“Welcome to Leith,” the film that attracted a large audience at the recent Fargo Film Festival, will have its television broadcast debut on Prairie Public on Wednesday April 6, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 24, at 1 p.m. CT.
The film chronicles the attempted takeover of Leith, N.D., by notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb. As his behavior becomes more threatening, tensions soar, and the residents desperately look for ways to expel their unwanted neighbor. An unsettling exploration of what happens to democratic principles when they’re pushed to the limit, the film asks: In a free society, how do we deal with people whose views we find abhorrent?
Leith is home to 24 people, mostly farmers and ranchers living on a prairie backdrop of sky and wheat. In 2012, an outsider named Craig Cobb moved in and started buying up property. Residents initially welcomed the bearded stranger, figuring he’d moved to be closer to the oil fields, but Cobb had other motives. Posting on racist online forums that he’d found the perfect place to start an all-white enclave, Cobb implored other white supremacists to move to Leith and helped take over the town’s government.
But far from the prairies of North Dakota, Ryan Lenz, an investigator from Montgomery, Alabama’s Southern Poverty Law Center, discovers Cobb’s posts and informs Leith’s mayor, Ryan Schock. Schock, a young rancher and family man who’d lived in Leith all his life, is stunned by the news — and the ensuing media firestorm. Cobb then invites the head of the largest neo-Nazi group in the U.S. to stage a town hall meeting, and nearly 300 people show up. Soon after, a family of fellow white supremacists from Oregon moves in to start fixing up Cobb’s properties.
As the town struggles to fight against one man’s extremist vision, Cobb and his followers ratchet up the intimidation tactics, disrupting city council meetings with shouts of “Sieg Heil” and posting residents’ names and home addresses on racist web sites. But when he takes to patrolling the streets with a loaded rifle and shotgun, residents decide they have had enough and proceed to take matters into their own hands.
Filmmakers Nichols and Walker wanted to tell the complete story of the unfolding events in Leith, and spent time with both the white supremacists and their neighbors. “Part of what was so fascinating about the story was that what Cobb and his followers were attempting was completely legal,” said Nichols. “Chris and I were captivated by Cobb’s motivations and the implications of his plan for Leith and what that could mean for other small towns in America if people started following in his footsteps.”
Prairie Public Broadcasting, headquartered in Fargo, is a non-profit member station of PBS and NPR that provides public television services throughout North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota, southern Manitoba, and parts of Montana and South Dakota; public radio service to North Dakota; and educational and technological services to communities and individuals across its coverage area.