×

“White Noise” director Daniel Lombroso’s interest in the alt-right started in 2016, five months before Donald’s Trump’s election. Working as a reporter for The Atlantic magazine, he spent three years in the field, starting his research on Reddit and 4chan before gaining the trust of three of the movement’s brightest stars: Richard Spencer, organizer of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville; social media personality Mike Cernovich; and Canadian activist Lauren Southern.

“It was a slow process,” says Lombroso. “People had this idea that Trump had radical supporters, but no one had defined it. I was 23 years old at the time and I saw people my age [that were] really energized by this candidate that no one expected to win. I started with the profile of Richard Spencer and caught a room full of people doing Nazi salutes [at a conference in Washington], which went viral. It clarified that it was fundamentally a white nationalism movement.”

“Many reporters want a quick soundbite and then they leave,” he continues, “but I wanted to understand why they believe what they believe. And how their ideas work on other people, even though I find them completely abhorrent, dangerous and repulsive. I am Jewish and yet I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with them, having lunch, dinner, taking flights. I was willing to spend 30 hours off the record to get 10 amazing seconds.”

Such moments include Lauren Southern allegedly being propositioned by [Proud Boys founder] Gavin McInnes, Cernovich opening up about his insecurity, and Spencer’s breakdown in front of the camera after his speech at the Michigan State University resulted in protests. “When I brought back these rushes everyone went: ‘This is a crazy fucking scene,’” Lombroso recalls. “Spencer is pacing around in his double-breasted suit, listening to Depeche Mode. He’s obviously scared, as his brand has already been damaged, but in a weird, sadistic way maybe that was the great performance he always wanted. Dreaming of becoming an avant-garde theater director.”

“One of the biggest takeaways from the film is that they built a powerful movement, but the leaders are broken people,” he says. “They are lost, and they created a community of lost followers. The goal was to demystify their public image by showing them in private. Mike Cernovich epitomizes it the most—he is this avatar of alpha masculinity, and yet much of his money comes from alimony from his first wife.”

Lazy loaded image
“White Noise” Courtesy of IDFA

That said, it’s Southern who embodies the most absurd contradictions, Lombroso says, calling her the most important character in the film. “She embodies the feminist ideal, even through she is fighting against it! She’s like Phyllis Schlafly,” he says, referring to the recent FX show “Mrs. America.” “You can’t talk about the alt-right without mentioning misogyny, as it came from men’s rights activism and pick-up blogging. Having a family can be wonderful, but this is much more insidious—this idea that we need to have babies to preserve the white race. Lauren is propagating anti-feminism, and then it comes back to bite her.”

Although his film is, as he says, “an unsympathetic eulogy to the alt-right,” even as his protagonists continue to self-destruct, he accepts the fact that their ideas are already embedded in the mainstream. “It’s a terrible habit, but I continue to check on them,” he admits. “I will always be fascinated by extremism—my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. But the digital world has now become physical. Trump tweets something and thousands show up, although he claims there were millions. We see attacks by ‘incels’ [involuntary celibates] and all these weird fringe communities coming alive. I think that will stay with us.”

“Even though Biden won, people wanted a decisive victory against Trumpism and that didn’t come. His more radical base, which has now evolved into [internet conspiracy] QAnon, for example, is not going anywhere. In the past, if you were interested in white nationalism, you would meet a bunch of weirdos at a Home Depot parking lot and pass around pamphlets. Now you can sit in your room, and when you stumble upon someone like Lauren it’s easy to believe that you found the ‘truth’. It’s called being ‘red-pilled’ in this movement. As long as social media algorithms push people in that direction, as long as Trump refuses to concede, this stuff is just going to fester.”

After “White Noise,” Lombroso has already started developing new projects, both dealing with themes that are, he says, at the core of his work: citizenship, ethnicity and what it means to belong. That includes a coming-of-age story about an Indian-American girl making sense of the unexpected death of her father and another film based on his pen-pal relationship with a Russian spy, currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. “I will probably stick to documentary for now,” he says, “but eventually I hope to become a hybrid director.”

Lazy loaded image
Daniel Lombroso Courtesy of Daniel Lombroso