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Having a Cow at Olympics

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is a good place for extroverts these days, particularly if you don’t mind dressing up like a cow or driving a truck displaying bloody views of abortions.

With 10,000 journalists in town, the Olympics have drawn a horde of activists and ax-grinders, all eager for a headline or a few seconds on worldwide TV.

On Tuesday, reporters from several countries surrounded three or four sullen young anarchists, most of them masked, on a downtown street. After denouncing the Olympics as a tool of corporate fat cats, their leader faltered when it came to the name of his group: “We’re the Party Bloc of the Anti-Capitalist . . . well, it’s on the press release.”

Nobody so far has blockaded traffic or torched a Starbucks, and local residents have taken the visiting zealots in stride. Even anti-Mormon protesters at Temple Square, the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, report a polite, if cool, reception.

“I’ve been cussed at,” said Jim Dorrough, “but not too bad.”

An ex-Mormon electrician from Edgewater, Wash., Dorrough hands out fliers accusing the Mormons of corrupting Christianity with beliefs that contradict the Bible. “I came because I expected quite a large crowd of non-Mormons who need to know the truth,” he said.

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Dozens of red-jacketed Falun Gong adherents roam the sidewalks, denouncing the cruel treatment of the spiritual group by the government of China.

At a rodeo put on to coincide with the Olympics, advocates for animals scream: “Stop the animal holocaust!”

Anti-abortion activists, homeless rights supporters, evangelical Christians: All are pushing their causes in a town that doesn’t see too much street theater, and so far, it’s gone down as smoothly as the green Jell-O that Utah folks are said to consume by the acre-foot.

“If this is the way it stays, then amen,” said Sgt. Fred Louis, a spokesman for the Salt Lake City police, which has 400 officers at the ready to deal with unruly crowds. So far, police have arrested five protesters--members of a group called Jedi Women who veered from a march on homelessness toward police lines outside the Games’ opening ceremony Friday. They were released after several hours.

While dozens of groups have signed up to demonstrate at seven official sites, the Mormon Church has shied away from any missionary zeal when it comes to pushing its message onto Olympic visitors.

“We want to be good hosts,” said Bruce L. Olsen, a spokesman for the church. “If you have someone over to your house for dinner, you don’t hand them literature and try to convert them to your faith.”

Still, making converts is the name of the game for true believers of all stripes who have been drawn here to state their case before the world.

The rodeo was a flashpoint from the get-go, drawing criticism for its inclusion in a series of cultural events affiliated with the Olympics.

Outside the rodeo arena in outlying Farmington, Steve Hindi sat at the console of his $160,000 truck, chatting on a cell phone with a Swedish reporter. Video screens on the sides of his truck showed calves being yanked and slammed down during roping competitions. Electronic signs delivered Hindi’s message in flashing red letters: “Cruelty is not in the Olympic Spirit,” with the “not” crossed out.

The display moves even non-believers, said Hindi, who owns an industrial fasteners factory in Illinois: “I’ve had ladies in fur coats come up to me asking how they can help.”

About 50 protesters, including a man dressed as a Holstein cow, came out for the final night of the rodeo, as they had for the previous two. A SWAT team and a mounted patrol watched as they shouted at rodeo fans on the way inside. Overhead, a Blackhawk helicopter circled.

In Salt Lake City for a visit, primatologist Jane Goodall also took her turn Monday denouncing the rodeo.

Such high-level support wasn’t in the cards for a dozen bundled-up, middle-aged men and women demonstrating one frigid afternoon in downtown Pioneer Park, one of the Games’ official protest sites.

For two hours, they held hands, chanted and did slow rapturous turns to make a point about world peace--namely, that they’re for it. They were watched in the late-afternoon shadows only by a few bored Salt Lake City police officers and a single reporter.

Mindful of stressing the grass underfoot, the members of Dance for Universal Peace moved from time to time to less danced-upon patches of lawn.

That the world’s press didn’t show up in force was OK, said Helen Donovan, a local nurse: Everybody would get the message sooner or later.

“It’s an energy,” she explained.


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