Depending on who you ask, the Red Pill Expo was either a far-right conference riddled with conspiracy theories or a wholesome exchange of ideas. Held June 23-24 at Bozeman's Commons community center, the event featured "highly-acclaimed speakers" who "will help you to break free from the avalanche of propaganda, fake news and outright deception," according to the event's website. The event was roundly criticized by the Montana Human Rights Network, which issued a statement calling it a "combination of paranoid conspiracy theorists; far-right, anti-democratic libertarians; and alternative health charlatans."
Patrick Wood, the conference's executive manager, says the conference drew roughly 600 attendees, who paid as much as $347 for tickets. State GOP chair Debra Lamm was scheduled to deliver a talk titled "The Illusion of Common Core," but apparently canceled the presentation and didn't attend. The event was covered live by Infowars, Alex Jones' conspiracy-driven news outlet, and Infowars writer Millie Weaver co-delivered a talk on the subject of "fake news."
Other presentations focused on natural health care and alternative medicine. Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, says the juxtaposition is an intentional strategy for exposing newcomers to far-right ideologies.
"I'm sure well-meaning people who care about natural farming and ... personal wellness ... show up and are exposed to really dangerous stuff that hurts people," Rivas says.
The event's name derives from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix in which the main character is asked to choose between two pills: one blue, one red. Taking the red pill reveals that he has been living in a false reality. The term "red pill" is frequently used by the alt-right to describe the process of ideological conversion. Event organizers, however, disclaim any affiliation with the alt-right or with that movement's association with white supremacy.
"We love diversity, a diversity of topics," says Debbie Bacigalupi, an expo coordinator. "Every topic affects all of our lives, whether it's 9/11 or [whatever], people just want to know the truth."
Wood noted the conference featured several black speakers, including former Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. Rivas says that much of the language employed by expo speakers alludes to anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Wood heard things differently. "I heard it from several people ... they said that there was something magical going on," Wood says. "It was like something really special was happening, and the energy in the room ... it was just amazing."