FreedomWorks, the main organizers of the Tea Party event in Washington this past weekend, has dramatically lowered its estimate for the size of the crowd at the event from 1.5 million, a number the group now concedes was a mistake, to between 600,000 and 800,000 people — though this is still substantially more than the tens of thousands that most mainstream media outlets have estimated, and which FreedomWorks wholeheartedly rejects.
The politically charged issue of crowd size is complicated by the fact that there is no official estimate — not from the Park Service, not from the D.C. Police, nor the Fire Department, etc. In fact, a Fire Department spokesman that I talked to told me that whoever had given a figure of 60,000-70,000 to ABC News had not been authorized to do so. So there’s no independent source to verify FreedomWorks’ latest number.
“I really wish that the Park Service would come out with a number,” said FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon, in an interview with TPM. “I wish I was not doing this. If my mother calls me and asks how many, I’ll say this was hundreds of thousands.”The group’s revised estimate — which it says comes from comparing photos and videos from the event to past marches on Washington — is significantly lower than FreedomWorks’ president Matt Kibbe’s weekend foul-up, when he announced that ABC News was reporting attendance of 1.5 million. ABC declared that it had reported no such thing. Kibbe has publicly backed off: “With a dead IPhone, I had been shown tweets from a number of different folks behind the stage citing the ABC estimate. They didn’t say it. I regret misrepresenting the network, as their coverage that day was fair and honest.”
Brandon blames a cautious mainstream press for reporting that the crowd was only tens of thousands. “I don’t know, I don’t think they’re crowd estimators, either,” he said. “If you say tens of thousands, it’s technically true, there were tens of thousands. But they’re nervous about putting that hundreds of thousands number out there.”
Brendan Steinhauser, the organizer of logistics for FreedomWorks, said this event should be put in the same category as Martin Luther King’s historic march on Washington for civil rights or the Vietnam War protests. It was “definitely the largest conservative protest in American history,” he told me, “and it’s really not received the coverage it deserves.”