White Noise opens with an awkward Halloween party attended by a collection of alt-right personalities, hosted by Lucian Wintrich—best known for his brief stint as a White House correspondent for the far-right blog Gateway Pundit—in Washington, D.C. There’s a knock at the door; Wintrich hops up from the couch, brimming with excitement as Lauren Southern, the renowned Canadian anti-immigration activist, makes an appearance. The two embrace. Southern is wearing a black cape, pale makeup, and cheesy plastic vampire teeth. “I’m the IRS,” she quips.
It’s an oddly human moment for a group of characters that are almost exclusively portrayed as a sinister monolith: The superabundance of documentaries, investigative articles, books and internet shorts on the alt-right that have materialized in the years since Donald Trump’s rise to power are, as a general rule, sensationalist and partisan affairs. Conventional treatments of the coalition of activists, commentators, writers and internet personalities tend to paint the predominantly internet-based movement as an ominous cult of evil with enormous—and ever-increasing—influence in the American political arena.
But White Noise takes a different approach. The new documentary features 27-year-old Atlantic filmmaker Daniel Lombroso following a handful of the alt-right’s most notorious figures for the better part of four years, providing an intimate portrait of a collection of lost, desperately unhappy young men—and, to a lesser extent, women—searching for meaning in a fringe ideology. While most of the mainstream coverage of the alt-right spends little, if any, actual time with its adherents—previous documentaries like Age of Rage give the significant majority of airtime to “anti-fascist” activists and Southern Poverty Law Center intellectuals—Lombroso seeks to understand the alt-right as it is; made up of real people rather than a faceless force of darkness.
Viewers gain not just a richer understanding of the profound ugliness of the movement’s devotées but also of the conditions responsible for producing such ugliness: a sense of loneliness in an age of interconnected mass culture, and a yearning for community in an increasingly atomistic world. Acolytes of the alt-right are often portrayed as larger-than-life supervillains; White Noise reveals them to be broken, deeply isolated individuals.