Richard B. Spencer is a clean-cut, boyish-looking, business-suited man in his early 40s who talks a lot about ownership, especially when it comes to his fellow white people, whom he believes own the United States. In his speeches to enthusiastic post-collegiates who closely resemble him, he borrows talking points from Joseph Goebbels and drops German phrases. "I am an artist before I am a politician," claims Spencer, founder of AlternativeRight.com.
"Men's rights activist" Mike Cernovich, author of such reading material as How to Cheat on Your Girlfriend and Misogyny Gets You Laid, is a pro-wrestling fan who "wants to be a household name." Otherwise, conspiracy theorist and budding entrepreneur Cernovich tells an interviewer in the new documentary White Noise, "I'm not a political guy. I'm an author and everything"—in between helpings of nitric oxide booster capsules.
Lauren Southern, a native of Canada, makes a point of saying she's "at war with the world," and enjoys going to protests with "FUCK ISLAM" painted on her face. When she isn't having fun confronting a boatload of migrants in Italy or lounging in a palatial Russian mansion, anti-immigrant YouTuber Southern—the very image of a Fox News info-Barbie—glowingly describes herself as "a persecuted white girl" who does shocking things that "put you on the map." Picture The Bling Ring staffed by Hitler Youth dropouts.
If you think you've already seen enough hyper-rightwing goons on TV and online to last you a lifetime, you may want to skip White Noise. The first feature-length doc from the publishers of The Atlantic, it was put together by rookie filmmaker Daniel Lombroso, a video producer for the respected 163-year-old magazine. Alarmed by the ubiquitous voices of the far right, Lombroso embarks on a four-year odyssey stalking would-be stars of the Twitter-sphere Spencer, Cernovich and Southern, as they strut around country club parking lots and rented hotel ballrooms, talking up a storm.
It's not easy being a white supremacist these days. The flies that swarm around Donald Trump (and occasionally land on his Vice President's head) tend toward sallow complexions, heavy drinking and a shared superiority complex. Plus pills, an astounding number of pills.
Director Lombroso was evidently inspired to research the alt right after the 2016 election. Who were these well-scrubbed young men—it's a mostly-male club—marching in a Nazi-Germany-style nighttime torchlight parade during the infamous 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia? Apart from their frat-house blazers and lusty grog-chugging, what exactly are their basic political issues, besides taunting liberals, feminists, Blacks, Jews, "invaders" (a.k.a. immigrants) and non-violent demonstrators? White Noise doesn't particularly go there, largely because there's nothing beneath the surface.
And yet Lombroso's easy-target subjects, gaudy as they are, make a nominally fascinating study. Their poisonous, publicity-seeking antics may be shallow, but they offer valuable comic relief for the 2020 election season. As prospects have declined for the President, so have the fortunes of these neo-fascist great thinkers. Business is a bit slow. Cernovich, a seller of smart pills, seems on track for a nervous breakdown. These days Spencer spins out fantasy scenarios from the safety of his mother's home in Montana (as he explains, "I don't want to be a beautiful loser"). Meanwhile Southern is married, a mother and not quite yet apologetic for her role as a blond race-hatred groupie. Her filmography lists only one documentary, yet more than 30 credits under "Self." It's all about Self.
The documentary slowly peters out. However, the filmmakers have included, by way of context, this quotation from author James Baldwin, who knows something about social inequality: "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." There's a fair amount of pain in the United States of America these days. Maybe we can do something about it together, if we try.
"White Noise" debuts Oct. 21 on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and Google Play.