“Both of us are very proud to be Americans and when you see someone is poisoning what you love, and what you believe in, I think if you allow yourself, you become someone who wants to fight against it.” As David McKay describes his thinking, you might think you know where Better This World is headed. McKay and Brad Crowley, two friends from Midland, Texas, tell a story that seems familiar: as young activists, they were arrested at the Republican National Convention in 2008. As the film unfolds, they’re fighting their legal cases. At the time, that is, after 9/11, says FBI Assistant Special Agent Tim Gossfeld, domestic terrorism was a specific target: “That is what we need to focus all our resources on,” he asserts, “to the best of our ability.”
Screening as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival DC on 25 April at the West End Cinema and followed by a discussion with Andrea Prasow, Human Rights Watch Senior Counsel, Counterterrorism, Better This World assembles pieces of Crowley and McKay’s experiences, similar and not. It appears they weren’t always aware of what was going on around them. In Minnesota, they shop for Molotov cocktail makings at a Walmart (and appear shopping on surveillance tape), and put together eight of them. They never come close to using these weapons; as they tell it, they never had an intention to do so. Instead, their rooms are raided and they’re arrested, and the FBI has averted another terrorist plot, specifically, as Special Agent Christopher Langert puts it, stopping two men who “were going to try to block delegates, cause destruction and other felony criminal activity.” As the story becomes more complicated, the documentary is increasingly focused on that complexity, on the competing versions of events and especially, different understandings of events. Tragically, as the government digs in, these complexities are repressed and reframed to suit a simpler version of the case, a version that can be made in court.
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