Director: Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker
Writer: Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker
Cinematographer: Michael Beach Nichols
Producer: Joey Carey, Jenner Furst, Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker, Joshua Woltermann
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Welcome to Leith is documentary about a small North Dakota town with a population of about twenty-five people, where the legendary, geriatric Neo-Nazi Craig Cobb moves in order to start a small Nazi governed community. We’re introduced to Leith by its mayor Ryan Schock, who explains that the three mile wide town includes a single black man, Bobby Harper and his wife, along with couple Lee and Heather Cook, who had who had left Utah after Lee’s daughter was shot and killed.
The documentary follows Craig Cobb as he tries and succeeds in attracting additional Neo-Nazis to the community. Craig and his Nazi cohorts then purchase property, with plans for an elaborate layout of the city that would feature memorials of famous Nazis. By attracting enough Nazis to gain a majority of the voting population, they could then seize control of the town, forcing Schock, Harper, and Cook, amongst others, to watch as their town is hijacked. This soon attracts the attention and support of the leading figures of the major present day Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist organizations.
The combination of gorgeous photography and the situation’s absurdity create a story unlike anything I’ve ever seen. To watch this days after Charlottesville, with everyone thinking this was just some rare occurrence, and having watching PBS's Oklahoma City, The Battle of Bunkerville, and Ruby Ridge, I began to see that this is a very serious and frightening problem; where after a disgustingly timid and ambiguous response from the President - in a Presidency that has always been very specific when he wanted it to be - it is now helping to empower these individuals. I never thought I’d see a racist sympathizer again in my lifetime, as Ronald Reagan, for as much as I disagreed with him, epitomized the boy scout, Great American attitude that other Republicans would strive toward. I think of if I saw this film in 2015 when Obama was president. I’d probably think it was the fringe. Now it feels eerily close, and in an age where divisions already run high, we’re now seeing a lot of nasty ideas coming to light, as the amount of Republicans who agreed with Trump's response, including his remarks on there being good people on both sides, hovers at 67%.
One person I came across on Facebook shared a video of ISIS pulling down statues along with the liberals pulling down the Confederate statues; equating the two. It’s truly one of the stupidest and most anti-factual things I’ve seen. Of course I had to ask how she’d feel if Jews were forced to live in a town with a statue of Hitler or other Nazis, and then decided to tear it down. She didn’t respond. But these ideas, with a president refusing to condemn them, are therefore now permissible to explore. And the thing is one day Trump will be gone, and a move toward decency will return, and those ideas will once again have to be contained, and yet there they were, for all of us to see for while.
The film is shot beautifully, falling far from the traditional, more neutral style of traditional news documentaries (such as Frontline). It contains a cinematic quality, and while Wikipedia doesn’t cite the source, allegedly directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker wanted to shoot it like a horror/western, accomplishing both, and raising interesting questions about aesthetic’s role in capturing the truth. I found it an engaging style, subtle enough to remain objective, with enough style to enhance the excitement. I think of one scene at a local bar, where Shock is talking to the other patrons, shot in profile while a larger, 30-something man in a mustache lends his small town advice about the situation. All these people just wanted something simple for their lives, and listening to them try and make sense of it all is fascinating.
What’s most inspiring is the people’s willingness to fight, with Lee and Heather, living right across from Cobb, later purchasing guns and rifles, later practicing with the weapons, refusing to be run out of town by Neo-Nazis in the year 2017. We see the fantastic use of the law that condemns the Nazis property, requiring them to spend tens of thousands of dollars to repair it, or have it torn down.
The boiling conflict comes to blast when Cobb and his Nazi friends roam the street with loaded rifles, terrorizing the neighbors and finally attracting the police. If anyone in some way, some how needed additional evidence of racial bias in policing, look no further than this situation, in which although Cobb and his crew are declaring that they have loaded rifles, and after receiving numerous calls from ostensibly all of Leith’s residences, with the Nazis at one point threatening to shoot one man in particular, the police simply tell them to go home. Fortunately a few days later, an arrest warrant is issued. Unfortunately, due to some conflict with a key witness, Cobb is let go, under four years probation, finally accepting that he’s unwelcome in Leith and leaving (though still preserving his land).
While the film’s ending tanks in comparison to its first two thirds, that’s simply the consequence of catching such a surreal event. The documentary leaves you uneasy, and given that it was made in 2015, makes you wonder how many other Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists will follow in Cobb’s footsteps, and what Cobb might try to accomplished in a couple years when his probation expires. Welcome to Leith is an incredible documentary; serving as a harbinger of things to come and a perfect film to accompany the present feud between these groups, Trump, and the rest of America. The hope resides in the fact that the rest of the townspeople were willing to fight and, while not the victory they were hoping for, came out on top by banding together and fighting against this evil.
BELOW: A news report as the Neo-Nazis attempt to cease control of city hall
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