how many came on buses. I came from Vienna and we had 10 with my party.

  20. @anne,

    I’m not sure where you’re looking. The rail ridership for Sept. 13, 2008, was 362,773.

    Last Saturday, Sept. 12, rail ridership was 437,624. In my world–the one based on math and real statistics–that an increase of 74,851.

    To be bluntly clear, 74,851 is less than 204,191.

    By all means, If you have numbers more accurate than the ones posted on the Metro site, please share them with the rest of us. I suspect, however, that you got them from the same place you’re getting the rest of your information about politics. Perhaps you should reevaluate your sources.

    Metro numbers for 2008: http://www.wmata.com/rail/disruption_reports/viewPage_update.cfm?ReportID=1198

    Metro numbers for 2009:
    http://www.wmata.com/rail/disruption_reports/viewPage_update.cfm?ReportID=1563

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  22. Two more things about the Metro numbers:

    The ridership numbers are trips, not people. People who take Metro into town usually take it out of town as well. So 74,851 trips is approximately 37,000 people. (And indeed, there were people who drove or chartered buses.)

    But at the same time, the National Black Family Reunion was happening the same weekend. So some of those numbers (and some of the buses, no doubt) were for that event.

  23. The photos of the 9/12 March are completely bogus. They were taken at 8:00am – five hours before the rally officailly started. I was there. By the time the speakers started, it was bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky. I am red and burned to a crisp. It is not possible to acquire a sun tan under the conditions that appear in the photo.

    I’m sure that 50-70 thousand were present at 8:00am. By the time the rally was in full effect (around 3:00pm), there were 2 million people present.

    The fact that the media is deliberately LYING about the count shows just how desperate the liberals are.

  24. Those are obvious fakes. The fact that it is cloudy proves that they were taken early in the morning. In teh afternoon it was sunny and clear – I know, I was there.

    YOu can not get sunburn on an overcast day. Again, the fact that liberals are so desperate to lie about the crowd size proves that they are running scared. We are winning – Obamacare will fail.

  25. Wow, this is so fascinating. I live in a bubble with no TV, so had no idea about this rally until walking up Independence Avenue on my way from SW to lunch at Eastern Market that day.

    So, I was in the area and back roughly 12pm-3pm. Walks were easy and unencumbered by crowds. Sure there were people, but it was simple to navigate.

    Funnily, I was yelled at several times by protestors angrily saying “where is your sign?” to which I answered “huh? I live here, I’m just going to lunch.”

    I sat outside for lunch – but worriedly, as it was grey and overcast the whole time. I’ve taken personal pictures of that lunch with date/time stamps so I can prove it, but that’s not my battle.

    I walked back around 3pm and no way were there a million people there at that time.

    But whatever, he said, she said, they said, to infinity. That’s the sad thing with “debate” these days, it’s so egocast that no one is really listening to each other.

    Good job with this, brownpau!

  26. Aw, why bother arguing? The pics and facts speak for themselves. As Barney Frank quipped recently, it’s like arguing with a dining room table.

  27. I was there. I personally counted each person. There were 66,326 protesters at the rally. Every Fox News employee was there except Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Steele. (My Fox News sources tell me that they were at their monthly talking points meeting.)……There were 26 Fox News employees who were assigned to count the protesters as well. Each one of them counted 66,326. But, what Fox News did, was take the 66,326 and multiplied it by 26 (the number of counters) and they got 1.7 million……….It made perfect sense to Glenn Beck.

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