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Survivors of Inauguration's Purple Tunnel of Doom Demand Answers

(Screengrab -- Facebook)

Three days after the inauguration, people are still seething over what has been dubbed "Purplegate" and the "Purple Tunnel of Doom"

Ticket holders to the purple section of President Obama's swearing-in ceremony are still seeking an explanation from the Capitol Police and congressional inaugural committee officials for why thousands of them were shut out of their designated area, where they would have had a nice view of history.

And so far, from the perspective of blue and purple ticket holders, answers and solutions are not forthcoming.

Marisa McNee, a Democratic political consultant and co-founder of the Facebook group "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom," tells the Sleuth she and her Purple Tunnel group co-founder, Dave Meyer, also a Democratic consultant, are exceedingly frustrated with the unresponsiveness from Capitol Hill.

She said the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, was "decidedly unhelpful."

The JCCIC, she said, "essentially said we should use the feedback email address (which is, of course, now full). In sum, the staff was polite (over-worked and stressed out) but totally unable to be helpful."

McNee said the office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, the top law enforcement official on Capitol Hill, was "not only unhelpful, but rude and dismissive. They refused to speak with us on the record at all."

She sent us a link to this video, which she said "provides a great idea of what a lot of people went through on Tuesday in both the Blue and Purple lines. For those who were stuck in the 'Purple Tunnel of Doom' it was similar but with the added fear that you might be trampled to death at any moment if just one bad apple in the crowd decided to start a problem."

Reached by telephone today, Gainer told the Sleuth he isn't aware of having received a phone call from McNee but would be happy to speak with her or anyone else demanding answers from the sergeant-at-arm's office. He said he already has personally responded to emails and phone calls.

"I'm not a ducker of these things, Mary Ann," Gainer assured us.

But as of now, he said, there's no clear answer to what exactly went wrong. "We're still piecing it together," he acknowledged.

Gainer said he continues to "apologize profusely" for all the ticket holders, some of whom traveled from far away places, who were prevented from seeing Obama sworn in as the 44th president. But his contrition and offers to remedy the situation seem to be doing little to assuage the anger this spurned group feels.

After offering to give personal tours of the Capitol to compensate those who were left out in the cold on Tuesday, Gainer told the Sleuth, "I heard from someone in the tunnel who was insulted by my offer."

"I'm not sure what it will take, but we're open to suggestions," he said.

One idea being floated loosely on Capitol Hill by a group of House senior aides who are bearing the brunt of complaints from furious and disappointed constituents is to have some type of event for the screwed purple and blue ticket holders at the White House, a chance for the brokenhearted to see Obama.

Gainer said he hadn't heard that idea, but would be happy to discuss that or other options.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  January 23, 2009; 2:10 PM ET
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That they were shut-out is sad, but a small price to pay for vital security.

How can they not realize that ensuring the safety of our nation's leaders is more important their fantasies being fulfilled.

You ever notice how most people who just have to be somewhere so that they can "tell their grandkids" are the types who have such big egos that they'll likely never even have kids.

Posted by: MikeK3 | January 23, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

That they were shut-out is sad, but a small price to pay for vital security.

How can they not realize that ensuring the safety of our nation's leaders is more important than their fantasies being fulfilled.

You ever notice how most people who just have to be somewhere so that they can "tell their grandkids" are the types who have such big egos that they'll likely never even have kids.

Posted by: MikeK3 | January 23, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

MikeK3, that's not totally fair. These weren't just random people showing up at a random place who couldn't get in. These were people with tickets to assigned seating showing up where they were told to go, only to be blocked from entering for reasons no one cared to explain at the time and still can't explain now.

I'd say they are quite right to be annoyed.

Posted by: nodebris | January 23, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I was and still am a silver ticket holder who could not get in. I went to the area I was told to and we had about 10000 people trying to get on to the mall. There was a big sign saying silver ticket holders here and no way to get to the line.
If you look at the overview shot you can see the packed area by the silver section. and the silver section is half full.
So don't just say it was blue and purple, it was silver too.

Posted by: lgb2931 | January 23, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I was a blue ticket holder and got denied after 5 hours of waiting in the freezing cold. I am an online journalist, and wrote my account of our nightmare, complete with video of the fiasco. Check it out:

Posted by: jeffwheeland | January 23, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I was one of the many thousands of purple ticket holders standing in the 3rd street tunnel for 5 hours and have participated in the ongoing discussion in the Facebook group: The Purple Tunnel of Doom.

When I first joined the group, Senate Sargent At-Arms Terrance Gainer was asserting only 4,000 - 5,000 ticket holders were not let in and that people wearing winter clothing unexpectedly filled up the ticketed sections.

While I know Mr. Gainer has a distinguished career as a public servant this does not give him license to provide false information to the public (he may simply have gotten false info himself).

We know from satellite images the sections were not full and we know the number of ticket holders denied access to the inauguration was at least 10,000. My personal estimate is that the number is probably closer to 20-30,000 ticket holders

I commend all those who have shared their stories on the purple tunnel of doom page and I imagine we will continue seething until honesty and accountability prevail.

Posted by: andrechevalier | January 23, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

FYI - the same thing was happening to us non-ticket holders. We got caught in a security blob at 10th and G. The officers that were there just stared at us, a good 3,000 person blob. I could see the one gate that was open. One person going in at a time, having to merge to the one gate from multiple sides, then no one would go in for minutes at a time. We stood in the blob for an hour...many had been there for 3-4 hours before they turned around and decided to head home. People in tears. With no information forthcoming, we knew we had to make a hard decision on our own. We decided to remove ourselves at 10:20 a.m. as we began to fear for our safety as time was ticking away. We decided to head home and were completely dejected. We had traveled 1500 miles. Thankfully, we found a volunteer who directed us to H and 18th (behind the Washington monument) where she assured us we would find no security posts. What was so upsetting for us was that no officials were telling us anything in the security lines. No one had bullhorns. They were just staring at us! Same situation was happening for non-ticket holders at 12th and G and 14th and G. If these security lines were closed, just tell us so we can move on. But nothing. We were like cattle. I fear for the state of our homeland security. How is it that an anti-abortion protester on the mall had a bullhorn, but no officers had any?

Posted by: gobadgerzzz | January 23, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

gobadgerzz. It wasn't just those without tickets. I had parade tickets and didn't get in.

I had a similar experience. Saw and heard plenty of protesters, but virtually no officials.

Posted by: nashpaul | January 23, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I had blue tickets. We did not have any problem with the green line metro. There was confusion among the volunteers regarding which street to enter for the various ticket holders and people were sent to the wrong street. Some of the people near the front of the Blue crowd had been there since 6:30AM and they left because they said nothing was moving at all at the front of the "line". There were no lines, no information being sent out with bullhorns, no restrooms,no ambulances, and absolutely no security in the crowd. We could see a handful of security agents processing a few blue ticketholders. The orange security area was next to the blue one. The orange ticket holders were processed quickly and the agents simply stood around visiting until the President appeared and they abandoned their station. I have to presume this due to the roar of the crowd, we did not have any way to hear the event. The orange section screener was near the blue screening area and if there would have been anyone in charge, the line could have been divided and run through that security. There were no speakers so we could listen to the ceremony. If someone would have had a medical emergency, it would have been a disaster because most of the cell phones were not working. As President Obama was ready to take the oath, the crowd started to move. Children were separated from parents and everyone was yelling trying to help find the children. Later we discovered that we were in the silver secured area. No one checked us, we simply followed the crowd. I do not recall seeing any police. Terrance Gainer should be accountable for his comments regarding the crowd. Everyone in our area was following the rules. We were wearing bulky clothing because it was freezing outside, and we could not bring anything in with us. He claimed that 5,000 unhappy people was not too bad.I think the number was much higher. It was a sea of people behind us for blocks,all crowded in the street. Second, most of these people worked hard for this campaign and received the tickets because of it. I think he and the Chief of Police should be accountable for their gross errors and putting the public and the President at risk.

Posted by: laurie13 | January 23, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

This whole mess is a perfect example of the folly of our country's over-focus on "security." The police directed thousands of people into the 3rd Street tunnel. None of those people had been screened by security for explosives or weapons, yet the police found it totally appropriate from a security perspective for them to stand for hours UNDERNEATH the Mall and major roads.

The PIC and event planners approached crowd management at the ticketed sections from the perspective of "how can we keep the wrong people out?" It should have been "how can we get the right people in in an orderly fashion?"

Posted by: ALC3653 | January 23, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse


Just curious why they are not being considered????

Posted by: melissa6 | January 23, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

People need to understand that not only was this a disappointment for all of the people that showed up early and followed the few directions we were given, it was a safety and security breach that luckily turned out well. This could have turned into a riotous/do I say it?..terrorist event given the fact that none of us down there was scanned or screened. The line was miles long and there were several thousand people total that were shut out and abandoned. This is not just a small blip, it was a huge debacle. Chicago's Grant Park was run far better. I expected more from the Nation's Capitol

Posted by: smhandley | January 23, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm one of the millions of people who didn't have the connections to even dream of getting tickets to the inauguration. Do we get a personal audience at the White House, too?

Posted by: cjenns | January 23, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who were NOT there and say things like "it's a small price to pay for security" and that there were no incidents on the Mall, you competely miss the point. Moving beyond the crushing disappointment us purple ticket holders feel, that tunnel was probably the biggest security risk you can think of...over 5,000 people stuck shoulder to shoulder in a place with one entry, one exit and ZERO security presence. Beyond the obvious mob mentality and crush of humanity that could have resulted in injury and death...if someone who had the intent of doing harm to massive people - we would have been a prime target...a gun, a bomb, a firecracker, anything could have turned that tunnel into an epic death trap. THAT IS NOT SECURITY!

Posted by: captandyhunt | January 23, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

I had a Purple ticket and got in a 5 am line that did move at all on D and 1st. The reason why the line did not move is because the Metro Police directed all ticket holders to the tunnel behind me and let the huge horde of people without tickets surge forward up 1st street to the Purple Gate entrance, and then Capitol Police let thousands of people with out tickets in!
With all the BILLIONS of tax dollars spent on HOMELAND SECURITY it really was a shock that thousands of people without authorization got to within a few hundred feet of President Obama, and the entire House and Senate! We were lucky this time that nobody got killed. This lack of leadership on the part of DC Metro Police and the Capitol Police should be a wake up call. If they can't prevent people without tickets from getting close to our leadership, what is to prevent a Jihadist or another Timothy McVeigh from getting in? I am not sure what will happen to the people responsible for this, but knowing Congress they will bestow Medal of Freedom to Senate Sargent-At-Arms Gainer, who insightfully pinpointed the blame on the "bulky coats" of us" discombobulated" Purple People!

Posted by: fredpierson | January 23, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I were silver ticket holders. We flew out from California. We walked it out the day before and even though it seemed like overkill, we got up at 4 am and were in line by 4:40. We figured that with maybe 2 million people getting in by metro, it would take an early start even with tickets.

When we got to the sliver line area, there were no authorities telling us where to line up. People simply asked others standing in line if they were silver ticket holders. One state trooper who was outside told me he had no idea where the silver ticket holders were supposed to go. We were surrounded by busses where state troopers sat in heated seats while we stood outside and kept line-breakers from cutting, policing ourselves. Finally, we were no longer able to control the line jumpers without risk of discord, which nobody wanted that day.

We did get in when the line finally started to move. It was tight and frightening, but people kept their heads and we got into the silver area.

For me, the worst thing was leaving - 1.8 million people coming in over a matter of hours is one thing - expecting them to exit from one gate is irresponsibly dangerous. People hopped the fence to the Native American Museum, finally tearing it, not out of anger, but just determination to get their children and elderly out of the bitter cold and crushing crowd. Once in the museum, people were fatigued and dehydrated, sitting on the floor sharing food and water. And then I heard one museum employee tell people there was no food allowed in the museum.

For the most part, however, the museum did a great job of providing restroom control, toilet paper, and quick food service from their cafeteria. This whole blue/purple/sliver thing could have been avoided with a few cordons, bullhorns and communication between organizers and enforcers.

Posted by: jstallones | January 23, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

I finally have some pictures of that day in the Purple Tunnel of Doom and not sure where to post them. The Tunnel People got out and went home. Now it is up to the officials to once again figure this out. Maybe the second time is a charm. Did they hand out too many tickets? Not hire enough staff? Didn't care? We will certainly hear something for there are enough of us interested and upset.

Posted by: KEVINSKI2 | January 24, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Democrats is so dumb!

Posted by: hayden1 | January 24, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

How about a refund and an apology, please.

Why detract from such an extraordinary day?

Posted by: ARicker | January 24, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I posted a well thought out and factual blog in the "Pacifying the Purple People" blog this morning, without making a copy, and it is not appearing! Can you retrieve it somehow and post it here as you have relatively little on the Blue gate in all this information. I also have photos being the Colorado Delegation volunteer photographer for 40,000 photos of this election year and Inaugural that I missed. I have evidencial photos!

Posted by: Photogirl | January 24, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I have to respond to the notion of "security" being responsible for our inconvenience. In fact, there is some anecdotal evidence that people ended up on the Mall who were NOT SCREENED. In addition to being unable to process legitimate ticket holders, then, the authorities were not able to secure the Mall.

The compensation I want: someone should lose their job over the utter failure to manage the situation, accommodate the invited, and secure the Mall from unscreened people.

My letter to Sen. Feinstein is here, although I understand her office prefers faxes. I guess it is 1985 on Capitol Hill.

Posted by: jb22079 | January 24, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I stood on that line for over 4 hours in a tunnel with my kids, paid $690 a night for a hotel plus traveled down their, not to tell my grandkids, but to show my kids how a nation can correct itself.

This was not a matter of security, it was a matter of stupidity on behalf of the planners and the police. Its not a footnote to the event however what if something went wrong in that tunnel? Would we get sympathy then?

If you were not there you should not speculate on what you have no idea about, ok MikeK3!

Posted by: Dradgool | January 24, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Get your Purplegate 2009, "I survived the purple tunnel of doom," or "I have a purple ticket" t-shirts, hats, cups, etc at

Posted by: tadajc | January 24, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

MikeK3 -

They weren't shut out because of a legitimate, conflicting security requirement. They were shut out because the people who planned the event didn't know what they were doing, and the unfortunate officers on the ground couldn't overcome that bad planning in the heat of the moment.

I made it into the Purple area by sheer luck, determination and a bit of knowledge about these situations...there was more than sufficient capacity at the Mags and the standing area where we were. The gates were absurdly small, mismanaged, scheduled to open stupidly late, and held closed because at (roughly) the last minute someone who didn't know what they were talking about and who lacked the tools to communicate to the masses (again, bad planning) panicked. Smart command authority was absent. If anything, THAT was threatening security on the morning of the 20th.

This is not about whiney people disregarding anyone's safety to fulfill a fantasy. This is just about people without the proper training and experience put in a position to plan and manage something outside their personal capacity.

Posted by: DC_Progress | January 24, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

After five days of covering up his failure he now acknowledges what we all have been saying! Gainer should resign or be fired now!

Please write your Senator and request the removal of Gainer

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, Congress's top law enforcement official who was in charge of security at President Obama's swearing-in ceremony, now acknowledges the so-called "purple tunnel of doom" on inauguration day was a major security breach.

"I now realize how dangerous it was in that tunnel," he tells the Sleuth.

Posted by: gjspa2 | January 25, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

The blue and purple ticket holders were not the only ones stuck in the 3rd st tunnel, it was also the silver ticket holders who had their entrances closed and was redirected to the tunnel. It was a miserable situation for all.

Like others I spent a lot of money for a hotel for two nights to bring my children, one of which walks with a walker to this historic event. I can tell you the disappointment we felt after being one of the first to arrive at the gates with our silver tickets at 6:45am. By the time we were re-routed back and forth from officials that really did not know what they were talking about, and closing entrances that were supposed to be open we finally arrived at our designated area at 10:45am. After standing in a very long line, with my 14 yr old on walker, we were told we could not enter. I can’t tell you how that feels to go through all of that to get there, endure the pain and leave without seeing the inauguration.

None of the entrances were correct. The police had no sympathy for any of the disabled. Not just my daughter. I saw elderly people not only with walkers and canes but in wheelchairs that were trampled over and treated as if they were not there.

There were supposed to be designated area’s for the handicapped. Every where we went during, in what I call, the 10 mile walk around D.C., no one could tell us where the “golf carts” were that was supposed to carry the handicapped from the gate to the handicap section of their ticketed area. They were shutting down gates at will after people walked to them and would turn them in another direction.

I am a former employee of the Department of Veteran Affairs and my husband works in D.C. and commutes home to Richmond everyday. I worked my but off canvassing, as others did, phone banking and catered a Dinner to the Richmond Headquarters. Also my 14year old daughter with the walker also did phone banking. We did not deserve what happened to us. I can live with it, but my hurt is for my children who I wanted to be a part of this historical event. I still get teary every time I think about my 19 year old son’s comments as we waited 2 hrs for the metro “Never Again”. He is in college and we went to pick him up from school before coming to D.C.

After all was said and done. We had to wait until we got back to Richmond to watch repeats of the Inauguration on T.V.

I think the Americans with Disabilities should be apart of all future planning and accommodations should be made for the handicapped. After all many of the handicapped are our heroes that have served in wars starting with WWII that are still living.

I think in all fairness, a special event (maybe an unused Ticket Holder Ball) should be planned for all Americans that were denied the opportunity to see the inauguration that they traveled and spent their hard earned money to see.

Deneen H. Harris

Posted by: deneenharris | January 25, 2009 12:39 AM | Report abuse

As an Iowan I was especially excited and proud to be at the inauguration. I never thought I'd be shut out.

I'm very interested in dinner at the White House with BHO. And, I'd gladly bring my unused blue ticket to gain admission.

Posted by: IowaDem | January 25, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

The Nation's Capital will celebrate the effective, efficient security measures during the recent Inauguration festivities at the National Bollard Festival.


Posted by: MikeLicht | January 25, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

The real issue is how a Terrance Gainer continues to survive despite being drummed out of both DC Police and Capitol Hill Police? His time in those organizations were fraught with boneheaded decisions combined with shameless self-promotion and sucking up to journalists. Already he's maneuvering to dodge this bullet. How did he ever become Senate Sgt of Arms?

Posted by: gusaxa | January 25, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

As someone else said, it was also SILVER TICKET holders who suffered, waiting in mass confusion to be screened, people with disabilities/wheelchairs trapped in the crowd - unable to get to the Disability Area, screeners not knowing about the Disability Area. Coming out, I saw NO SECURITY and it was terrifying, heading to the Federal Central Metro with a million other people. I don't know about this Mr. Gainer, but he should be fired. I believe we are lucky that many of us were not trampled to death. I will email Sen. Feinstein as I don't own a fax.

Posted by: ebliversidge | January 26, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Please, it was not just the Blue and Purple ticket holders. It was also the SILVER ticket holders that were stuck in that tunnel and given the run around.

How about we just give it a acronym: The PBS ticket holders.

Thank you!!

Posted by: deneenharris | January 26, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Sorry that I tried to dismiss the seriousness of the situation and got it wrong. I stand corrected.

Could it be that the outgoing administration didn't want things to go well? Sour grapes?

Posted by: MikeK3 | January 26, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Sorry that I tried to dismiss the seriousness of the situation and got it wrong. I stand corrected.

Could it be that the outgoing administration didn't want things to go well? Sour grapes?

Posted by: MikeK3 | January 26, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Hey everone who were rejected at the gates; I heard an observation made by a CNN reporter later during the parade, when it was shown that the entire bleecher section to the President's right, was totally empty and they were given the ''explanation'' by security personell under the out-going Bush administration orders that it was done so, for ''security reasons'' !!

I wouldn't doubt if all the rejections you all experienced were actually ''planned'' by the out-going Bush administration scoundrels, in the name of ''national security'' !!

What a shame, but then what else can you expect fro Repugnanats - -

Posted by: mewindows | January 26, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Like most of the thousands of loyal supporters turned away from the gates on the morning of Jan. 20, what we had hoped would be the most exciting day of our lives, the culmination of a year of hard work and great expense, became the most frustrating . We spent 5 hours in the idiots/honest folks BLUE LINE to NOWHERE. Our Inauguration experience was watching the gates slam closed in our face, neither seeing nor hearing the ceremony. We met not a single figure of authority to reign in the thousands of gate crashers, nor a volunteer who could have explained what we learned hours later: the security machine quit working for more than 90 minutes, so there was no possibility we'd get in. If we had known, we could have made it to the Mall and at least watched on tv. The ultimate irony was seeing pictures of all the celebs comfortably sitting in the front rows watching the proceedings we never got to see, while we, the people who put Barack in office, were on the sidelines!!!!!!!
And to those who say we should stop wining because National security should take precidence, I say if the Inauguration had been handled competently, we all would have made it through the gates with time to spare. I was one of 89,000 who made it into the Cotton Bowl through security with a ten minute wait.
We spent two days waiting in lines to get our Blue Tickets, and 5 hours on The Blue Line to Nowhere, all for naught. Come on folks!

Posted by: ggross1 | January 26, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

It was the Goverment terrorist that held up you people and they all had automatice weapons.

Posted by: MilfordD | January 27, 2009 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Hey people. Grow up. The Democrats got what they wanted from you on November 5, 2008. They didn't need you anymore on January 20th. You had already served your purpose of working for the campaign and voting for the Democratic candidate(s). Now the Democrats are working to spend taxpayers money on the quote "Stimulus Bill" to fix the American economy and you thought they were working for you. Ha. Just look at all the pork in the bill that does nothing to stimulate the economy. One example a study on contraceptives. That one is a giveaway to "NOW and Naral for their endorsement of Obama and if you don't agree please pray tell does this stimulate the economy.

Posted by: flcraker | January 27, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Gainer should be fired!

Posted by: gjspa2 | January 28, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

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