The storming of the United States Capitol on January 6th, 2021 by a large group that believed itself to be disenfranchised was a startling event, one that has been documented extensively thanks in part to the eager efforts of those there that day to capture what they were doing. Its impact reverberates politically and culturally two and a half years later, and the documentary Against All Enemies investigates an important piece of how it all came together: the strong influence of veterans in its preparation and execution, and their susceptibility to those who prey on them as new recruits.
This is a topic that feels like it has been covered almost incessantly in the relatively short time since its occurrence, but there’s good reason for that. A great deal of available footage of the incursion was proudly captured by those breaking in since they felt they were doing the right thing and wouldn’t be held accountable for something that, in their minds, was not against the law. It’s a terrifying truth laid out explicitly by multiple interview subjects in this film, that there are those who believe that the situation that surrounds them makes them legitimately appointed to enforce their own version of what is right.
Against All Enemies, which serves as the directorial debut for seasoned producer Charlie Sadoff, looks at multiple facets of this phenomenon, starting with the mentality of soldiers returning home from war. The film traces tendencies for violence to follow military conflict, and how the concepts of oath and service can lead to the search for a continued purpose upon returning home. Clips of propaganda aimed specifically at veterans are harrowing and unsettling, tapping into dynamics they may have encountered abroad and raising the alarm for them to worry about their growing presence at home.
This documentary also examines the players that fuel the fire who, in the words of experts interviewed, should know better. Among them are politicians Eric Greitens, the former governor and senatorial candidate from Missouri, and J.D. Vance, the current junior senator from Ohio. A Rhodes scholar and venerated author, respectively, both men made a dramatic shift rightward in their political views and have espoused attitudes that they know will receive a particular response from their supporters. Vance’s embrace of President Donald Trump’s support after just a few years earlier comparing him to Hitler is among the most startling and revealing signs that he is merely pandering to those he knows are looking for someone to rile them up and champion the views they believe are not being properly represented.
What Against All Enemies does best is to allow those it profiles to speak for themselves. While several prominent subjects did not return inquiries to be interviewed, others, like Eric Braden, better known as “General E,” eagerly speaks to the camera about his views. The founder of the Southern Patriot Council militia in Texas doesn’t seem bothered by what he sees as the logical consequences of Americans feeling like they can no longer depend on the security of elections and will inevitably need to take matters into their own hands to do what’s right. His nonchalant prediction of unrest is among the film’s most chilling moments.
This is a thoroughly researched documentary that charts the evolution of military-led militias from the mainstreaming and popularity of the Ku Klux Klan. It also pinpoints the difficulty of applying domestic terrorism charges to Americans who commit crimes on their own soil, separating them from foreigners who could easily be branded as such. The deep dive into the way in which veterans are exactly the right audience for extremists to create new devoted followers has the potential to help with deprogramming those who are too far in, but even if that may not be a realistic hope or outcome, there is plenty to be gleaned from this insightful and gripping look at evolving history.
Against All Enemies makes its world premiere in the Spotlight Documentary section at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.