Hygiene is important. Just ask Karl Rove.

Speaking at a free-to-all event put on by the University of Texas College Republicans Tuesday night for another stop in his ongoing book tour, the former Bush political adviser faced down a divided crowd and repeated interruptions from an ever-present protest constituency that at times attracted just as much attention as the speaker himself.

The University of Texas at Austin.

In one memorable moment at the speech's end, Rove even opened up the floor to a question from those he called "malcontents," giving cause for one sign-bearing woman to inquire, "Have you washed you hands today, sir?"

Outside the event, most passers-by didn't seem to pay much mind to a small display put on by We Are Change activists, mainly centering around a man with a plastic gun labeled "protest" and a megaphone hitched to his waist.

He identified himself as Chris Leverson of Austin Free Press, a libertarian-leaning site. He also claimed affiliation with We Are Change.

The plastic gun on Leverson's hip (left) was labeled "protest."

Behind him, a dozen or-so stained red and mangled baby dolls, set up by Mark Couillard, 28, another Austin-based We Are Change activist, were strewn across the steps leading up to the Texas Union building off Guadalupe St.

Passing by the display, one man furrowed his brow and asked about the symbolism.

"It's Karl Rove, dude!" Couillard said. "He's inside, right now, giving a speech. These babies were like, alive before he got here!"

The bystander just blinked and walked away.

Bloodied baby dolls laid out by a protester.

"Oh shit! I just got a text message," the activist exclaimed. "Aaron Dykes just got arrested! That guy works for Alex Jones!"

(Dykes was escorted out of the hall and arrested for shouting at Rove about the Downing Street Memos. He was released early Tuesday.)

Meanwhile, the man with the megaphone was damning Rove for refusing to testify under oath. "Karl Rove tells the American people, tells the Congress to go to hell, then takes a vacation in Europe," he said. "When he gets back from Europe, does he go to jail? No, he gets a position on Fox News. He's now a Fox News correspondent spreading 'Fair and Balanced' bullshit."

A group of pedestrians at the curb chuckled at his apparent anger. "What's with the fake gun?" one girl asked, clearly oblivious to the events transpiring some 75 yards away.

"The truth shall set you free!" the man proclaimed. "All you'll get from Rove are lies."

Inside, the scene was roughly equivalent.

A row of protesters lined the back of Rove's audience, which appeared to have filled all available seats and then some. He promoted his book heavily throughout the speech and smirked while grinding red meat off the numerous interruptions.

Rove flowed effortlessly from shouting "sit down and shut up!" at Dykes to accusing Democrats of hating soldiers and trying to take away their votes, the whole time never skipping a beat and always plugging his book.

Karl Rove addresses a crowd at UT Austin.

UT student publication The Daily Texan adds:

During Monday’s event, Rove discussed healthcare, the war in Iraq and what he said was a failure by the Obama administration to deliver on its promises. His speech was followed by a question and answer session moderated by College Republicans President Ryan Ellis and University Democrats Vice President Jeremy Yager.

“If you care about the country and you care about the party, you need to focus on 2010 and put off worrying about 2012,� Rove said during his speech. “When we talk about healthcare, it’s not enough to say kill that bad bill, it’s to say ‘What is it we are going to do?’ When we talk about spending, it’s not simply to say ‘You let spending get out of control,’ it’s to lay out their agenda on each of the big issues that faces the country. It’s important for bright, young Republican thinkers to step forward and say ‘Here’s my idea.’�

At the end of the speech, which lasted approximately 70 minutes, Rove motioned toward the protesters and said, "Okay, one of the malcontents gets to ask a question; one malcontent, one question."

He pointed at a man in a brown jacket, who stood up in the middle of the audience and began waiving a book over his head, saying something not nearly loud enough, with the only audible phrases being, "I sent you an e-mail on this," "a pedophile ring run out of the GOP in the 1980s" and "if you don't believe that, you're insane."

"Yeah, you are. You are insane." Rove said with a snort. A nervous laugh rippled over the crowd.

"Alright, how 'bout a non-lunatic lunatic question?" Another round of chuckles from the Republicans.

One girl advanced slowly down the center aisle, message hoisted atop her head.

"You there," Rove said, pointing to her.

"Have you washed you hands today, sir?" she belted out. "Have you?"

A protester at the event.

"Yeah, many times, because I've gone to the restroom many times today," he replied. "You always wash your hands after you go to the restroom."

And that was it. One round of applause later and the auditorium was clearing out, though a few lingered for discussion.

A common complaint among several right-leaning observers was Rove's initial focus on numbers, which they said dragged down the tenor of his presentation.

Joseph Zimowski, a UT student who said he voted for Republicans in 2008 but isn't necessarily affiliated with the GOP, claimed he got exactly what he expected from Rove's speech.

"You kinda knew what he was going to say, what his agenda is going into it," he said, adding: "[The protesters] made it more fun. I didn't have a problem with it. You know, freedom of speech. You knew it was gonna happen. I'd be kinda disappointed if it didn't."

Another woman, who grinned while holding a placard that read, "Arrest Rove," said she didn't originally come to protest but when Code Pink activists began their disruptions, she grabbed one of their signs to show support.

A Code Pink activist left this sign behind after being escorted out.

"I'm a protester at heart, so, you know," said Julie Gumanow, an Austin resident. Her husband Gary called Rove's talk "pretty one-sided" and criticized the speaker for having the questions "kinda staged" (or "pre-screened," according to the College Republicans).

"I went to school in the 60s, so I've been around this all my life," added one man who only identified himself as John, a self described "free thinker" and non-partisan. He called the disruptions "expected."

"It's funny," John said. "I would say those folks believe in diversity and something, but they cannot stand diverse thinking. There's a lot I don't agree with, especially with Rove, but I want to hear him say it, you know?"

A man standing next to him called the protesters "fascists."

"When I was in college, liberal was someone who wanted to expand your mind and give you opportunity," he said. "These people here, they're not liberals, they're fascists. In the fascist system, there's only one party. If you don't agree with them, they shut you down. I think these young kids are being pulled into something evil."

"Just by standing in the back of the hall holding signs?" this reporter asked.

"Well, no, I think that's fine but when you don't let him speak, that's fascism," he said. "And I don't exactly know what they want."

The man went on to suggest they might be communists who don't realize that "America is a land of production."

He then turned and asked, "Do you know about the global economic conspiracy?"

At the speech hall's exit, the man in the brown jacket who Rove mocked as "insane" was still waiving his book, a copy of "The Franklin Scandal" by author Nick Bryant, insisting that high-ranking Republicans were involved in a pedophilia ring.

"It's not a secret anymore, people are getting familiar with this book," the man said to the last few speech-goers exiting the hall. "The truth shall set you free."

Outside, at the bottom of a flight of stairs, a group of about six We Are Change activists huddled around the man with the megaphone.

"So, what do you guys want to do next?" one asked.

The rest just seemed to shrug.


Photos by Stephen C. Webster.

Note: Story was updated from a prior version after a reader who was present at the speech raised credible doubts as to the identity of the woman who asked Rove about his hygiene.