Nazi flag

Welcome to Leith is like an updated version of The War of the Worlds. The main difference is that the invaders are modern-day Nazis rather than Martians.

   Also, this time it’s for real.

   Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, the documentary shows what happens when a group of anti-Semitic racists attempts to take over a tiny North Dakota town.

   In 2012, a true believer named Craig Cobb sets the stage for the invasion by buying up several pieces of local property. He then invites members of the National Socialist Movement to come to Leith, with the hope that they’ll soon outnumber the town’s 24 residents and can start running things their own way.

   Needless to say, the sudden appearance of strangers toting guns and flying Aryan banners alarms the residents and turns the community into an emotional tinder box.

   Adding to the instability, Cobb harasses one family by revealing personal information about them online, including the fact that a teenage daughter was recently murdered in another state. Angry, and scared for their family’s safety, the parents respond by arming themselves and making plans to acquire concealed-carry permits.

   Mayor Ryan Schock and the county sheriff worry that it’s only a matter of time before the combination of firearms and frayed nerves leads to violence, but they don’t know how to head off trouble.

   In addition to being as tense as a political thriller, Welcome to Leith offers political perspective by setting the town’s ordeal against a national backdrop.

   Whether or not they commit violence themselves, it’s suggested that groups like the National Socialist Movement may inspire individual fanatics to deadly action. There’s evidence that Cobb himself was in touch with a 73-year-old neo-Nazi last year right before the man went on an anti-Semitic killing spree near Kansas City.

   A representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center explains that the federal government used to pay more attention to the dangers posed by people like Cobb, but since 9/11, it has changed its focus to Islamic terrorism.

   Welcome to Leith’s greatest strength, however, is not its political commentary but its ability to put the viewer in the middle of a dangerous, months-long confrontation. It allows us to understand the fears of the townspeople, and it even gives us a glimpse or two behind the strident facades of the intruders.

   The ending may leave some wishing for more explanation and, mostly, a little more closure, as we never learn whether Leith has totally dodged the takeover threat. That could be due to the timing of the film’s release, but you also get the feeling the directors want to make sure we recognize the ongoing danger posed by Cobb and his ilk.

   If so, they needn’t have worried. We do.

   Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

   Welcome to Leith (unrated) opens Friday (Sept. 11) at the Gateway Film Center, 1550 N. High St., Columbus. For details, visit



Neo-Nazis fly a white-supremacist flag to announce their presence in Welcome to Leith