Photo of a Glenn Beck Rally.
There is debate over how many people really showed up at the Glenn Beck rally at the nation's capital. CC by MeetTheCrazies/Flickr

The numbers in attendance for the Glenn Beck rally Aug. 28 at the nation’s capital are the subject of debate. Beck and his minions are claiming up to half a million people attended his “Restoring Honor” rally. One million is the total touted by some Republican politicians. The importance of political rallies and similar public events is often associated with turnout. Supporters exaggerate the totals while detractors scoff at their naive optimism. But an accurate count of how many were in the crowd of angry white people summoned by Beck to the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream speech” on the 47th anniversary of that event is probably impossible.

Why should people care about Glenn Beck rally attendance?

Glenn Beck rally attendance estimates reached heights of more than 500,000, said Beck and conservative commentators such as Joe Scarborough at MSNBC. That’s not surprising, according to coverage of Glenn Beck rally attendance by the Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor said that numbers are influenced by the estimator’s self interest. The crowd will always appear massive to event coordinators and exceed their expectations. Those who are not in favor of the cause can be counted on to dismiss their assertions. Controversy typically ensues. The National Park Service put out an official estimate in October 1995 for the “Million Man March.” It released a figure of 400,000 to the media. The park service estimate angered the event’s promoters enough that they threatened legal action, an occurrence that helped the government decide it wasn’t worth it to be part of such stories.

Eye in the sky sees through Beck’s baloney

Glenn Beck rally attendance was big enough to disrupt Washington’s subway service. Foregoing mere guesswork, CBS News secured the services of, a company specializing in aerial reconnaissance. Images were captured high above the crowd that milled about in an area encompassing the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. Based on the images, AirPhotosLive gave an estimate of 87,000 people in attendance. The company gave its estimate a 9,000-person margin of error, so anywhere from 78,000 to 96,000 people were there.

Facts and evidence don’t matter in politics

The day after the event, Beck said the size of the crowd was somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000. “We’re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today — because we were witnesses,” was the declaration uttered by Republican congresswoman Michelle Bachman into a microphone at a side event Saturday. However, science blog Southern Fried Science shared its own take. Its argument is fairly simple. Because Beckophiles fail to recognize truth or reason in the first place, how many people showed up at the rally is not important. To illustrate, he referred to a Pew Research Center poll. It determined that the statement “President Obama is a Muslim” is considered true by 18 percent of Americans. The moral of the story, according to Southern Fried Science: truth has no place in politics or religion.


Christian Science Monitor:

CBS News:

Southern Fried Science:

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