Independent Lens: Welcome to Leith

About This Episode

Leith, a 90-minute drive from Bismarck, North Dakota is home to around 20 people, mostly farmers and ranchers living on a prairie backdrop of sky and wheat. In 2012, Craig Cobb moved in and started buying up property. Residents initially welcomed him, figuring he had moved to be closer to the oil fields, but Cobb had other motives. Posting on white nationalist forums that he’d found the perfect place to start an all-white enclave, Cobb implored other white supremacists to move to Leith and help take over the town’s government.

Meanwhile, Ryan Lenz, an investigator from Montgomery, Alabama’s Southern Poverty Law Center, discovers the posts and informs Leith’s mayor, Ryan Schock. A young rancher and family man who has lived in Leith all his life, Schock is stunned by the news - and the media firestorm as tensions in the town threaten to boil over into violence.

As the community rallies to save their town from strangers intent on taking it over, Welcome to Leith is an unsettling exploration of what happens to democratic principles when they’re pushed to the limit, asking us to consider how in a free society we confront people whose views we find abhorrent.