Mike Lindell is furious with me.

The Minnesota marketing genius, who pulled himself out of drug addiction and became a millionaire by selling pillows, is pointing a shaking finger at where I’m sitting in the gallery above the stage of his Cyber Symposium in Sioux Falls. After delivering yet another angry tirade at the media, Lindell had finished with the words, “like my buddy up there!” and, to my astonishment, directed his angry gaze and a prolonged finger jab at me.

I’d driven almost four hours from Minneapolis to attend Lindell’s three-day, mid-August event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to which Lindell had invited the media, delegates from all 50 states, as well as various cyber experts, for the purpose of definitively proving that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from President Donald Trump. The symposium’s marquee event was supposed to be the public release of 37 terabytes of raw election data leaked from a secret source that showed vote flipping. This data was promoted with all sorts of hyperbolic statements from Lindell about their world-changing nature.

“It’s all part of the coverup of the greatest crime in history,” Lindell said on the opening day. “When we get through this—if we get through this—it’s going to be glorious.”

Lindell had gathered together a “Red Team”—counterintelligence terminology for a team of intelligence experts who simulate an attack by the enemy—as well as various internet technology experts who had analyzed the leaked data. With great fanfare, Lindell would periodically unveil a graphic for each state showing the reported election results as “The Big Lie.” Then he showed “The Truth,” the results derived from the leaked data, which either flipped states from Democratic blue to Republican red or narrowed Biden’s margin of victory. A picture of resounding victory for President Trump began to appear.

The unveiling of these state results was interspersed with presentations by various experts, as well as long and frequent stream-of-consciousness monologues from Lindell, which mainly consisted of him alternately ranting at and pleading with the mainstream media to give him fair coverage.

The evidence of election fraud presented came in two categories. One focused on verified suspicious details about the election; statisticians, lawyers, and computer experts enumerated the many anomalies within the election results, from the oddly convenient election night vote-count stoppages in key swing states, to the improbable statistical patterns in the final results, to the unlikely breaks from historical voting patterns in many electoral counties.

None of these data can be considered definitive proof that the Democrats and their allies had their thumbs on the scales, but it was nonetheless compelling evidence suggesting that not everything was on the up-and-up on Nov. 3. This was the stuff that had me and many others on the right convinced that the election had been manipulated.

The second category of “evidence,” which could more accurately—but perhaps uncharitably—be called conspiracy theorizing, was big-picture speculation about the behind-the-scenes events that led to the stolen election. Lindell had released a two-hour documentary called Absolute Proof in February containing this stolen election theory, and it was clear right away that Lindell’s focus and the audience’s hopes were on his big theory.

Lindell led off the conference with a slickly produced, 23-minute video that told a succinct narrative about a U.S. election system compromised under the control of private equity firms and foreign investors, manipulated by the Chinese Communist government to assist far-left activists like George Soros, for the purpose of enacting a stealth coup, which would introduce communism to America.

“To achieve their goal, they’ve got to disrupt families, divide races, destroy small businesses, dismantle the middle class, and distort the American dream of owning land, a home, and everything necessary for the pursuit of happiness and sovereignty,” Col. Phil Waldron, the intelligence specialist who led Lindell’s Red Team, says during the video.

All of this sounds fine and like many a Chronicles opinion column. But the conference attendees came out to Sioux Falls for evidence, not opinions—and that’s where things began to go bad.

On the second day of the symposium, one of the cyber experts who had been on Lindell’s Red Team, Josh Merritt, told the The Washington Times that the data available to Lindell did not show the detailed evidence required to prove that China, or anyone, had flipped the election results.

What was missing were the “packet captures,” or snapshots of data traveling through a computer network, that were purported to have gone between the Dominion voting machines and the people who allegedly flipped the votes. As the symposium wore on, several other cyber experts appeared to verify Merritt’s statement, complaining that they had not been provided the conclusive data they had been promised, and that what they had been given by Lindell’s team would require weeks of additional analysis before it could be deciphered. “My conclusion is simply: we didn’t get the Absolute Proof packet captures that show the flipped votes that Mike Lindell promised,” cyber expert Rob Graham tweeted.

To make matters worse, there was confirmation of reporting by The Washington Times and the Gateway Pundit that the source of Lindell’s information was a discredited former government contractor named Dennis Montgomery, who had been involved in multiple hoaxes, including the “Hammer and Scorecard” story about a government supercomputer used to manipulate vote counts, which the pro-Trump lawyers Sydney Powell and Lin Wood chased down a rabbit hole in the days after Trump’s election. That Lindell appeared to have fallen down a similar rabbit hole was a forehead-slapping moment for the symposium attendees.

Lindell was visibly under immense stress throughout the event, and his long monologues (I timed one of dozens of these rants at 72 minutes of nonstop talking) were delivered in a bellicose, ranting voice that grew hoarser as the days progressed. He told the audience that he had spent a total of $15 million on his election fraud-related efforts, and that pulling his company’s ads from Fox News—which he did to protest the network refusing to run an ad for the symposium—was costing My Pillow $1 million a week.

One of the themes that both Lindell and his expert guests reiterated throughout the symposium was that, if only they could get their evidence out to the American people, the scales would fall from the eyes of even those on the left. He pleaded with mainstream broadcast journalists to give him a fair shake, calling out to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News with such earnestness and naïve sincerity that I was in danger of slapping my forehead raw.

“The American people aren’t divided—that’s the Big Lie!” Lindell bellowed. “The left aren’t bad people, they’re just brainwashed by the media! All we need to do is get what I have and put it out there to the world. It’s life-changing.”

Of the many claims Lindell made at the event, it was this one that I was most skeptical of. The fact that his appeals to the media fell on deaf ears got under Lindell’s skin. His eyes were glued to his phone through the expert presentations while he was on stage. He periodically interrupted his experts to read mean journalist tweets aloud.

“Why would you do this? Don’t you love our country?” he said after reading one such tweet to the audience. “Is [this journalist] a communist? Does he not like me because I’m a Christian conservative?”

I was sympathetic to Lindell throughout, which is why I was astonished he had picked me out of the crowd with his angry index finger on the last day. I quickly realized he had mistaken me for a guy from Salon sitting 10 feet to my right, who had been tweeting throughout the event.

The German political philosopher Carl Schmitt wrote that the key distinction one must make in all political action is between friend and enemy. It was clear to me that the mainstream media Lindell was begging for support were his enemies, and the people who gave him his data were not his friends.

Despite the overwhelming debacle on the main stage, there were small platoons of delegates, state legislators, and election officials quietly meeting at Lindell’s event and discussing plans to push for state and county audits, based on the compelling discrepancies in the data that had been overshadowed by the other theatrics. If the big picture of the 2020 election is ever revealed, it will start from those small corners.