A war protest in which 179 stop signs were defaced by stenciling the word "war" in white letters under the "stop" has morphed into an exercise in free market capitalism.

A judge ordered that at least some of the defaced stop signs belonged to the people who vandalized them once they paid restitution. Those signs are now being sold — briskly and at a profit — for $80 apiece.

It has also encouraged others in the region noted for its conservative voting record to come forward with their own misgivings about the war in Iraq.

"I really am shocked almost weekly by hearing people tell me, 'Thank you,"' 19-year-old Alexander Piet told the Post Register. "It's really refreshing."

He said he will autograph some of the signs he's sold when he returns to this eastern Idaho city from classes at the University of Washington.

Piet and 20-year-old Craig Bakker vandalized the signs last year, and earlier this year pleaded guilty to misdemeanor vandalism in 7th District Court. Authorities say three juveniles also took part in the vandalism, but their identities and the resolution of their cases, and whether they received any of the signs, has not been made public.

Piet and Bakker were each ordered to pay restitution for 20 signs at $60.86 per sign, adding up to $1,217.20. Both also were ordered to pay a $500 fine, plus $72.50 in court costs.

Piet has paid his restitution and received his 20 signs, and has sold 14 so far for $80 apiece. At that price, if he sells the remaining six, he would recoup $1,600 in all.

The restitution, fine and court costs add up to $1,789.70. But the $80 could be less than the market will bear.

One of the signs sold for $300 and another for $275 after the Bonneville County Democrats bought them from Piet and then auctioned them off at the annual Truman Banquet fundraiser May 3.

One was bought by Dan Henry, a member of the Snake River Freedom Coalition that formed after the signs were defaced to encourage less destructive forms of protest.

Henry is also head of the local chapter of Drinking Liberally, a national group that describes itself as "an informal, inclusive progressive social group." He said the sign he purchased will be displayed on the group's float during this year's Fourth of July parade in Idaho Falls.

Thomas Hally, an Idaho Falls City Council member, disagreed with the judge's decision to allow the vandals to own the signs.

"The war is a volatile issue," he said. "But no one has the right to destroy public or private property to express an opinion, and I don't think one should profit from that."