SXSW 2018 Review: ALT-RIGHT: THE AGE OF RAGE Is A Terrifying Political Snapshot

Adam Bhala Lough documents the rise of White Nationalism and its Antifa opposition by immersing us in it.

Unlike many of his Antifa ("Anti-fascist") colleagues, Daryle Lamont Jenkins isn't afraid to show his face in public. He knows there's potential to be "doxxed" - definition: have his most intimate info shared with the world against his will - but that's the price you pay when getting into a street fight with the entity he believes is the number one threat to America's sovereign existence.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States, the Alt-Right movement has become emboldened by the backing of the free world's leader, marching in support of everything from the preservation of Confederate monuments, to the creation of a White Christian Ethnostate (whose inception may include black genocide). In Jenkins' eyes, these straight, white bigots are a menace, and have now taken too many (sometimes literal) shots at people of color. It's time to strike back, and if that means resorting to violence in order to defend one's self, then he's willing to throw fists, just like his daddy threw a racist through a plate glass window at a luncheon protest during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Richard Spencer coined the term “Alt-Right” - an abbreviation for "Alternative Right": the radical white supremacist movement viewed by many to be the “classier” version of the Ku Klux Klan. Spencer is good looking in a Southern frat boy sort of way (despite hailing from Massachusetts), educated at the University of Chicago, well-dressed, immaculately groomed, and believes that those of strictly European descent are genetically superior to all other races. Like Jenkins, he’s also fighting a war; only his is one of reclamation. The blacks and the Jews and the other lesser brown folks have taken America away from his people, and Spencer’s here to chant "hail victory!" at whatever rally he's currently leading. This is the new face of the Neo Nazi Party; though he'll mostly reject that label, opting instead to package his hate movement inside an oft-perplexing labyrinth of pseudo-academic rhetoric that makes even moderate members of the Right Wing shudder with a mixture of revulsion and genuine shock. 

Adam Bhala Lough's Alt-Right: The Age of Rage is an immersive profile of both men, as they head toward a collision in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12th, 2017, at Spencer's "Unite the Right" rally. We know the horrible conclusion to this dual protest, as poor Heather Heyer - an anti-fascist supporter - was run down by Alt-Right extremist James A. Fields Jr.'s car, killing her and injuring thirty-five others. Lough and his crew compiled hours of behind the scenes footage with Jenkins and Spencer, getting us possibly a little too close to the leaders on both sides for our own comfort. It's an ingenious structure - though certainly will be labeled "exploitive" by many - as we're on edge during the entire final sequence at the Charlottesville protest, knowing that Heather’s tragic death is literally right around the corner. However, The Age of Rage isn't so much asking the question of how we got here, but instead purely capturing one of the most tumultuous political periods in American history, with an unflinching (somewhat) subjective eye that isn't afraid to get intimate with individuals who possess the most extreme sets of values.

Others are interviewed and profiled beyond Jenkins and Spencer, ranging from "Alt-Lite" moderates who consider Spencer’s fire-breathing to be a bit much, anonymous Pepe the Frog meme generators who wear ski masks while on camera as to avoid identification, fascist fighting colleagues of Jenkins', and academic leaders who've committed themselves to battling hatred in all its forms. Yet Jenkins and Spencer are still the primary focus, often feeling like boxers warming themselves in their respective corners, with no trainers to inform them of each round's strategy. They’re just trading blows somewhat blindly, each hoping to knock their opponent out.

It's almost impossible to shake just how vicious and cutting Lough's camera becomes - even if Christopher Messina's cinematography is a little too milky for its own good - a rogue entity in the room as Spencer plans his marching routes and brainstorms his next bourbon-fueled YouTube rant. Meanwhile, Jenkins chuckles at his adversary's numerous fat jokes and the notion that Antifa will ever be struck down by this legion of over-privileged white boys. While the editing rhythms certainly clue us in to the director’s own POV, he's still letting these guys talk and present their cases as clearly as they can, often giving each just enough rope to hang themselves (as my father always used to say). All in all, Alt-Right is a fairly stunning example of unobtrusive non-fiction filmmaking.

There's almost an air of Mondo documentary to The Age of Rage, as it zeroes in on the actual rhetoric each side uses to wage war against the other, anger becoming weaponized in a fashion that seems poised on the brink of violence at all times. It leers at hateful imagery presented as legitimate political propaganda, knowing that the majority of audience members are going to hold personal views nowhere near as extreme as either of its subjects'. We're tourists in a land of extremism, and if either leader is to be believed, we're going to have to pick a side (if we haven't already), because combat may be coming very soon. Alt-Right is far from a “fun” sit, but it also feels like a necessary snapshot of the state America currently finds itself in, torn to shreds while the man who's promised to make it great again is clearly backing those who advocate for the mass slaughter of tribes who don't share their skin color. Lough has crafted something terrifying and vital: a document of discontent that promises things are only going to get worse before they can get better.

Alt-Right: The Age of Rage will continue to screen at SXSW Monday, March 12th, at the Vimeo Theater (9:15 PM), and Tuesday, March 13th, at the Alamo Ritz (8:30 PM).