When a stranger turns up in Leith, a one-horse town in North Dakota, heads turn and anger flares.
Leith’s 24 residents take an intense dislike to newcomer Craig Cobb, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi who hopes to turn Leith into a “white nationalist community.”
The showdown between the good people of Leith — which has suffered a sharp economic decline — and Cobb unfolds uneasily in Welcome to Leith, which is directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher Walker. The film will be screened in Toronto at the Canadian International Documentary Festival on April 25, 26 and 30.
Leith, with only one business left, attracts Cobb’s attention because of its almost uniformly white population and its proximity to jobs in the oil patch. “We’re a white civil rights group,” claims one of Cobb’s followers, a U.S. army vet who has completed a tour of duty in Iraq. “Leith is a stepping stone to a greater purpose.
Upset by Cobb’s racist agenda, the burghers of Leith stage a noisy demonstration urging him to go back to where he came from. “We’re here to stay,” retorts Cobb, upping the ante.
The ugly confrontation that ensues is about the limits of free speech in smalltown America.
Responding to Cobb’s challenge, Leith passes a motion requiring Cobb to conform with local municipal regulations. Meanwhile, he appears on a TV talk show during which he takes a DNA test and discovers that he’s of 14 percent African origin. Leith shrugs off the results as a fabrication intended to embarrass him. But Leith’s sole African American resident cannot suppress his glee.”He’s a black,” he exults sarcastically. “That’s great.”
As tensions simmer, Cobb’s property is vandalized by persons unknown. “Stop the hate,” shouts one of his acolytes, who obviously doesn’t appreciate the profound irony and hypocrisy of her comment.
Infuriated by the hostile reception, Cobb, in an unguarded moment of candour, hurls an antisemitic insult at a resident. “Kike Jew cocksucker,” he declares, oblivious to the fact that not a single Jew lives in Leith. For good measure, he adds, “I’m one of the most famous racists!”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks organized racist organizations in the United States, there are at least several hundred thousand active bigots like Cobb in America. Since the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, the federal government has been far more concerned with Islamic radicals than with neo-Nazis like Cobb.
The upshot of the story is that Cobb and his associate are arrested on charges of “terrorizing” the residents Leith. They’re afraid of Cobb and fear for their safety.
The prosecutor believes he has a solid case against him, but Cobb, buoyed by the support of a Detroit-based antisemitic outfit called the National Socialist Movement, thinks he’s immune to prosecution.
It’s a test of wills that amplifies the lengths a racist can go to defend his odious beliefs in a democracy like the United States.