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Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert host Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Mall

The "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," hosted by Comedy Central's pundits, draws people wearing costumes and carrying signs to the Mall.

It wasn't a singular, coherent movement on display as much as a rollicking expanse of nano-movements. Recycling enthusiasts mingled with D.C. voting rights advocates, who bumped shoulders with fusion-power activists who stepped on the heels of 9/11 truthers. One sign implored, "Vote Lawyers Out," and another insisted, "Vote Popped Collars Out." Some in the crowd wanted the troops to come home; others wanted the troops to be able to gay-marry.

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And then there were the signs about signs, like one held by visiting New Yorker Beth Seltzer: "Americans for . . . oh look! A puppy!"

"There's so many people out there who are easily distracted," said the 39-year-old doctor. "And there are people who are yelling and screaming and protesting and they don't even know what they're talking about."

"I do vote," says Teddi Fishman, 46, the director of the Center for Academic Integrity in Clemson, S.C. "But more than entertainment or politics, I just think this is a release for everyone. We've had so much tension."

This is why Fishman has come to the rally dressed as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, with plush tentacles encircling her body. "I want to be around people who believe in civil discourse, that you can disagree" respectfully, she said.

A man walked by and asked if he could take a picture. "Yes," she said. "And would you like to touch my noodly appendage?"

In the last hour of the rally, a group of friends who had traveled from Oregon and the Carolinas said that the afternoon fulfilled every expectation they had for the day. "It was just a lot of people getting along," say Susannah Elder, 40, a massage therapist.

As far as they traveled and as close as they got, not everyone who came for Stewart and Colbert got to hear Stewart and Colbert. A few women from New Orleans sat by the steps of the National Museum of Natural History, well out of view and earshot of the stage. They'd driven 17 hours in a Pontiac for the rally. "Couldn't even hear it," said Isabelle Whitman, 33, as droves abandoned the Mall before the program had concluded.

"We'll watch it later, on TV," assured her friend Erin Landry, 27. At a news conference after the rally, reporters asked Stewart what message he had sent to his constituency.

"We don't have a constituency," he insisted.,,

Staff writers Paul Farhi, David Montgomery, Lisa de Moraes and Robert Thomson contributed to this report.

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