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Protesters colorful, noisy — and greatly outnumbered

For once, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Utah County.

At least it seemed that way Wednesday at Utah Valley State College, where 7,000 crammed into the McKay Events Center to hear Michael Moore speak.

They chanted, they shouted, they stomped their feet and pumped their fists. For the most part, they drowned out the booing and hissing from those who thought the controversial filmmaker should take his droopy pants and ball cap elsewhere.

There had been threats that Moore's speech would be disrupted, and at times it was. At one point, a man in the third row stood up with something under his arm, possibly a weapon, according to Moore, and made a threat. After the man had been escorted out by armed officers, Moore gestured to another audience member and said, "You're next, buddy; bring it on."

Outside of that, the event passed without incident, thanks partly to 90 security officers, 35 of them in uniform. Police officers with bomb-sniffing dogs also patrolled the area.

Moore was greeted with a raucous standing ovation, and only pockets of the crowd booed what he had to say.

Even before his entourage pulled into the arena — in a rented Cadillac SUV — his supporters heavily outnumbered those who had gathered outside the arena to protest the speech.

They came in army fatigues. They came dressed as cheerleaders. They came wearing George Bush masks.

They hawked T-shirts and buttons. One man handed out 9/11 notes — dollar bill replicas he called deception notes.

"We've been deceived, people!" he shouted.

The two most vocal groups traveled from Utah State University. One, a college Republican group numbering about 20, wore T-shirts that said "No Moore lies." The other group called themselves "Billionaires for Bush." The men in the group, smoking cigars, wore pin-striped tuxedos and top hats. The women wore flapper dresses. One sign read "Make War, Not Jobs." They chanted: "We're here, we're rich, get used to it." Two identified themselves as "Rich N. Gettinricher" and "Halli Burton."

"We're trying to use humor to point out the obvious: that Bush has the interests of a few in mind, the rich," said group member Trey Simmons.

All told, there were 200-250 protesters, some of whom showed up at 9 a.m. and stood for three hours in the drizzling rain.

Few confrontations erupted: anti-Moore protesters holding light blue "Support our troops" signs stood on one end of the fenced-off area; anti-war protestors holding "Blood for oil" signs stood at the other.

At one point, a small group circled UVSC student Jennifer Coletti to confront her on the issue of gay marriage.

"We're a family," a gay couple shouted at her. Later, two girls stood in front of her and kissed.

"These people don't even know the issues," said Coletti, who was holding a Yes on Amendment 3 sign. "To me it's not a gay issue, it's an issue about marriage."

By one estimate, only 40 of the 250 people or so in the protest area were there to blast Moore. Dennis Potter, a UVSC assistant professor of philosophy, attributed the high turnout of liberal Utahns to organization.

"The progressive community has unified in opposition to the war and the Bush administration. The conservatives have not had to organize, because their party is in power," he said. "We sent e-mails to every left-leaning organization out there."

Michael Moore spokeswoman Terri Hardesty said protesters have followed the filmmaker to every venue where he speaks.

"I wouldn't even call them protesters. There's like 10 people out there with Bush/Cheney signs, and there are 14,000 people to see him," she said.

For hours, students, faculty members and others stood in the protest area arguing about the war in Iraq, the presidential election and issues like minimum wage and affirmative action. Several protesters said it was the most serious political discussion they had heard on campus this year.

"Before he came, nobody was talking about politics. There wasn't a whole lot of interest," said student Dominique Replogle, who wore a black shirt with the words "He Lies" painted on the front in white. "Now look around. People are waving signs, and getting mad. That's great. I think the Founding Fathers would be very happy with what's going on today."