Against All Enemies (2024)

Eric “General E” Braden engages in target practice at his rural Texas home in “Against All Enemies.”

When U.S. soldiers no longer fight the good fight

With the enlightening “Against All Enemies,” documentarian Charlie Sadoff sends a dire wake-up call to apathetic Americans blind to an exploding movement of political violence fronted by the very people who vowed to defend us – the U.S. armed forces. According to Sadoff, it’s a phenomenon that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, an attempted coup comprised disproportionately of military veterans angered by their perceived notions of where the country is headed, socially and politically.

The film contends their No. 1 fear is racial diversity, particularly the projected erasure of a white, Christian majority within the next 20 years. And that panic is stoked primarily by paramilitary groups, such as the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters, bent on radicalizing disaffected vets failed by the system upon their return to civilian life. What makes this crusade so dangerous, we’re told, is the experience these ex-soldiers have in planning and executing insurrections in other countries.

Even more disturbing is the active recruitment of men and women currently serving, personnel with easy access to the weapons and gear necessary to overthrow our democracy. This, of course, is a blatant violation of their oath to the Constitution. But part of their radicalization, according to Sadoff and his co-writers, Sebastian Junger and Kenneth Harbaugh, involves a form of brainwashing groups like the Proud Boys employ to convince them that revolt IS defending democracy.

To fortify this argument, the film looks back at the history of radicalization, suggesting its roots sprouted in the wake of the Civil War with the formation of the Klu Klux Klan, white nationalists fearful of Blacks gaining political and economic power. The movement has risen and fallen several times over the past 150 years. Still, there’s a pattern, according to Northwestern University Professor Kathleen Belew, who asserts “Historically, the aftermath of war is a danger point for anti-democratic violence, for racist violence, for activity among Klan and white power groups. Everyone – men, women and children – becomes more violent in the aftermath of warfare.”

She says this time it’s even more intense because the country has never before been involved in a 20-year conflict like the one waged in Afghanistan. Exacerbating that fallout are feelings of having served in vain in a nation that is no different today than when we first invaded it in 2001. It makes these veterans susceptible to recruitment, especially ex-soldiers jonesing from the sudden loss of the brotherhood they experienced on the battlefield.

To show that this isn’t true of everyone, Sadoff interviews several current and former members of Congress who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but have chosen to use that experience for the good. Combat vets such as Seth Moulton, Denver Riggleman, Mikie Sherrill and Jason Crow universally express concern. It’s haunting when they speak of the irony of being hunted on Jan. 6 by the same people they served shoulder to shoulder with overseas.

The commentaries that linger are presented by Eric “General E” Braden and Kristofer Goldsmith, veterans with diametric opinions on their military experiences. Braden, awash in Texan charm, speaks of the importance of being prepared, meaning being well-armed in case of a revolt. He calls it “The cowboy way.” The vastly more thoughtful Goldsmith, on the other hand, thinks the military teaches troops to wage war, but then fails to deprogram them when it’s time to stow the fatigues.

The movie neither champions nor condemns either view, but it does point fingers at folks like Stewart Rhodes, the recently imprisoned leader of the Proud Boys and major instigator in the Jan. 6 insurrection. He’s painted as a bit of a charlatan, an Ivy League-trained lawyer who uses a one-of-the-guys persona to lure susceptible men and women into believing the “deep state” will destroy them if they don’t fight back.

What’s scary is the handful of folks who think Jan. 6 is just the advent of what could be years of politically inspired violence in this country. And it could begin as soon as the November elections, especially if Joe Biden is re-elected. There’s no doubt that these quasi-terrorist groups back Donald Trump and his white nationalist agenda. They candidly admit that the prospect of a white minority in this country is something they will not let stand. Where this ultimately takes us is very much in question. What is certain, it’s about to get very ugly.

Movie review

Against All Enemies

Rated: Not rated

Featuring: Eric “General E” Braden, Kristofer Goldsmith, Rep. Jason Crow, Dr. Kathleen Belew, ex-Rep. Denver Riggleman, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Rep. Seth Moulton, Bill Kristol, Michael Breen and Stewart Rhodes

Director: Charlie Sadoff

Writers: Charlie Sadoff, Kenneth Harbaugh and Sebastian Junger

Runtime: 106 minutes

Where: In theaters and video on demand

Grade: B+

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