In an open, pluralistic society, where do we draw the line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t? This is the difficult question that the uncomfortable, essential documentary Welcome to Leith asks.
Leith is an impossibly tiny town — just a handful of people, really — in rural North Dakota that found itself under an apparently entirely legal siege of sorts, based in municipal rules and regs, by infamous white supremacist Craig Cobb. Cobb started buying up land within the town’s borders — there are no amenities, barely any utilities, and only one business, which appears to be little more than a bar, so land is dirt cheap — with the intent of moving in more of his fellow neo-Nazis till there were enough of them to vote themselves into such power as exists in a place like Leith. The people of Leith — including its sole African-American resident — were appalled, and did what they could to fight back… though it appears that what they did may have constituted illegal harassment.
Filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker make absolutely no bones about the fact that Cobb is a terrible man with repulsive ideas, and that at least one of his followers who did in fact move to Leith has some ignorant notions about history that would be hilarious if they weren’t so noxious. And yet it’s not a crime to be bigoted or uneducated. The film takes no sides but raises questions about American ideals that are almost unanswerable and yet demand exploration: Where does the right of free speech end? Must tolerance include tolerating those who are intolerant? What do we do when freedoms that expect that those who operate under them will be people of good will and good faith encounter people of ill will and bad faith? This is a powerful and provocative springboard for discussing essential matters of liberty and justice.