I was sitting in a cafe in my hometown, the Boston suburb of Arlington, when I overheard an attractive older white woman talking with a bald middle-aged white man. She said, “I’ve been involved in the Truth movement for eight years.”
“I’m always learning new things about you,” he responded, fondly. “You’re involved in so many interesting things.”
“You don’t know the half of it! I’m only kidding. But several of us meet regularly. We each are experts on different things. You can’t learn everything. But we study the things they don’t talk about in mainstream media.”
As it turned out, she was headed to a so-called Red Pill Expo in Hartford.
“Red pill” is a term used by the far-right and the alt-right. It’s taken from the film The Matrix, as in people who have accepted the “harsh realities of the world” have taken the red pill or been “red pilled.” It also includes a lot of hateful beliefs involving misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and transphobia. They don’t seem to realize that The Matrix was made by then-closeted transgender sisters. And when they wrote it, estrogen pills were red, according to Victoria Darling of transethics.org.
Listening to this woman in Arlington talk with her friend, though, she sounded totally reasonable, intelligent, even sympathetic. Maybe I misheard her say red pill?
No, she mentioned the Red Pill conference again. I thought about warning her friend that red pill refers to hate, and about saying a bunch of mean things to the woman. Then I decided to ask her some questions to draw her out.
“Can I ask you what the Red Pill conference is about?”
“Oh, it’s about the truth they don’t tell you on mainstream media,” she said.
“Wow. Okay, like what specifically?”
She didn’t give a clear answer but responded, “There’s some great YouTube stars that will be speaking there. YouTube is the only place you can find the truth these days.”
“Oh yeah, like who?”
She encouraged me to look at Know More News and David Icke. Checking the sources, I immediately noticed that Know More News has a lot of anti-Semitic images and headlines (i.e., “Jewish Supremacy Expo$ed,” and “Benjamin Netanyahu’s Plan to Rule the World.”)
“Hmm, there’s a lot of Jewish stuff?” I calmly observed.
“Yes, he talks a lot about the problem with Zionism,” she said. The videos are clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist. I myself am proud to be Jewish and anti-Zionist. Criticizing the state of Israel and being hateful to Judaism and Jewish people are two different things. But for some they go together.
“And there’s a lot about Alex Jones. They don’t like him?”
“There’s a lot of controversy around him now. Some people think he’s a shill,” she explained.
I looked at David Icke’s YouTube page, only to notice that some of his videos have millions of views, including one that reads, “David Icke Exposes Michelle Obama.”
“What’s this about Michelle Obama? How much trouble can she cause as the former first lady?”
The woman said she wanted to show me something. She spent a while trying to find it. While she searched, I asked what she thought of Trump and was simply told, “I don’t like the two-party system.”
She found what she was looking for and sat next to me. She showed me her screen: “Irrefutable evidence that Michelle Obama is a man.”
“Ah, yes, I heard about that! So what’s the issue? What does this mean?”
“It means we’re being lied to! Many famous people are [transphobic slur] … or clones!” she informed me.
“Wow,” I said, “And what’s the problem with that?”
Taken aback, she moved away from me and said, “Well, I think this conversation is over!”
I was honestly still trying to understand where she was coming from. But she drew the line there. I said, “I’m just trying to get the significance of this.”
“Men are being tricked into lusting after men! Do you think that’s okay?” She gave a self-satisfied nod. “It means we’re being lied to. This is just one example.”
A few minutes later I tried to ask her what she thought of socialism. She said she had things to attend to. She was reading a book titled The Hell Conspiracy.
When she and her friend walked out, I shouted, “I hope you enjoy the Pride parade tomorrow!”
“Oh, I won’t be there!” she said.
I said, “Well, I’m a [transphobic slur] and a Jew, so go fuck yourself!”
She was shocked. “My goodness! There’s no need to swear!”
“There’s no need to spread hate the way you do!” I replied.
(I should make clear: the slur I used is considered offensive and is especially used to target transgender women. Some transgender people have reclaimed the term and use it to refer to themselves. I come out as genderqueer one year ago. But I wouldn’t normally use that word.)
Did I handle that well? I felt sick to my stomach and full of adrenaline. I hope engaging with her and sharing this has some value. It’s not just poor, uneducated white men in red states with hateful views. There’s hate in my hometown. Currently there’s a controversy over an Arlington police officer, Lt. Richard Pedrini, who said ignorant and hateful things in a statewide police newsletter. And the only Jewish center in Arlington, the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, was twice targeted by arsonists this year. Thankfully, hundreds of people recently turned out in support.
Some people point out that conspiracy theorists are right about one thing: The public is being lied to. Lots of famous people do terrible things and are not like most of us. They’re just terrifyingly wrong about the details. Maybe if we lived in a world where fewer people were lied to, exploited, and alienated – fewer people would be attracted to such conspiracies?