By Gregory Crofton
The oil boom in North Dakota produced jobs and apparently attracted a racist hate group. Paul Craig Cobb, a well-known white supremacist, decided that Leith, a town with population of about 20, would be an ideal place to buy some land and call up his white separatist friends. He’d deed him some of the cheap land he’d bought and together they would take over the local government. Then they could fly their flags of hate in peace with the option of finding good jobs in the oil industry.
Fortunately filmmakers Michael Nicols (Flex is Kings, 2014) and Christopher Walker showed up to document Cobb’s attempted coup. They present beautiful landscape shots of North Dakota country life, a very quiet life, then cut to scenes of growing turmoil in the town. Surveillance cameras are installed. Residents practice shooting their guns. At times the film is as good or better than any classic Hollywood western.
All the tension does come to a head, but that’s not the most interesting storyline in the film. “Welcome to Leith” works because you get a look at Cobb’s psyche. The Internet, where he spends up to 18 hours a day, is the place he feels most comfortable and the place where he befriends killers. We see Cobb build himself up, and get torn down. Then we see him start to rebuild again. It’s a fascinating process to watch and take in.
Most notable about “Welcome to Leith” from a production standpoint was the number of people who wanted to see this documentary get made. More than 1,100 people raised $64,000 to provide finishing funds for the film. The filmmakers listed the names of each one of their financial backers in the credits. Just the kind of attention Paul Cobb wanted.