They might have gotten the idea from Libertarians. They’re the first people to suggest collectively moving to a sparsely populated place, democratically taking over the government and trying a political experiment to see how far their philosophy could go, unfettered by the usual shortcomings of “majority rule.”
Craig Cobb thought he’d buy vacant buildings in one of the scores of small North Dakota villages on the verge of becoming a ghost town, settle his fellow Neo Nazis in them, and create some sort of racist enclave, a “White Nationalist community” for their fellow believers — where they’d be in the majority and could make the rules in the town as they see fit.
“Welcome to Leith” is about what happened when the generally polite and live-and-let-live North Dakotans Cobb infiltrated found out what he was up to, and tried to fight back.
Dismay was their first reaction. But as tiny Leith (population 24, at the time) saw the swastikas, the WWII vintage flags and intimidating losers wandering around carrying rifles, they struggled to find help to save their already-dead hamlet from becoming an international embarrassment.
Filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker capture the flatness, the bleak blues and greys of a North Dakota fall and winter (it looks nothing like the mountainous setting of TV’s “Blood and Oil”), and the slow-to-anger nature of the locals. They’re scared. Soon they’re arming themselves, or thinking of fleeing. Cobb & Co.s’ direct threats would rattle anyone.
What’s surprising is the way “Welcome to Leith” achieves a balance in the storytelling. This is all legal. The “Nazis go Home!” outside protesters who come in to help, the sheriff’s department dragged into the argument, seem to be right on the cusp of violating the Nazis civil rights. There’s a hint of “Not in My Backyard” to the early protests. But when the guns come out, you see who you’re really dealing with.
It’s a chilling film on several levels, and what the filmmakers capture — confrontations, ugly town hall meetings — is a sobering reminder of what can happen when apathy drives your politics and “It’s all perfectly legal” is enough to end any property or political rights argument.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with suggested violence, profanity, racism
Cast: Craig Cobb
Credits: Written and directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker.A First Run Features release.
Running time: 1:25