Glenn Beck says that 500,000 plus attended his rally. NBC says 300,000 people were there. Michelle Bachman swears she saw no fewer than 1 million. CBS estimates 87,000. My appraisal: neither I, nor anyone else has a clue. It seems that we go through some form of this debate every time a sharply political rally rolls through town. Supporters always estimate astronomical numbers while detractors offer significantly more modest figures. The issue came to a head in 1995 when the National Park Service, who up until that point used an imprecise but fairly logical aerial imagery method for estimating crowd density (basically taking square areas of space, counting the number of individuals in that area and then extrapolating that out to include the entire square footage of the event space), was threatened with suit by Louis Farrakhan for estimating that his “Million Man March” was more like a “500,000 Man March.” Since that time, the Park Service has refrained from calculating crowd sizes, thereby leaving the job to people who may have ulterior motives affecting their conclusions. The trouble, of course, is that the average human so rarely sees crowds in excess of a few hundred that it’s really impossible for anyone to estimate the sizes of huge crowds. So, let’s just be honest with ourselves: there were a lot of people at the Restoring Honor rally. No one knows how many and it doesn’t really matter.
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: