A fire department official in Manchester, New Hampshire, has confirmed President Donald Trump’s claim to have smashed attendance records at his rally at the SNHU Arena last Thursday, contradicting fake news about “empty seats.”
Trump proclaimed last Friday that his rally, which filled the 11,700-seat arena and left thousands more supporters outside, had broken Elton John’s attendance record for the venue.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2019
But Trump critics circulated screenshots of empty seats behind the president and sent the hashtag “#EmptySeatsMAGATour” trending on Twitter.
The hashtag was picked up by mainstream media outlets like The Hill, which reported the trend but did not bother to check the actual attendance, or compare the claims of Trump critics with reports from eyewitnesses.
— The Hill (@thehill) August 16, 2019
The Daily Mail confirmed with Manchester Deputy Fire Marshal Mitchell Cady that attendance in the arena was about 11,500, with 8,000 people standing outside. Elton John had drawn 11,300.
This reporter covered the rally in person. In addition to vendors setting up shop more than 17 miles away from the rally, there were many Trump supporters who camped out overnight to ensure they could enter the arena. Traffic to the venue was nearly impassable in places, and parking was almost impossible. The arena filled up hours before the speech began, and the Secret Service sealed the doors, preventing further entry. Thousands more gathered outside the arena to watch the speech on a giant screen.
One Trump supporter, Juliette Gardella, posted an account on Facebook of her experience at the rally, confirming that she and many others had camped out overnight.
There were a few empty seats in the far upper deck where visibility was poor, and partially obstructed by a large American flag. Many people simply made their way to parts of the arena where visibility was better. More did so as a few people left early — during a speech that lasted roughly two hours — to beat traffic.
The idea that Trump had failed to fill the arena was never true, but was circulated by Trump’s opponents and by the mainstream media in a classic example of fake news.