9-12 DC Tea Bag Protest, Debunking Moilanen and Creating an Estimate - Update #3

There's a new document floating around the internet entitled "The Real Number of Protesters at the 9/12 Washington D.C. March" by a Zac Moilanen of Indiana University. It, falsely, attempts to calculate and show the number of protesters at the recent 9-12 march and rally that occurred in DC. I'm told it was recently referenced by FOX News' Glenn Beck. In all honesty, the rally was little different from the ones that occurred this past summer across the US. Apparently the only outcome from this event has been debate about the amount of protesters who participated. The participants and advocates for them immediately claimed an amazing 2 million participated while the DC Fire Department estimated 60,000 to 70,000. The right wing "blogosphere" has even posted picture of other large DC rallies as evidence of the larger number. I attempt to address that issue, and the Moilanen document, here.

The document I'm talking about can be read here.

Now, I understand that in this political environment facts are meaningless if you can find a way to attack the person who's spouting them. For those who care it's only appropriate that I announce myself as being, as I would consider it, middle of the fence. I'm one of the millions of Americans who's rational and acceptance of many viewpoints has been overshadowed by those either far left or far right. I support gun control to keep them out of the hands of people who can't use them responsibly, but think everyone who can, should have the right to own one. Women should have a choice, government should be fiscally conservative, states should have more rights, there should be a separation between church and state, and marijuana should be legalized. We could do a lot worse than Obama but Pelosi (and most of Congress & the Senate) need to be ousted. I'm a political enigma in a world where the news has defined two categories.

So, who is the chap who authored this document? A quick search of the net brings up a Zac Moilanen with less than a handful of followers. There's one on Facebook too, but with "(Singapore)" after his name. I suck at digging up info on people online. Based on this paper I can only hope he's a student, not a professor. I also hope, for the sake of people with valid concerns regarding our current administration, that's he's a real person. I wouldn't put it past our current evolution of protesters who have no issue making up information if it backs their stance. They have already tried to pass photos of other protests for this past weekend's.

Mr. Moilanen makes a less than successful attempt at showing us that the paper, and the 9-12 protest, are bipartisan. This is simply not true. Regardless of what category they might place themselves in the event was vastly Republican. It was organized by Republican groups and sponsored by Republican talking heads like Glenn Beck. It should be noted that many would call themselves Conservatives, not Republicans, despite the two essentially being the same, and that the Republican Party hasn't practiced fiscal conservatism in a decade.

Speaking of Glenn Beck, it appears that Mr. Moilanen has tried to tie in Beck's own 9-12 initiative into this rally. This rally had zero to do with the mission statement, reprinted in Mr. Moilanen's paper...


The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the values and principles of the greatest nation ever created.

There was little support at the rally that indicated these protesters where "we were united as Americans" or protecting "the values and principles of the greatest nation ever created." As I recall, on 9-12 we stood proud of our nation, our history, and ourselves. Politics meant nothing that day as we worked to support those around us injured physically or emotionally from the previous day's tragic events. Protesters who rallied on 9-12-2009 stood against Obama without limit. No facet of his administration, despite positive reaction in the economy or approval from the United States and world community, was left un-criticized. Whether you agree with him or not, on 9-12-2001 we weren't running around making false claims about Bush being born in a another country, trying to compare his policies to the Soviet Union and him to Hitler, or dressing up in silly outfits. (Yes, I know that several years later many foolish liberals would compare Bush to Hitler countless times. Even though it doesn't make it right.)

For this response I've chosen to ignore Mr. Moilanen's discussion of other DC protests and the amount of people who attended. I can only hope that he was able to Google the information and write about it accurately. The protests covered occurred in different areas than the 9-12 March on Washington.

The section of our interest, the 9-12 Protest...

I'm going to completely throw out the video as in part as it's already coming from an extremely biased source. Just read the description that comes with the video and all of the comments, lots of great laughs in there. For your reference, 9/12 Protest Washington DC Time Lapse Footage 0800 - 1130.

There are discrepancies with the video. The first is that I've been asked to believe that the video is an authentic, unaltered representation from an anonymous YouTube source. Part of it, simply put, is that it's silly to suggest anyone who watches Glenn Beck is going to take a screenshot every minute for three and a half hours. ;)

If you watch the YouTube version of the video, around the 17 second mark, the protesters suddenly jump from Freedom Plaza all the way to the end of Pennsylvania Ave. So, in that one 60 second window protesters made it from the Plaza all the way down, a mile away? To be fair, it's a low quality video and I'm trying to judge what's going on at a distance vantage point.

By that time, 17 seconds into the video, the march is obviously on its way. The video, 40 seconds long, apparently spans the hours of 8AM to 11:30AM, a 210 minute window. 17 seconds in is 42.5% of the video, and 42.5% of the way through 210 minutes is 89.25 minutes. Let's round up to 90 minutes, 90 minutes after the start of the video at 8. This means the march is fully underway at 9:30. Mr. Moilanen confidently states that the march began at 10, an hour and a half before the scheduled time. It's understandable that someone might be off a little bit, but this shouldn't be ignored when a biased source is trying to prove numbers which are only 5% of official estimates. This is, of course, ignoring the discrepancy of people moving down the Avenue.

Now for the measurement bit

I'm not sure where Mr. Moilanen was getting his measurements. He claims Google Maps, but I don't believe him. Using Google Earth, which I had installed, I get some very different numbers.

In his document Mr. Moilanen calculates the distance between Pennsylvania Ave at the eastern end of Freedom Plaza, to where Pennsylvania encounters the Capital Reflecting Pool as 3250 feet. Google Earth clearly shows me that's its actually just over 4749 feet. A huge discrepancy. See below.


Click for Full Size


The author's distance estimate is odd, considering the Google Maps picture he attached clearly shows 7, 200m segments, or roughly 4593.18 feet. Additionally, the distance between 3rd St NW (just west of the Capital Reflecting Pool) and 14th St NW is roughly 4768 feet.

Perhaps I'm just misinterpreting what he's saying.

Protesters on the Mall?

I have heard repeatedly, from protesters that they weren't allowed on the Mall. Apparently the organizers didn't get a permit. Since YouTube videos and their descriptions are admissible evidence, End of Washington DC 9/12 Tea Party.


We were forbidden to step foot on the National Mall grounds, as a permit was not granted and it was fenced off. The Capital steps and landing was also fenced off. That was a real outrage and I want to know why we could not have a proper setting in the Mall.

There are plenty more references if you Google it.

At this point the information used by Mr. Moilanen to calculate attendance has been either disproved, or cast upon with doubt such that it's not reliable without further information.

What do I think?

Since I'm such a nosy nelly, how many people do I think there were? Well let's do a little math. Take the following photo, distances via Google Earth. And I encourage everyone to check my numbers!

Take a look at the simple picture I crafted below.


Click for Full Size


I estimate that the area of Freedom Plaza and Pennsylvania Ave to be around 1,128,786 square feet. The average person, just standing around, takes up 6 square feet (3 feet wide by 2 feet long). There were probably clumps of people standing closer, and clumps of people spread out a lot more. Still, I figure this is a good estimate. 1,128,786 sqft divided by the 6 sqft of a person gives us a rough occupancy of 188131 people.

I also think it's fair to include the max capacity of the Capital's West Lawn. What would it have been like if the lawn was full, along with Freedom Plaza and Pennsylvania Ave? As noted by Mr. Moilanen and USA Today, during Obama's inauguration the west lawn, area between the reflecting pool and the Mall, and the first section of the Mall (to 4th St SW) was occupied by 240,000 spectators, Park service changes course, plans to offer crowd estimate. Since the 9-12 protest wasn't allowed on the mall, and I haven't heard about them being past the pool, that's roughly a third to a half of the inauguration tally chopped off. I'm going to give a bit of leeway, and only take off a third, to improve my error buffer and include anyone who might have been wandering around. That leaves us with another 80,000 protesters.

When I add these numbers up, that gives me an estimate of 268,131 people.

This is certainly an unscientific number as I arrived at it via an awfully roundabout away. Until a mathematician shows up to show me my mistakes, I think it's a fair estimate to the max capacity and number of potential protesters at the 9-12 event. If anything there were less than I estimate and certainly less than conservative news outlets are reporting.

Since everyone loves graphs, let's compare the numbers being tossed about.


Click for Full Size


Look how large the difference is between original estimates, mine, and the ones provided by protesters like Moilanen or talking heads like Glenn Beck. I really don't think that the DC Fire Fighters could have underestimated by so much.

Even if there were twice as many people crammed in as I estimated. And they had swelled past the reflecting pull and considerably onto the mall, it wouldn't even come close to what some people are saying.

My numbers are far from perfect, here are some possible issues:
As I note in my image, the distances used are rough and I've rounded up whenever it's given me a decimal place.
Were there protesters in Pershing Park? (Area to the west of Freedom Plaza)
This doesn't account for people coming and going during the course of the event. Besides, those people should be disregarded for their lack of commitment ;) But up to two million people moving through a one mile stretch of 9 lane road, in only and hour and a half?
I'm an idiot and I suck at math.

Now, I hope my information was helpful and truly unbiased. Feel free to comment below.

Update 1

Graciously Mr. Moilanen has replied to my rebuttle with the following comments. Good to know he's a real person!


To falldog,

I did get my map from googlemaps, but I would like to thank you for bringing attention the inaccuracy of my measurements on Pennsylvannia Ave and the Mall.

I realize that I misread the 500ft/200m mark, but either way, I did it on both the Mall and the street, therefore the ratio between the two would be the same. I will go back and correct that, though.

Also, I'll address this right now. I am a real person. Who graduated from a school in Singapore, hence the Singapore on my Facebook (gotta love Facebook stalkers).

You wrote that "I can only hope that he was able to Google the information and write about it accurately. The protests covered occurred in different areas than the 9-12 March on Washington."

The Promise Keepers Rally did occur in the National Mall area, and the Obama Inauguration occurs there, as well as the Capitol hill area.

Also, it is true that 9-12 did not have a permit to protest on the Mall. However, once we filled the fields surrounding the Capitol, for housekeeping purposes the protest began filling up behind the reflecting pool and a ways down the mall.

Finally, I know my estimates are not perfect, which is why they are called estimates. But I don't believe one can "estimate" the number of people on 9-12 without addressing the time lapse video. If you notice in the description, the author states that the beginning of the time lapse is sped up in comparison to the march itself so that the "gathering" goes by quicker.

I am glad you posted this rebuttal. However, naming it the "9-12 Tea Bag Protest," calling the protesters Obama-hating monsters and whatever else you mentioned is not unbiased. I attempted to explain what the march was based on and not make assumptions to who actually was there or not. Like I said, as an eye-witness, I saw a multitude of people there.

Here is a video I took walking through the northern part of the Mall and up to the fountain. There were tens of thousands of people there, as well as behind me. I hope this puts some discrepancies to rest.

(As I just uploaded it, it is currently processing. If you cannot access it right now, give it a bit)

Once again, I will update my report, but I find your retort far from valid.

As a frequent visitor to DC and the Mall I am much more familiar with the layout, and the size.

I find it funny that my description of the Obama protesters, despite being accurate, has been interpreted as calling them "Obama-hating monsters." He's right though, maybe I'm not being unbiased. But I am being honest. And that's more important.

His video confirms that the protesters did swell beyond the Capital's reflecting pool. It also confirms my assumption that they protesters had varying levels of density. Meaning that my 3x2 rectangle per person is not constant. Sometimes smaller as people clustered to get a better view, or further apart separated by lawn chairs or blankets. This doesn't affect my estimate. Unfortunately the video does nothing to support claims that the protest spilled out of the lawn and onto the Mall.

This photo has also been making the rounds...


Click for Full Size


A poor photo, but you it provides a lot of info to the trained eye. The bus you see in the background, if I have my info correct, is moving along 4th street. View it on Goole Maps. Evidence that the protest didn't stretch out all the way down the mall, as suggested.

Even if it did fill up to 4th street, or even 7th street at some point, that's a smaller area than was occupied by the Promise Keepers Rally. Reported by Mr. Moilanen at being over a million.

Estimates are good, but when your party provides estimates 6x larger, it stopped being fair a long while ago. Not intended as a personal attack against Mr. Moilanen but I am stricken with the feeling that he has little understanding over the size of the mall, the amount of space people take up, and the shear scale of a million people, let alone 1.7 million.

As of this updated Moilanen's document has been updated but I have not been able to view it on the site.

Update 2

There's still a disagreement about the number of people who walked down Pennsylvania Ave.

Accounts tell that the march started between 9:30am and 10:00am. For lack of a better resource I'm going to take the suspect video's claim that the march was over around 11:30am.

To make things a bit easier, I'm going to say the march started at 9:30am and ended at 11:30am, a two hour span. Based on my earlier calculations Pennsylvania Ave can fit 114,725 people. The Avenue is roughly a mile from Freedom Plaza to the Capital and it takes the average person 20 minutes or so to walk a mile.

In those two hours it's theoretically possible that 6 groups of 114,725 people could walk through, for a total of 688,350 people. However probable, it's impractical.
Where were these hundreds of thousands of people prior to the start of the march? It far exceeds the possible capacity of Freedom Plaza. What about after the march, where half of these people randomly disappeared?

Even if these people magically showed up, and magically disappeared, it's well below the initial proposal of 1.7 million participants.

While replying to Mr. Moilanen a one Dell Dolly pointing out a possible issue with my estimation,


People marching/walking take up a lot more space per person that people grouped at the Inauguration, waiting for hours to see the President. You overestimated how many people were in the street walking (needing a lot of space around them to avoid stepping on one another and being hit by their signs) by comparing it to the people standing still at the Inaguration.

Basically, my numbers might be skewed larger by not accounting for the space people take up walking.

Update 3

A new image has been released which finally shows the size of the crowd.


Click for Full Size


It clearly shows the mass of people that gathered on 9-12. Note that Pennsylvania Ave has reopened and the mass of people from Freedom Plaza stopped. A lot of people are present, no doubt. Yet nowhere near the amount of people required for the tally to reach over a million. It certainly fits the accounts and numbers I estimated earlier.

I do like that the photographer, and the person who threw on the big black boxes and text, were too lazy to actually straighten out the panorama.

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