Join us this weekend for the Canadian premiere of White Noise, and a talkback discussion with director Daniel Lombroso immediately following the screening.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Source: White Noise
Pseudo intelligentsia and polarizing figures have glommed onto neo-fascism for the past two decades. Yet a much more appealing model has been the rise of bigoted and unapologetic influencers finding eager followers willing to support them financially. Three of these figures are the focus of White Noise, a documentary that traces the trajectory of Richard Spencer, Michael Cernovich, and Canada’s Lauren Southern through the space Spencer himself would help dub the “alt-right.”
The film, from The Atlantic, is the publication’s first feature documentary. Shot over four-years, it investigates the roots of white nationalism in the US and around the world. Its director, Daniel Lombroso, began tracing the rise of the movement on the internet as early as 2016.
For more information about how to attend the screenings, please use the links at the bottom of the page.
“I saw racism and conspiracy surging online, in chat forums, and also on college campuses,” he said to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network in an interview. “Before President Trump was a candidate, at The Atlantic and in journalism more broadly, this stuff was not getting a lot of coverage.”
As the 2010s hit the midway point, Lombroso says the idea of the alt-right existed, but more as a modern and edgy alternative to “Mitt Romney style conservatism.” Despite the vibrant image, he could see the emerging scene for what it was, telling senior editors, “This is a racist movement. This is an antisemitic movement. We need to be paying attention to this.”
He was right.
Only days after Donald Trump’s election victory, Spencer gave a speech near the White House that ended with the phrase “hail victory, hail Trump.” Lombroso had spent three days with Spencer working on a profile. He was there to capture footage of the crowd breaking out into the Nazi salute following the words.
Then, after a procession of tiki torchbearers filled the streets of Charlottesville, in 2017, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” the world watched as Heather Heyer was murdered by a neo-Nazi using a vehicle as a weapon to ram roughshod into a crowd.
Footage and images flooded out of hate, violence, and crowds -- including a few notable Canadians -- armed with weapons, hockey pads, body armour, and no small share of aviator sunglasses brought a quietly ignored culture war roaring into the public consciousness.
What was unfolding at that moment had become more than just one story. It needed to be something bigger, “from there it became White Noise.”
The four years Lombroso spent on the film were not easy. The grandson of two Holocaust survivors, moments of great significance in his reporting and personal life would run parallel at time and intersect at others. Notably, when Southern stood before the European Union to speak, he lost one of those grandparents.
“My life became so interwoven with covering the movement as a reporter that I actually couldn't go to her funeral because my family was in Israel at her funeral and I had to be with Lauren,” he said. “It was really important to capture just how much this movement had penetrated the centers of power that Lauren Southern, this vicious anti-feminist, anti-immigrant activist, is now giving speeches at the European parliament.”
Southern got her start as a personality with Rebel News. One of her early stunts was lying to a doctor to have the gender on her ID changed and then demanding the mic to disrupt a pro-trans rally against Jordan Peterson.
She then went independent, making her own “documentaries.” For example, misrepresenting herself to largely Muslim refugees to interview them and cut the footage to portray them as an existential threat to white Europeans.
Her latest move has been an attempt at rebranding. Relocating to Australia to raise her family, she straddles the line between “mommy blogger,” and anti-lockdown pundit on the conservative Sky News.
Lombroso’s hope is that the film shows a “clear-eyed” perspective that the alt-right is fundamentally still a white nationalist movement, mired by disagreements and infighting.
“I think the popular conception of the white supremacist is someone who's southern, poor, probably Christian, lives in a trailer park. People really imagine if they're the malicious style aesthetic, or someone like American history, X in jail, a skinhead, someone with a bunch of tattoos,” Lombroso explained.
“I think a big part of my reporting kind of implicitly … is that this is really not that. That's part of it but this new wave of alt-right of white nationalists are middle-class, upper-middle class kids who went to some of America and Canada's best institutions, who come from nice homes. They're racist, they're conspiratorial, but they're certainly not ignorant. All of the characters in my film have met and been exposed to many people from different backgrounds.”
From running into other interview subjects at trendy New York bars to Spencer completing about half a Ph.D., Lombroso aims to challenge preconceived notions of the movement being made up of and led by rubes from the heartlands, hoodwinked into a racial supremacist ideology. Each of the subjects of his documentary has significant education and means.
Spencer for one, comes from family wealth, while Cernovich is a branding and marketing professional.
“Lauren Southern grew up in Vancouver, which is one of Canada's most diverse cities,” he said. “Know that these are people who are in our cities, these are our neighbours. It's woven into the fabric of progressive urban settings.”
“We really have to understand that these ideas don't come from ignorance. They appeal to people who are hateful, who are looking for a sense of purpose and meaning in the world and are finding it in the worst way possible, white nationalism.”
The film does feature scenes with Southern in both her home city of Vancouver and a notably disturbing interaction in Toronto
“She's walking around Dundas Square, like saying the most vile, racist things possible and feeling empowered to do it. She knows no one's going to bother her,” he said, remembering the excited fan who stopped them.
“A young fanboy comes up to her and says, ‘you're my hero. I love you. I love all your work. I love what you said.’ He says, I'm paraphrasing, ‘I love what you did. Turning back refugee boats in the Mediterranean.’”
It was a reference to a “disgusting stunt” she pulled with Europe’s Generation Identity, a racist and anti-immigrant group that eventually spawned ID Canada across the ocean. Southern and GenID chartered a vessel as part of a failed campaign to turn back migrants as they endured an already dangerous water crossing.
“Those types of people, Lauren, that kid, I think also reflect this movement as much as the militias do.”
His subjects knew he was Jewish, they knew the film would not be positive, but through persistence and time he was able to gain access and connect in some ways, though his role as a journalist and the reality of the ultimate goals of the movement he was covering never left his mind.
“These are violent ideas. If the US is 65% white right now and heading towards 45% white in 20 years, the only way to get to that white ethnostate is deportations. It's ethnic cleansing. We're talking about neo-Nazi stuff.”
That distinction is important to note. The term alt-right might be convenient, but ultimately only for delineating the modern breed of neo-Nazism, rather than a new ideology that exists outside it.
“They believe the same thing, but that the new generation is using social media and tech algorithms to build a base in a way that the previous movements never were able to. So alt-right, I think, conveys a little bit of that, but it's not a helpful term. I prefer white nationalists, white power ideology, or things like that.”
With the Canadian release of the film this week, Lombroso wants his work and role bearing witness to the movement to show the real danger that lies at the core of these beliefs.
“People are capable of tremendous horrors, and I think knowing that in such an intimate way with my grandmothers, then made it that much harder to witness everything. I was witnessing a room full of peoples breaking into Nazi salutes, Lauren speaking at the EU, and watching this stuff over the past four years just really creep into the mainstream.
“It's important to say, I don't think we're in 1939. I don't think that World War Three is coming, but a lot of the ideas that were really untouchable, slowly but surely are becoming okay to express again. And that, based on my identity and my background, is very hard to reckon with.”
Together with the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, we’re excited to be hosting the Canadian premiere of White Noise, a new documentary exploring the alt-right from The Atlantic and director Daniel Lombroso.
Join us on March 5, 6, and 7 at VirtualJ, where you can watch the movie for free for 72 hours.
And on March 7 at 7:30 PM EST we will be hosting a talkback on VirtualJ with director Daniel Lombroso. Come listen to the discussion and ask your questions. The talkback will be broadcast live and also housed on the VirtualJ platform for later viewing.
How to join the Canadian premiere of White Noise
- Register an account on the Virtual J platform - https://virtualjcc.com/register. Set a reminder or add to your calendar right from the VirtualJ platform!
- On March 5, 6, and 7, find the documentary airing at this link, which can be found on the VirtualJ homepage - https://virtualjcc.com/watch/white-noise-premiere
- Join the talkback on March 7 at 7:30 PM EST here - https://virtualjcc.com/watch/white-noise-talkback