Fact check: Meme with images of Biden, Trump inaugurations draws false comparison




The claim: Joe Biden's inauguration was a low-attendance military event because he was 'installed' by the 'deep state'

Many factors made President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' Inauguration Day historic. From swearing in America's first female, Black and South Asian vice president, to looming security threats, to an ongoing pandemic, Inauguration Day looked like no other. However, shadowed corruption was not a factor.

"When you're elected by the people vs. when you're installed by the deep state," reads a viral meme with a photo of Donald Trump's family walking the inaugural parade route in 2017 and another of armed security outside the closed Capitol building in January.

New York Times photographer Doug Mills took the photo of the Trump family at the inaugural parade on Jan. 20, 2017.

Photographer Brendan Smialowski took the other photo of the military at the Capitol on Jan. 7.

"A Capitol Police officer stands with members of the National Guard behind a crowd control fence surrounding Capitol Hill a day after a pro-Trump mob broke into the US Capitol," Getty Images captions the photo.

While there was a high military presence and few onlookers around the U.S. Capitol for Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration, the reason has everything to do with the ongoing pandemic and heightened security concerns and nothing to do with election fraud.

USA TODAY contacted several Instagram users who posted the meme and heard back from one. Conservative lawyer Rogan O'Handley told USA TODAY he did not believe Biden was elected by the "Deep State" but posted the meme to express his belief that Biden "was favored by the DC establishment."

O'Handley removed the meme after responding to USA TODAY.

Fact check: Attendance at Biden's inauguration was restricted by COVID-19 pandemic

Biden and Harris were legally elected

The president was not "installed" by the "deep state" as the meme suggests - rather, 81 million Americans voted for him. Biden received 7 million more votes than Trump's 74 million. Biden's victory withstood many unsuccessful legal challenges by Trump's campaign.

The existence of a "deep state" is a frequent claim among QAnon conspiracy theorists. Some QAnon adherents believe the "deep state" is a cabal of politicians and bureaucrats that secretly control the government."While this claim takes many forms, it generally centers on the suggestion that a cabal of powerful elites is manipulating the world," USA TODAY previously reported.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris celebrate their victory in Wilmington, Delaware on Nov.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris celebrate their victory in Wilmington, Delaware on Nov.  

USA TODAY has previously debunked several claims that Biden's win was illegitimate or resulted from election fraud and found none to be true.

Fact check: Biden inauguration impacted by pandemic, security threats

Small crowds due to pandemic and security concerns

Biden did not have a traditionally large inauguration nor inaugural parade as Trump did, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and loomingconcerns about security after the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol.

Biden's inaugural committee planned mainly virtual inaugural festivities to avoid large crowds that could potentially spread the virus.

By Inauguration Day, the coronavirus had infected more than 24 million Americans and killed 400,000.

"There are many grand traditions to the inaugural, and we plan to honor them by highlighting more of our nation's people than ever before while keeping everyone safe," the inaugural committee's CEO Tony Allen told USA TODAY.

Throughout his campaign, Biden held events significantly smaller than the Trump campaign's events. This was because he was he abided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's coronavirus guidance by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds.

Biden did walk an abbreviated parade route, lined with members of the press.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House during Inaugural celebrations, on January 20, 2021, with family members after Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House during Inaugural celebrations, on January 20, 2021, with family members after Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.  

Biden's critics have promoted a similar claim that Biden's small inaugural crowd is proof that Trump actually won the election. USA TODAY has rated this claim false.

Fact check: National Guard members remained armed during inauguration

Heightened security after Jan. 6 Capitol siege

Additional military support for Biden's inauguration was added after pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a deadly insurrection.

Protesters on Jan.
Protesters on Jan.  

After the riot, the FBI continued to track threats of continued violence throughout the country.

The Department of Homeland Security launched a massive operation, which called 25,000 National Guard members to D.C to help provide security during Biden's inauguration.

Fact check: Photo captures House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thanking National Guard

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that the small crowd and military presence at the Biden inauguration proves he was ''installed" by the "deep state" as FALSE because it is not supported by our research. Biden was legally elected, and there is no evidence to support claims about a secret "deep state." Biden's inauguration had few observers and a significant, highly visible military presence due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and heightened security concerns.

Our fact check sources:

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 20, "What does DC look like on Inauguration Day? These iconic photos capture Biden's transition to the White House"

  • The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2017, "Donald Trump Inauguration: A Day of Ceremony, Protests and Celebration"

  • Getty Images, Jan. 7, TOPSHOT-us-politics-ELECTION-capitol-vote-demonstration

  • USA TODAY, Nov. 3, 2020, "2020 Election Results & Maps"

  • USA TODAY, Dec. 15, 2020, "A quick guide: Trump's lawsuits dispute election results as presidency is called for Biden"

  • USA TODAY, Sept. 17, 2020, "Debunked QAnon conspiracy theories are seeping into mainstream social media. Don't be fooled."

  • USA TODAY, Dec. 15, 2020, "Fact check: Joe Biden legally won presidential election, despite persistent contrary claims"

  • USA TODAY, Nov. 17, 2020, "Fact check: What's true about the 2020 election, vote counting, Electoral College"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 19, "What will the crowd size at Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20 look like?"

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Jan. 21, "United States COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by State"

  • USA TODAY, Dec. 4, 2020, "Fact check: Biden got record number of popular votes despite small campaign events"

  • FactCheck.org, Jan. 24, 2017, "Fact check: The controversy over Trump's inauguration crowd size"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 20, "Live updates: Biden's inauguration day ends with a wave and a massive firework show"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 20, "Fact check: Attendance at Biden's inauguration was restricted by COVID-19 pandemic"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 11, "'It could have been much, much worse': Video, witness accounts reveal darker intent of some Capitol rioters"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 13, "FBI urges local police to share threat intelligence in run-up to Biden inauguration"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 15, "Over 20,000 National Guard troops to provide security against inauguration threats in Washington"

  • USA TODAY, Jan. 19, "Live inaugural updates: 12 Army National Guard troops dropped from Capitol security, including 2 for ties to right-wing militias"

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Inauguration meme makes false Biden-Trump comparison

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