Originally posted at The New York Times by Astead Herndon.
MEDINA, Ohio — There were two marquee events scheduled on a recent Wednesday evening in northern Ohio’s Medina County.
For $9, the county fair hosted its annual “Rough Truck Contest,” at which car enthusiasts could, according to the attraction’s website, see the “4×4 equivalent of Cirque du Soleil” but without the “leotarded performers who flit around on stage.”
The other big draw was a $15 private screening of “Death of a Nation,” a new documentary film made by the recently pardoned conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, which argues that the Democratic Party is composed of modern-day Nazis, racists and fascists who, if not for President Trump, would bring the collapse of the United States.
It was, unquestionably, a hit.
“This is the real history of the Democratic Party,” said David Wadsworth, one moviegoer, who currently serves as clerk of courts in Medina County. “People don’t give us the credit, as Republicans, for not being the racist ones.”
For the roughly 30 people at the film, which was hosted by the Medina County Republican Women and was one of dozens of watch parties held across the country, “Death of a Nation” was more than entertainment. It was a confirmation of a worldview they feel is often unjustly ridiculed or intentionally ignored. They said it spoke to their deep-seated fears about the fate of the country if Democrats prevail in the November midterms, and did so using the raw, flame-throwing rhetoric that, to them, signals a Trump-like authority and authenticity.
In Medina, the film’s use of demagogy wasn’t a drawback, but a punch line: One scene dismissing minority voters as leeches feeding off Democrats’ “modern plantation” was met with approving giggles, while a montage of liberals crying on election night elicited riotous laughter.
After the movie, which concluded to whoops and cheers, the crowd left the theater largely expressing the same sentiment: that the November elections were a last chance to save Mr. Trump — and America — from supposed enemies including Democrats, illegal immigrants, minority groups who “depend on the government,” and the news media.
“This showed the true side of the conservative movement: We’re not the hatemongers,” said Lisa Navin, 63. She said Democrats are the “real racists,” though she “didn’t need this movie to show” her that.
“This wasn’t about bashing Democrats, this was about pointing out the truth,” said Alliss Strogin, a zoning inspector in Medina. Ms. Strogin said that Democrats were “not as ambitious as Adolf Hitler,” but that “some of their philosophies were basically of the same track.”
“They’re along the same track in that they both want the government making decisions for the people, rather than the people making their own decisions,” she later explained, when asked to clarify her comments.
Politically charged language and name-calling have intensified sharply in the age of Mr. Trump, as the president’s often divisive language has caused ripple effects everywhere from Martha’s Vineyard cocktail parties to Virginia lunch diners. But while opponents of Mr. Trump have used public protests and demonstrations to voice their distaste for the administration and its supporters, his admirers are also experiencing an escalation of rhetoric — partly aided by movies like Mr. D’Souza’s.
Attendees of the screening in Medina would, in one breath, say they longed for a time when political opponents were more civil and respectful, and in the next moment describe Democrats as morally depraved and anti-American.
“We have a lot of manufactured outrage these days with those who want to sow discord,” said Kirsten Hill, a 54-year-old woman from neighboring Lorain County. “Paid protesters bused in who blow up a local issue that’s not an issue everywhere.”
In the film, which is narrated by Mr. D’Souza and blends cherry-picked facts and historical falsehoods with an apocalyptic portrait of the left, progressives are deemed to be solely responsible for worst evils of the 19th and 20th century, including slavery, the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, Benito Mussolini’s rise in Italy, the persecution of Native Americans, the Holocaust and more.
The liberal megadonor George Soros is, at one point, falsely depicted as a possible Nazi collaborator, and chattel slavery is described as a byproduct of socialist economic policy. Other contradictions include sections where President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, is said to have inspired the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany, and Southern confederates are portrayed as treasonous. These parts leave out that Mr. Trump, the film’s hero, has cited Jackson as an inspiration, and that Mr. Trump’s chief of staff has defended Confederate general Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man.”
In Mr. D’Souza’s film, the president is a liberator blessed with Abraham Lincoln’s “inner toughness,” currently “saving America” from the “new Democratic plantation” of “black ghettos, Latino barrios, Native American reservations.”
Mr. D’Souza pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions in 2014, but was fully pardoned by Mr. Trump in late May.
“The stakes could not be higher,” Mr. D’Souza says at one point in the film. “Read the Nazi platform at the Democratic convention and it would most likely receive thunderous applause.”
Such inflammatory rhetoric has not stopped “Death of a Nation” from reaching the upper echelons of the Republican Party. Mr. D’Souza recently held a glitzy reception for the movie in Washington, complete with celebrity red carpet appearances from Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, and Housing Secretary Ben Carson. The re-election campaign of Representative Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, held a watch party in Woodlands, Tex., in July. The movie has thus far grossed about $4.5 million, and several of Mr. D’Souza’s previous films rank among the highest-grossing American political documentaries of all time. (His conspiratorial 2012 film about President Barack Obama made more than $30 million, and is one of the highest-grossing domestic documentaries in the United States in decades.)
Lynda Bowers, the affable president of the Medina County Republican Women group, prepared goody bags for audience members that included a pocket constitution, some pre-wrapped popcorn, and copy of one Mr. D’Souza’s previous movies — which include a 2016 film targeting Hillary Clinton and the 2012 movie, tagged “Obama’s America: Love Him. Hate Him. You Don’t Know Him.”
Medina County voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump in 2016, and the screening’s all-white audience largely matches the community’s homogeneous demographics (the latest census statistic say about 5 percent of Medina County residents are racial minorities).
Ms. Bowers said she chose to show the movie because she’s a self-proclaimed history buff, but the movie has been roasted by actual historians and film critics, who point to the many misrepresentations and falsehoods littered throughout the film.
The Princeton historian Kevin M. Kruse recently took to Twitter to debunk one of the movie’s central arguments: that anti-black Southern Democrats did not defect from the party once it began supporting civil rights for African-Americans. Some did.
“I suppose, as the current Republican Party is experiencing a surge in candidates who are openly white supremacist, it might seem easier to try to rewrite the past than it is to reckon with the present,” Mr. Kruse tweeted recently. “But it’ll take someone better than D’Souza to do it.”
After the film, Ms. Bowers led a 10-minute discussion. Though some attendees began the evening skeptical of Mr. D’Souza’s comparisons between Mr. Trump and Lincoln, those who spoke during the post-movie conversation seemed thoroughly convinced by Mr. D’Souza’s argument. Some bemoaned the fact that the themes in “Death of a Nation” were not presently taught in elementary schools.
“A group of individuals in our government sought to rig the presidential election — they stole the 2012 election — and they tried to steal the 2016 election, and now they’re trying to overthrow a duly elected president,” said Tom Zawistowski, a Tea Party activist from Portage County in Ohio.
“The ruling class and the deep state have been telling this lie, and people have been believing it,” Mr. Zawistowski said. “We need to start getting ahead of these things and fight them before it’s too late. And it’s almost too late.”
No person who spoke during the discussion voiced any disagreements with the movie. Their only complaint: The scheduling conflict with the county fair, and its uber-popular “Rough Truck night,” had stopped more of their neighbors from attending.
Read more at The New York Times.
Lincoln united his party and saved America from the Democrats for the first time. Can Trump—and we—come together and save America for the second time?
Death of a Nation is in theaters nationwide now! Click here to get tickets now.