[NOTE: Anybody remember that #45 began his administration by lying about the size of his sparse inaugural crowd, and doctoring the photographs? Here we go again. In the past two weeks I received half a dozen texts and email pleas to show up at his monster 2024 campaign rally in tiny Pickens, South Carolina on July 1. It was to be a monumental show of strength.
It should have been; the location is deep in some of the Southeast’s reddest regions, where homeboy Senator Lindsay “Loyal Lapdog” Graham was loudly booed, as nowhere near red enough for the true believers. Pickens is not far from the two northernmost Georgia House districts, home to Reps Marjorie “Impeach Bush & Hunter’s Laptop Too” Taylor Greene, and Andy January-6-at-the-Capitol-was-just-a- “normal-tourist-visit” Clyde. So thanks to Newsweek for a deep-dive expert checking analysis of the breathless claims by local officials that the crowd was 50,000 –no, wait, 60K — oh, but really, 75 thousand. At least. The best expert estimates point to a sizeable crowd, but no monster. They also point to a year of more non-credible crowd numbers. 2024 will be a tough election anyway.]
NEWSWEEK — Fact Check
Donald Trump’s holiday weekend rally in Pickens, South Carolina, was heralded to have attracted tens of thousands of attendees, a seeming affirmation of his support for his 2024 White House campaign.
The former president used the occasion to tell supporters “all bets were off” in his battle against the Department of Justice, pledging to launch investigations against federal prosecutors as well as his main political opponent, Joe Biden.
During the course of the day, locals and fans estimated that 50,000 people had arrived to see Trump make campaign pitches, although not everyone was convinced the number was accurate.
A tweet by conservative journalist Simon Ateba posted on July 3, 2023, viewed 220,000 times, said: “THINK ABOUT THIS: Massive Trump rally, over 50,000 people gathered in a small South Carolina town with a population of just 3,400!”
Trump is no stranger to exaggerating crowd sizes, most infamously for his presidential inauguration in 2017.
Photos of the rally in South Carolina do undoubtedly show he enjoys continued and robust support among his former heartlands.
In 2016, South Carolina voted with a 54 percent majority for Trump/Pence, compared with 40 percent for Hillary Clinton. In 2020, that lead grew to 55 percent while Biden/Harris collected 43 percent of the vote.
However, even with that base of support, the claim that 50,000 people were at the rally deserves a little examination, particularly as critics believed that claim wasn’t true.
Commentator and former Trump supporter Bill Mitchell claimed on Twitter that the crowds were far fewer than 50,000, using one aerial photo to suggest only 3,000 people were in the vicinity of the podium where the former president spoke.
An article by The Greenville News quoted Beach pushing the number further, saying: “I would not be shocked if it were closer to 60 (thousand).”
“If someone has an estimate closer to 70 (thousand) I wouldn’t question it.”
Pickens police Chief Deputy Chuck James told Newsweek the official number was not known at the time but confirmed the rally was well attended.
He added: “I know the venue was full and that there were long lines to get in, but our office was tasked with providing event security so I am not aware [of] what the official number was.”
It is not clear how Beach made his estimate. The event was ticketed, meaning there likely exists a record of booked and honored attendances, in addition to others who may have visited Pickens just to be nearby the event.
Newsweek has contacted Police Chief Randal Beach to ask for an estimate again, and whether ticket allocation numbers were available. Newsweek has contacted a representative of Donald Trump via email to ask the same, among other queries.
How big were the queues?
On the day of the event and shortly after, photos and videos of large crowds were posted online, many of which included lines of people waiting around the corner to see Trump speak.
In total, the former president spoke for around 95 minutes, alongside guests including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the latter of whom was booed while speaking to the crowd.
However, looking at the available footage and photography, the line does not extend much further than one block (which also circled back into the event).
Trump’s speech took place on Pickens’ East Main Street. A line extended from there down Hampton Avenue, round the corner onto East Cedar Rock Street, intersecting with South Lewis Street, as this Newsweek Google Maps graphic shows.
Newsweek has asked Randal Beach for details about where else the crowds extended.
Nonetheless, the media posted online gives us a rough square distance of the available space from the podium that Trump and others spoke, and to the streets beyond.
Using the website Daft Logic, which utilizes Google Maps to estimate any customized area of a given location, we can roughly calculate the area where crowds were on the day. Newsweek’s estimation (based on social media and other footage) came to about 12,442 square meters.
Nonetheless, from here, we can start to make an educated guess about the number of people on those blocks at the time.
Using a technique called the Jacobs method, we first take the size of a crowd site area and multiply it by the estimated density of people within it.
The same technique was used by U.K. fact checker Full Fact to estimate the actual size of a 2019 protest in London against Brexit, which had been incorrectly guessed to be one million strong.
Working out accurate crowd density, however, is complex. While the rows of people along East Main Street were quite dense, it wasn’t packed in, as photos from the event show.
The spillover onto side streets was quite loose too, with the lines along Hampton Avenue and East Cedar Rock Street given plenty of room to move.
We can say, with near certainty, that the crowd couldn’t have reached 75,000, which Trump reposted about via Truth Social. Based on Newsweek‘s mapping from Daft Logic, this would have required six people to occupy each square meter of space, which evidently was not the case.
Even if the crowd had packed the walk along East Main Street (around 5,962 square meters) with five people per square meter, the total attendance would have been just less than 30,000. As the photos from the event showed, the crowd was not that dense.
To find out more about the potential size, Newsweek spoke to Professor Keith Still, a published expert in crowd risk analysis.
He provided Newsweek with a series of rough estimates, using an assumption that two to three people occupied each square meter.
As he pointed out, the crowd did not fully occupy all available space.
“With some 10,000 square meters (estimate from Google Earth) then 75,000 is not possible. 50,000 would be packed in all of the space to five people per square meter (but) that is not the observations from the images you sent.”
Still has previously produced graphics showing densities of one to five people, which gives a clue as to how busy even two people per square meter may look.
“Look at the site photographs, look at the images—does it look like two, three, four (people) etc…?” he added.
“I don’t have images of all the area, and they are at different times, but we can still approximate the maximum capacity since, at the time of the rally, the talk, that would be the peak.”
Of course, more people may have left and entered East Main Street at different times of the day, with the whole event lasting from 9am to about 3pm.
Trump’s speech alone lasted about 95 minutes, so chances are people moved in and out of the area during that time. Assuming 30,000 people occupied all the areas around the site (an upper estimate), that still would have required 20,000 new people to have entered and replaced the existing numbers.
Did Trump attract 50,000 fans?
It’s not inconceivable that 50,000 people may have been in the area of the rally, although not all at once, and this assumes thousands of new attendees arriving as thousands of others left.
Until there are final verifiable figures that confirm not only the number of people who booked tickets to attend (and how many attended), and more documentary evidence of the whole audience (including those who were in sight of the podium and not), we can’t say with certainty whether it did reach 50,000.
Nonetheless, the rolling crowd size was likely to have been between 20,000 to 30,000, meaning for it to have reached 50,000, another 20,000 other people would have had to arrive at the event.
In short, even cursory analysis shows that 50,000 is a highly ambitious take and one that does not appear to be particularly well supported by available evidence.
An estimate of 50,000 was provided by the Pickens County Police Chief and shared by others. However, using footage from the day, mapping tools, and expert analysis, the area around Trump’s podium and adjoining areas were more likely populated with somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000 people.
It’s not completely inconceivable that during the course of the day, an additional 20,000 to 30,000 people arrived, elevating the total attendees to 50,000 people.
However, without a full audit of attendees and other documentary evidence to better assess attendance, the estimate of 50,000 people appears to be highly ambitious.
There appears to be no sound support for the claim that there were more than 75,000 people at the rally.
FACT CHECK BY Newsweek’s Fact Check team