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

After the issues with the Promise Keepers rally photo, I called FreedomWorks to verify this one. I spoke to Joseph Onorati, who confirmed to me that the photo is from the actual 9/12 rally. It was taken by Matthew A. Beck, a volunteer photographer, from the Capitol itself; he was taken to a high point in the Capitol by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), one of the speakers at the rally.

Let's look at the photograph (and it might be worthwhile to look at this Google Map view of the area). It's a panoramic photo, from about 1st Street on the south side at the left end of the photo, past Maryland Ave, the Mall, and Pennsylvania Ave around to 1st Street again to the north at the right hand end of the photo. In it, we can see that the Mall is indeed full back to about 3rd Street, but that at the time of the photo, Pennsylvania Avenue was also full back to at least 3rd Street, and there are significant numbers of people on 1st and on Maryland. (Remember that the area west of 3rd Street was reserved for another event, but notice that the side paths are very full for a good ways back from there.)

I spoke to Clarice Feldman, a Washington attorney and PJM contributor who was there; she had arrived by another route and ended up in a very crowded area at the base of the Capitol, out of view in this photo. She confirmed that the crowd was very dense; examining this photo suggests the same thing. (Look at the people in the photo. In a dense crowd from a photo from above like this you see only the very upper part of the body; in a less dense crowd you see a larger part of the body.)

Now, let's look back at the National Park Service method as published in USA Today. If, in fact, the Mall were only as full as a seated crowd of invited guests, as shown in the article, and if the crowd only went to the diagonal streets Pennsylvania and Maryland, then the Park Service method would give an estimate of about 250,000. But a crowd of this sort is rather more dense than a crowd of seated invited guests because of the need for aisles and access in a seating plan; you can see that in the overhead photos of the inauguration.

At this point, with this photograph and the Metrorail ridership, it's clear that this must be a new lower bound: the "60,000" number turns out not to be any sort of official estimate. Also, when quoted fully, it turns out that the D.C. Fire Department source agrees with the photo (remember the line I emphasized above?).

One more factor that we haven't used in any estimate yet: charter buses. There has been variously reported a figure of 4,500 bus parking permits. Now, there were other events on, and I can't confirm that number reliably. But a busload of people is normally about 50. If only half as many buses as reported were actually there with people who attended the rally, that would account for another 112,000 people.

What can we take away from this exercise? Here are the main points:

  • The estimate widely used in the legacy media is not from an authoritative source, and it isn't even consistent with itself: "full back to 3rd Street" is around 250,000 by Park Sevice methods, not a quarter of that.
  • Many estimates, using different assumptions and different methods, arrived at numbers well into the hundreds of thousands.
  • This is clearly consistent with the panoramic photo that we can source reliably.
  • With everything above, and with several more estimates, I don't think there is a plausible argument for any total attendance figure much less than 500,000 to 600,000. That is, nearly ten times the reported attendance.

How much does this matter? It's hard to say. It might be that a precise number isn't needed, and at any rate it may not be possible to get a good one. What we can say is that the number being reported is wildly wrong. Wildly too small.In any case, the number that will really matter is the count at the polls in 2010 and 2012. Given this, I'd say that any politicians who hope to retain their jobs better look very carefully at that panoramic photo -- and remember.