The rise of anti-government white nationalist movements within the United States remains a clear and present danger — just look at the events of January 6, 2021, where throngs of “protestors” arrived in Washington D.C. with the sole objective of disrupting the certification of a fair and free election. But arguably the most troubling aspect of this encroaching threat is their recruitment of increasingly larger numbers of military veterans and law enforcement officers, a phenomenon which documentarian Charlie Sadoff examines in his new film, Against All Enemies.
The connection between hate groups and armed servicemen isn’t exactly a new development, and the film draws parallels between recent events and the post-war recruitment efforts of the Ku Klux Klan, where veterans returning from conflict to find themselves disillusioned or struggling with PTSD sought purpose and fellowship. The prevalence of social media has greatly expanded the reach of extremists, and having one of the two major political parties in the United States repeatedly validate baseless conspiracy theories lends an air of legitimacy to the claims of groups like The Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers; that the founders of both organizations have been convicted on federal charges of seditious conspiracy seems more like a badge of honor than a deterrent.
Against All Enemies features interviews with experts, politicians and even some extremists themselves, including Eric “General E” Braden, founder of the Southern Patriot Council. But the most compelling subject is former Army forward observer Kristofer Goldsmith, who acknowledges his own post-war descent into conspiracy theories and YouTube propaganda; unlike so many of his fellow brothers in arms, Goldsmith’s real-world experiences helped him separate truth from fiction, and these days he uses a variety of online tools to keep tabs on the most dangerous extremist groups.
Sadoff’s film also highlights the lack of available tools to effectively combat the influence of these movements, including a deficiency of mental health support for veterans traumatized by their combat experiences. Perhaps even more egregious is the total absence of federal domestic terrorism laws, which Against All Enemies posits is largely a response to the government’s failed prosecution of white supremacist Louis Beam in the late 1980s. The fact that many of the January 6th insurrectionists have been convicted and sent to prison feels like a step in the right direction — Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes was recently sentenced to 18 years– but recent online fervor around the indictment of former President Trump for mishandling classified information shows the far-right movement remains undeterred. Against All Enemies may shed light on why law enforcement and military vets are drawn to these groups, but regrettably offers little in the way of solutions.
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