AFI Docs 2020 Review: Hate Has a Shelf Life in Daniel Lombroso’s “White Noise”

“Media has done me a great favor,” the alt-right social media personality Mike Cernovich can be heard saying in “White Noise,” “If they did their jobs, I wouldn’t exist.” In the same way that he’s amassed a following of hundreds of thousands by peddling bullshit, Cernovich is onto something, though not entirely in the way that he likely thinks as director Daniel Lombroso is the latest to give him airtime, attempting to find depth where little if any exists. Still, unlike the quick mainstream news hits that Cernovich and fellow conservative bomb throwers have shrewdly guilted into presenting an alternative perspective on issues of decency and seized upon as a way of normalizing their hateful rhetoric, “White Noise” has the time to present a more revealing picture of the con than those who traffic in sound bites would probably like the world to see.

Cernovich is the least principled of the three alt-right sensations that Lombroso profiles, saying throughout he’d be content to sell his caffeine pills full-time for which his conspiracy theories and rants are merely the means to an end. This makes him in some ways the most offensive when he stirs the pot strictly for profit and the least when there’s so little actual conviction in his beliefs, which puts him at odds with the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and Lauren Southern, a Canadian YouTube star who travels the world to protest immigration. Although all three have a media savvy that rarely allows for breaks from talking points, the access Lombroso has exposes cracks when they are faced with how isolating and irrational their views are, from Cernovich learning of the cancellation of a venue for an event in the wake of Charlottesville for which he blames Spencer to Southern being turned off on a date with a fellow conservative personality by his belief it’s the “responsibility of white Europeans” to procreate rather than something that could ever be a desire.

However, that’s about the only responsibility anyone’s willing to take in “White Noise,” where any violence resulting from the words of the subjects are chalked up to misunderstanding and blame is constantly shifted to another, whether at first that’s other ethnicities or each other when Spencer’s promotion of white supremacy becomes a little too toxic for the rest of the group. With cameos from Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes and former Gateway Pundit columnist Lucien Wintrich, the film is able to outline the small ecosystem that has been successful in grabbing a disproportionate amount of attention and while Lombroso likely catches the myriad contradictions of its subjects by sticking closely to them in a verite style, it becomes a shame that there isn’t more detail about the finances that prop them up and keeps the operation going.

By the end of “White Noise,” there seems to be less of an appetite for producing such incendiary content, even if demand hasn’t flagged, and the film becomes most fascinating as a portrait of those who see themselves as truth tellers but can’t say it to themselves. Southern comes the closest, mentioning to a colleague making her way out that she has exactly “three to four years of being political before becoming too hardened” to be a mother, acknowledging an expiration date that all of the alt-right firebrands seem to know they’re facing whether they’re on a biological clock or not when either they get fatigue of putting on the act or their audience tires of them. While surely there’s another group right behind them, Lombroso captures the exhaustion that comes with empty provocation and even if there’s a limited audience on either side of the political divide that can stomach an hour-and-a-half in the company of these three, “White Noise” is worthwhile in showing its subjects for who they are.

“White Noise” does not yet have U.S. distribution.