As the year 2018 drew to a close, many pundits maintained that it was hypocritical for (Democratic) politicians to oppose funding the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico while simultaneously themselves living in homes surrounded by walls. (For the purposes of this article, we will eschew dwelling on the differences between walls and fences, and on the multiple uses of walls and fences for purposes other than keeping out intruders.)
In February 2018, for example, photographs supposedly showing walls around the homes of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s (D-Mass.) were circulated, along with disparaging messages labeling the two politicians as hypocrites. (Neither of the photographs used in those rumors actually featured the homes of Pelosi or Kennedy.)
Then in December 2018, President Donald Trump picked up the line of attack when he (falsely) claimed that former president Barack Obama’s Washington, D.C., residence had a “ten-foot wall” around the property:
President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2018
This same argument has been used to disparage other politicians. In January 2019, a set of images supposedly showing walls around the homes of the Obamas, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was also circulated on social media
This meme was inaccurate in several ways, including the use of misleading photographs.
The photograph labeled “Obama” truly shows a portion of Barack and Michelle Obama’s current residence in Washington, D.C. However, the claim that the home is surrounded by a 10-foot wall is inaccurate.
As a former president of the United States, Barack and Michelle Obama (as well as all other former presidents and their spouses) are afforded the lifelong protection of the Secret Service under the Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012. Certain security features were therefore added to the Obamas’ home in order to facilitate the Secret Service’s ability to perform their protection activities. For instance, a guard booth was constructed near the front door of the home, brick pillars and fencing were added to the retaining wall in the front of the house, and a chain-link fence was added to the back.
However, the Obamas’ home is not surrounded by a 10-foot wall. The house is still clearly visible from the streets, and photographs document that the stairway leading from the main entrance of the home down to the street is not impeded by a wall, fence, or security gate, as the Washington Post noted:
A neighbor, a longtime resident of the area who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their privacy, said Trump “has a very active imagination.”
“There’s a fence that goes along the front of the [Obamas’] house, but it’s the same as the other neighbors have,” the neighbor said. “It’s tastefully done.”
Another neighbor said the Obamas’ home is “100 percent visible from the street.”
“There is no 10-foot wall in the front, back or sides of the house — and no wall is going up,” the person said.
Former president Bill Clinton and his spouse, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, maintain a residence in Chappaqua, New York, which they purchased in November 1999 while Bill Clinton was still President of the United States. Shortly afterwards, an eight-foot tall fence was installed around the border of the property, along with a gate and security office:
Again, how much of that construction might have been undertaken in order the facilitate the activities of the Secret Service protective detail is difficult to determine. The New York Daily News reported in December 1999 that four Secret Service agents had participated in presenting a plan to the local zoning board for a variance to construct an 8-foot-tall fence around the Clinton property (since the zoning laws in the area at the time prohibited fences higher than 6 feet) and to install a guard booth near the entrance. Both proposals were approved:
[T]he zoning board of appeals for the town of New Castle voted unanimously to approve variances for an 8-foot-tall white-stained cedar fence. The Clintons sent four Secret Service agents to present their application to the board, because town zoning rules prohibit fences higher than 6 feet. The fence, which will come right down to the edge of the street, will block any views of the house and eliminate a favorite path for neighborhood kids who cut through the house’s backyard …
The zoning board also gave approval for a 4-by-6-foot guardhouse — with a turret — just inside the gate. While residents criticized the Clintons’ plans for the house, no one showed up at the meeting to protest, said board chairman Gabriel Rosenfeld.
When a similar rumor was circulated about Rep. Nancy Pelosi in February 2018, the purveyors of that misinformation used a photograph of Pelosi’s San Francisco neighborhood, but not one of her actual house. In this case it appears the image actually used a photograph of a property owned by Pelosi (although we aren’t entirely sure). Regardless, it’s unlikely that the pictured “wall” provides any significant security, as it is only a foot or two high. Furthermore, the largely decorative wall only covers the entrance and does not surround the entire property.
Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi, own an estate and vineyard along the banks of the Napa River on Zinfandel Lane in Northern California. The image purportedly showing Pelosi’s estate in this meme was found by the sleuths at the American Mirror (a hyperpartisan website that frequently publishes questionable content) using Google Maps. Although we’ve yet to come across a listed address for this property, we examined aerial images of this street and agree that the image likely shows the entrance of the Pelosi’s estate, as it is the only property bordering the Napa River and Zinfandel Lane that appears to be worthy of the reported $5-$20 million value.
However, the pictured wall is simply a stone border wall that doesn’t encircle the entire property and is no more than a few feet high:
Photographs of another home owned by Pelosi in San Francisco show that that property is not surrounded by walls, either:
The image labeled “Feinstein” was originally published by The Daily Caller in a 2013 article about a small fire near the senator’s residence in D.C. that required the response of emergency crews. Although the address listed in that report matched the address in a 2001 Washington Life article about the Feinstein’s home, we have not been able to verify if the senator still maintains a residence at this address.
The view of this property from OpenStreetMap appears to show the it is surrounded by a fence about five feet high:
The image labeled “Waters” in this graphic was originally circulated online with a different criticism of the politician. When the conspiracy-driven True Pundit website published this photograph in April 2017, they were describing Waters as a hypocrite for living in a mansion while fighting for the poor.
The photograph they published of the front of this Hancock Park, California, residence clearly showed it was not surrounded by a wall, however:
Although the residence is flanked by a brick wall along one side, other images of the residence — including a video shot by Omar Navarro as he announced his candidacy for Congress in front of Maxine Waters house — show the rest of the property to be completely open: