WELCOME TO LEITH chronicles the attempted takeover of a small town in North Dakota by notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb. As his behavior becomes more threatening, tensions soar and 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 us to consider how in a free society we confront people whose views we find abhorrent.
Leith, a 90 minute drive from the nearest city (Bismarck) is home to around 20 people, mostly farmers and ranchers living on a prairie backdrop of sky and wheat. In 2012, an outsider moved in and started buying up property. Residents initially welcomed him, figuring he’d moved to be closer to the oil fields, but Craig Cobb had other motives. Posting on white nationalist forums that he’d found the perfect place to start an all-white enclave, Cobb implored other white supremacists to move to Leith and help take over the town’s government.
Meanwhile, 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 has lived in Leith all his life, is stunned by the news — and the ensuing media firestorm as tensions in Leith threaten to boil over into violence.
As the community rallies to save their town from strangers intent on taking it over, Welcome to Leith details the clash between the locals and Craig Cobb’s band of white supremacists as they challenge his vision for the future of the place they call home.
Ron Schmidt, Associate Professor of Political Science at USM and regular contributor to The Beacon will moderate a post-film discussion