According to The Washington Post, Trump was on the phone the morning after the event with National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds, demanding that Reynolds come up with new aerial photos of the inauguration. Preferably ones that supported Trump’s claim that it “looked honestly like a million and a half people” were present and that “it went all the way back to the Washington Monument.” Reports indicate that Reynolds was stunned by the request, but he did track down alternate photos and pass them along to the president. These photos, however, also failed to prove Trump’s numbers correct.
The call was unprecedented and word very quickly spread through the Park Service, though the NPS refused to formally comment on the conversation. The Park Service also does not release official crowd estimates. Still, based on the now-famous side-by-side photos of Trump’s and Obama’s 2008 inaugurations, it’s clear that Trump didn’t exactly get his “million and a half.” Experts estimate that this year’s attendance was roughly a third of the size.
But Trump isn’t one to stand by and let photographic evidence do the talking. By the afternoon of January 21st, he was already claiming that the media had lied or substituted photos from before the event had really gotten started. He also dispatched Press Secretary Sean Spicer who declared that “these attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” Days later, other Trump aides were out in force, including Kellyanne Conway who coined the now-infamous term “alternate facts,” and Chief White House Strategist, Steve Bannon, who (terrifyingly) informed The New York Times that “The media here is the opposition party.”
In the days since the inauguration, the Park Service and its various park Twitter accounts have become the center of a bizarre and heartening social media battle with Trump. Days after the NPS was told to suspend tweeting, Badlands National Park published a series of now-deleted tweets about climate change. Death Valley National Park followed up with a tweet referencing Japanese internment camps and a number of “rogue” science twitter accounts have now taken up the battle.
— Nathan Rott (@NathanRott) January 24, 2017
It remains to be seen whether Trump will be able to put the low turnout numbers behind him (probably not), but his demands and insistence upon changing the facts remain chilling.