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Controversy follows Michael Moore like Rush Limbaugh follows a trail of prescription painkillers, and the filmmaker’s appearance last Wednesday at Wayne State University was no exception. The free outdoor lecture held on Gullen Mall drew a mass of Moore fans, as well as a few dozen Bush supporters and anti-Moore protesters. Although no physical clashes erupted, there was a fair amount of good ol’ fashioned yelling between the two camps. One woman in the front row hoisted her Bush-Cheney sign high — when the crowd began to boo her, Moore chided them: “Unlike the Republicans, we actually welcome opposing viewpoints.” News Hits noticed that as Moore spoke, citing instances from his film and reading wrenching letters from soldiers, the woman’s sign got lower, and lower, and lower, until she had it tucked under her chin while crouching on the ground. Mmm hmm. Moore also noted that the more time Republicans spent protesting his speeches, the less they spent on the streets recruiting votes, so “Thank you for wasting your time here today!”

The appearance was part of Moore’s 60-city “Slacker Uprising” tour of college campuses. The Flint native is trying to light a fire under the collective asses of the 18-25 crowd, who’ve typically had a lackluster showing at the polls. At each tour date, Moore has arranged for free screenings of his film, Fahrenheit 9/11. (Screenings will take place at WSU on Oct. 6-8; for more info contact murphy@wayne.edu.)

However, the Detroit date almost didn’t happen. Marti Murphy is the chair of the Wayne State College Democrats and helped organize the event. He says WSU couldn’t afford Moore’s hefty speaking fee. Fortunately, a WSU employee’s mom who went to high school with Moore stepped in and made things happen at the last minute. Cronyism at its best, folks! Murphy says the speaking fee was waived, and the AFL-CIO picked up the roughly $6,000 tab for police security.

Moore cracked jokes left and, well, left, and tossed free copies of his films and books to anyone who promised to register to vote that day.

Murphy estimated the crowd to be about 5,000.

“I was totally astounded by how many people showed up with such limited notice,” says Murphy. “It was just unreal. The Wayne State police said it was … one of the biggest events they’ve had in the last 10 years.”

Craig Van Houten a WSU student from Grand Rapids, was holding his Bush-Cheney sign high, while dodging insults and scraps of paper.

“I don’t like Moore, he takes things out of context,” said Van Houten. “I’ve been flipped off, yelled at … but we’re just holding signs.”

Detroit resident Craig Britton came down to watch Moore’s speech, but wasn’t fazed by the protesters.

“There’s like 30 of them, and all the rest is us,” he said.

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