Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg: Daniel shot in a very fly-on-the-wall, observational style. He filmed over three years, logging something like 300 hours of footage that really allows the viewer to see behind the facade that these subjects typically present to the mainstream media. We decided against a more talking-head-style approach, interviewing experts from different backgrounds, because the film would lose that uniquely immersive quality—one that situates the viewer’s perspective “inside the movement looking out,” as Daniel has put it. The footage Daniel brought back from the field reveals the subjects’ inconsistencies, and their hypocrisies unfurl in this intimate, cinema verité way. As a result, the film provides an unprecedented view of what makes these ideas so compelling to fans and so dangerous to the rest of the world.
Goldberg: Daniel, you were reporting on subjects who openly express anti-Semitic views. Did they know you are Jewish?
Lombroso: Whenever they asked, I would tell them. Richard Spencer didn’t realize until a year into reporting. And then one day on a road trip to a shoot, he asked me to tell him more about my Italian ancestry—because my last name sounds Italian (I’m actually Eastern European, but my family changed our last name in the 1920s). And that’s when I told him.
Goldberg: And what did he do?
Lombroso: He was taken aback because he thought, I think, that I was his little Italian reporter friend. We were packed in this Honda sedan two-door, and the driver was just clutching the wheel nervously, I’ll always remember, staring at me in the rearview mirror for the rest of the ride. Later that night, Richard went out to dinner and left me with all the Nazi boys, and the driver kind of spread the word that I was Jewish. And that’s when it got a little iffy. They were saying really disgusting things and throwing Nazi salutes in my direction.
Goldberg: What were the disgusting things they said?
Lombroso: Like, a lot of kikes, a lot of that stuff. They were talking about how they revered Dylann Roof, very openly.
Goldberg: There’s something very frightening about these people and the ideologies they’re pushing. There is also something pathetic and tragicomic about them. At the end of this project, are you more or less concerned about this movement and its impact on America?
Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg: Personally, I’m more concerned—that, regardless of the motivations of the individuals perpetuating these ideas, the ideas are now loose in social media, and increasingly seeping into mainstream media. And that these ideas are incredibly seductive and have so much traction across social platforms, but also on college campuses, with very young people.
Lombroso: I think the alt-right, as a movement, the way we conceive of it, is essentially dead. But even if the three figures in the film are becoming increasingly irrelevant for various reasons, their ideas are now in the mainstream of the conservative movement and on Fox News every night. There is a deep-seated fear of white demographic decline in this country, and obviously in Europe. And I think that is now the defining fault line in American politics: those who believe in multiculturalism and those who don’t. The Republican Party had their famous autopsy report after the 2012 election, concluding that they needed to attract more minority voters. That never happened. And as long as Donald Trump wins through voter suppression, incitement against minorities, or other means, you know, they’re going to continue to double down.