The AFI Docs Film Festival will present the world premiere of White Noise, The Atlantic’s first feature documentary, which investigates and exposes the rise of the racist right in America. The Atlantic and director Daniel Lombroso gained unprecedented access to the inner workings of the alt-right over several years of filming, tracking the movement across 12 U.S. states, Canada, France, Belgium, and Russia. As nationalism and populism surge around the world, White Noise represents an urgent warning about the seduction of extremism, and where it’s going next.
In an article, “Four Years Embedded With the Alt-Right,” Lombroso writes about the years he spent embedded with the alt-right to report this film.
White Noise premieres as mass protests sweep across the country and Americans clash over how to address their country’s long history of racism and police violence against black people. The Atlantic has reported on racial injustice across centuries; today, our work is exposing racist theory and practice and the role of authoritarian thinking in exacerbating this national crisis. “The Atlantic was founded by abolitionists in the 1850s to argue for justice and equality, and this documentary fits squarely within our core mission,” says Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief. Even as the alt-right fractures and reinvents itself, the ideas it has unleashed have succeeded in poisoning mainstream political discourse and shaping the direction of the country.
White Noise tracks the rise of far-right nationalism by focusing on the lives of three of its most prominent proponents: Mike Cernovich, a conspiracy theorist turned media entrepreneur; Lauren Southern, an anti-feminist, anti-immigration YouTube star; and Richard Spencer, a white-power ideologue. Lombroso captures the infighting, contradictions, and doubt at the movement’s core as the three central figures navigate their own fame and notoriety. Spencer and Cernovich clash over the role of white nationalism in conservative politics. Southern struggles to reconcile her leadership role with the sexism and misogyny of her peers. But even as the alt-right fractures, its once-marginalized ideas find a foothold in mainstream discourse; in Republican politics; in the establishment right-wing press; and on social media.
For Lombroso, as a Jewish American and the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, reporting this film was deeply personal. “Storytellers shouldn’t amplify extremist movements. They have a duty to expose uncomfortable truths,” he writes. “The alt-right is an imminent danger to the future of this country. For so many who feel lost or alone, these avatars of hate offer a promise—follow us, and life will be better. White Noise shows how empty that promise is.”
White Noise was produced in-house at The Atlantic. “White Noise brings the rigor of long-form magazine reporting to the big screen through immersive, cinematic storytelling,” says Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, The Atlantic’s executive producer and the producer of the film.