By mid-October in Leith, North Dakota, the trees are bare, and their skeleton branches limn the long flat roadways that connect the small town to other, out-of-sight communities.
In the fall of 2012, the tiny town of Leith lost, for a time, its sense of community and isolation when abandoned properties — the vestiges of a collapsed economy — were bought up by Craig Cobb, a thin, bearded man who seemed to have come for work on nearby oil fields. His much darker intentions are the subject of this fascinating, unnerving documentary.
Soon, the inhabitants of Leith learned that Cobb intended to use the property to create a white-supremacist settlement in the nearly empty town. Cobb is a member of the National Socialist Movement, based in Detroit, and over the course of the winter members of the NSM moved to Leith to join him. With increasing support, Cobb pushed into the community, flying flags bearing swastikas and the Stars and Bars outside his home and along the road to town, and hosting town meetings in which he demanded a right to free expression. More chilling, however, were his followers, who envisioned themselves part of a “white civil rights group.”
The interviews are rich and disturbing. The filmmakers speak with Leith residents, including the mayor (who, prior to Cobb’s arrival, had never heard of white supremacy, but who knew he needed to stand up for his community); leading members of the NSM; researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Cobb himself. Nearly everyone, despite fear and anger, seems confident and cogent, Cobb most of all. He looks so normal. Leith seems so normal. What in America makes normal so dangerous?
Welcome to Leith
Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker
First Run Features
Opens September 9, IFC Center
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2015