More 9/12 Crowd Data: Yeah, It Was Big

On Monday, PJM published my piece titled "March on Washington: How Big Was the Crowd." It contained several estimates of the actual number of people who attended the mach on the Capitol on September 12.

The legacy media seems to have converged on an estimate of 60,000 to 70,000 people. This appears to be sourced to the D.C. Fire Department, although as several people have pointed out, no one seems to recall any other estimates coming from the D.C. Fire Department. On investigation, it turns out to be Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Department, as quoted at Politifact:

[Piringer] said the local government no longer provides official crowd estimates because they can become politicized. But the day of the rally, Piringer unofficially told one reporter that he thought between 60,000 and 75,000 people had shown up.

“It was in no way an official estimate,” he said.

We asked Piringer whether there were enough protesters to fill the National Mall, as depicted in the photograph.

“It was an impressive crowd,” he said. But after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, the crowd “only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street,” he said.

Emphasis mine. Remember those points: "in no way an official estimate" and "filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street."

Some others:

  • The Daily Mail first reported 2 million, then scaled it back to 1.2 million.

  • Barbara Espinosa reported that actual traffic counters from the march organizers reported about 450,000 crossing Pennsylvania at 11th after about an hour of the march, and nearly 1.5 million total.

  • There was also the time-lapse photoset from the traffic camera over the Freedom Plaza, which is where 14th St NW crosses Pennsylvania Avenue at E street.

  • Our own estimate of more than 850,000.

  • Another estimate by Henry Vanderbilt, reported at Transterrestrial Musings. Using two different methods, Vanderbilt arrived at one estimate of up to 320,000 in the march down Pennsylvania alone, and 350,000 to 500,000 on the Mall and Capitol grounds.

  • The estimate of 350,000 from Political Gumbo -- and let me just mention: this is the way it's done, kiddies. Ken Vaughn looked at my computation, made his own, documented his assumptions, and came out with a different number for the number marching on Pennsylvania Ave. Frankly, from his argument, I probably trust this estimate over my original one; remember that it's only the marchers, though, so it's certainly a lower bound number as well.

There were several sources that, over time, were clearly spurious, such as the famous "aerial photograph" that turns out to be from a Promise Keepers rally months ago. There were also some spurious debunkings which depended on a claim that the traffic cam photos were from another event, based on the flag at half-mast. I found that a little questionable, because I went to the webcam at Freedom Plaza myself during the march and saw images comparable. If these were being faked, the fakes were being fed into the webcam stream upstream of me. It turns out, in any case, that flags were at half-staff that weekend because of the Patriot Day holiday, and in any case, since then there have been many well-sourced photographs of the crowd from different vantage points; it appears that we should continue to take the traffic cam videos as reliable.

Since I wrote that piece, though, we have two new sources of information. First, the ridership statistics from D.C. Metro became available after being delayed, apparently because of a fatal accident on the Metro tracks. The Heritage Foundation, using these figures, computed that Metrorail ridership was about 235,000 greater than the previous weekend. As they say, that in itself is more than three times the (unreliable and badly sourced) number reported in the legacy media.

Second, there is now a high-resolution photo from FreedomWorks, which you can see in the poster here.