Director: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker
Cast: Craig Cobb, Ryan Schock, Lee Cook
Spoilers Within: Yes
At the centre of Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s gripping documentary is Craig Cobb: a self-appointed “cantankerous, odd fellow”, Neo-Nazi, and Holocaust denier, whose movement to transform the 3-kilometre-wide, North Dakotan town of Leith into a white nationalist community was met with reasonable resistance from townsfolk and inner-state organisations.
Populating the small town are mayor Ryan Schock, Heather and Lee Cook, and approximately 20 others: a selection of veterans, service workers and children. In the Spring of 2012 Cobb moved to Leith, and at first was greeted with the type of kindness that can be found in such close-knit communities, but it wasn’t long after that the town discovered his real purpose: to purchase all available plots of land and populate the town with white supremacists.
While many have seen Welcome to Leith as pro-Nazi propaganda – and to some extent, though it takes a neutral position, the existence of this documentary supports that – it’s actually much more damning of intolerance and hatred that theses naysayers suggest. Cobb and his cohorts aren’t hugely intelligent. Certainly, they have their specific doctrines and manifestos that they can regurgitate at will, and even seem to be fairly knowledgeable when it comes to on-camera self-promotion, but their tactics and approach to their most basic of conversation is at least bullying and at very worst life-threatening. There’s a moment where Cobb is showing something on his laptop to an aggravated Cook during a town meeting; I say something because it wasn’t clear what, though Cobb’s primitive aim was to instigate a fight by reminding Cook of his murdered daughter. These moments are blood-boiling, and highlight how little humanity these people have when using manipulative strategies to instigate violence toward them, therefore justifying their cause.
The First Amendment – of which is cited numerous times – is an effective argument for their cause: should they be allowed to carry on with their ascension of hate because the constitution says so? are they within their rights to live and repopulate a whole community because they’ve backing from The Bill of Rights? Sadly, the film doesn’t actually ask these questions itself but takes a frustrating observatory stance on everything. This neutrality pays off in that it allows access to private videos and statements that were part of the legal proceedings against Cobb, but it leaves the film without context, nor a truly satisfying conclusion.
It’s not an amusing documentary in any sense, though there is a moment of laugh-out-loud glee when Cobb’s true heritage is revealed on the Trisha talk-show, and seeing him get a comeuppance for his threatening, weapon-brandishing behaviour was a delight, but even without their physical attendance, the hydra still exists in Leith.