The administrators of a West Coast college expel two students, Larry Osborne and Patricia Cross, for publishing an underground avant-garde newspaper, and professor of philosophy Jonathan Barnett resigns in protest. Barnett then appears on the Joe Pyne television show, where it is revealed that in a scholarly thesis he advocated the use of LSD for religious meditation; and he becomes a hero with the hippie element in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. Evicted from his apartment, he moves in with Larry and Patricia and a group of their friends. Although initially sincere in following the hippie way of life, Barnett soon takes the young people's hero worship to heart. Encouraged by a hippie opportunist, Elliot, he begins to picture himself as a "messiah" and becomes involved in a money-making scheme in which a series of admission-priced "happenings" are arranged. At one of these Patricia takes a double dose of LSD and begins to do a striptease while imagining herself to be Alice in Wonderland. After witnessing the performance, Larry quarrels with Patricia and writes a series of articles exposing the hypocrisy of Barnett's cult. Patricia also becomes disillusioned when she tells Barnett that she is pregnant and is told to have an abortion lest she destroy his public image. She attempts suicide but is saved by Larry, who then takes a gun to a mass hippie rally and kills Barnett. As the crowd threatens to retaliate with a lynching, a young hippie grabs a microphone and starts to preach love and peace. Too late Larry realizes that by killing Barnett he has created a martyr and opened the way for a new "messiah."