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“They Think They’re Patriots”: Charlie Sadoff on Streaming Phenom ‘Against All Enemies’

By Luke Y. Thompson

Behind the scenes of 'Against All Enemies.' Courtesy of the filmmakers.

Courtesy of Charlie Sadoff.

If Alex Garland's fictional film about a hypothetical new American Civil War feels insufficiently political, Charlie Sadoff's Against All Enemies, warning of the ways a real one could come about, may be more suitable. Now on VOD, and burning up the iTunes charts, Against All Enemies is produced by the liberal PAC Meidas Touch, Restrepo (2010) director Sebastian Junger, Ken Harbaugh, and Sadoff. Taking a historical approach to the January 6th attempted insurrection, Sadoff's film starts with the events of the day, then uses archival footage and modern-day expert testimony to compare the modern-day militias to the post-Vietnam Ku Klux Klan, especially the extent that they recruit heavily from the ranks of veterans. When the current war, which is to say the loose one “on Terror” that George W. Bush began, has gone on for over two decades, that creates an ample supply. But who's out there building demand? All the worst people, Sadoff suggests.

Against All Enemies builds its case while focusing on two veterans, with whom his cameras spend time to get their thoughts and a sense of their homes. In Texas, Eric “General E” Braden buys his ammunition from drug dealers and fully buys into the notion that he and his guns may be the difference between freedom and tyranny. In New York, Kristofer Goldsmith reflects on how fellow veterans reaching out with compassion saved him from going down a hateful, conspiracy-laden rabbit hole. Both men, on opposite sides of the red/blue divide, try to hold out hope that common ground can be found, yet neither would likely accept the other's “truth.”

This is Sadoff's first film as director, and a hefty topic. In our conversation, edited for length and clarity, Sadoff discusses how he seized the topic, got access, and why some more public figures wouldn't talk to him at all.

DOCUMENTARY: What makes this the first film for you as director rather than just a producer, and how soon after January 6th did you decide this was the movie you wanted to make?

CHARLIE SADOFF: It was probably around a month after January 6th that Ken Harbaugh, who is the producer of the film, a Navy veteran, and someone that I worked with previously on different projects, contacted me. He had seen that there were veterans who were leading the charge on the steps of the Capitol. As prosecutions began it became clear that there were a number of veterans who were integral to the insurrection. Ken, having worked on a number of nonprofits that help re-engage veterans in civilian life, including Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues, was just sort of blown away that veterans could be leading the charge, and he came to me with the idea. And I thought it was a very interesting and important question to try and answer, so that's when we decided to make the film

D:  You actually get up close with a lot of these militia people like the Oath Keepers—did they give you any friction at all about carrying cameras with them in Portland?

CS: No, not at all. I think one of the important things to understand is they think they're patriots. They think that what they're doing is supportive of their vision of the Constitution and of the United States of America and they think that the people who oppose them are the ones who are the real insurrectionists. They think that Joe Biden was elected illegally, that he represents a crime family, and so they're not ashamed to be on camera. In fact, if they're confident that their point of view is gonna be represented fairly and honestly, then they're more than happy to be on camera. And that's what happened in our film. We got them to be on camera and we do present their points of view fairly and honestly, and that's something that we get criticized for a little bit, but I thought it was important for people to understand what's going on over there.  

D: You have guys like Mike Flynn and and other people who are either in office or formerly in office or running for office still who won't talk to you at all. They act like they're proud and they act like it's their sincere belief but they're not willing to go on camera with you. So what's the distinction there?

CS: I think they probably think they don't have anything to gain. They have a platform. Mike Flynn gets to the audience he wants to get to. JD Vance, who we profile in the film, a Senator from Ohio, probably doesn't feel like he has anything to gain by being in this film. Whereas some of the people who we talk to are not generally seen, and feel like they're often misrepresented in more mainstream platforms, and therefore more likely to want to talk to us, and they did.

D: How did you find, for want of a better word, the two leads in this film (Texan Eric “General E” Braden and New Yorker Kristofer Goldsmith)? Do you put out an ad saying we want to talk to people who have involvement in militia groups, or is it something else? 

CS: I had two associate producers, Oliya “Scootercaster” Fedun and Sam Harston, who had been trailing these groups as part of their news-gathering organization for a number of years, and had built up trust with them and so they had inside track to them to connect us and told them what we wanted to do, that they might not be happy with everything that was in it, but they could get a chance to share their side of the story. And we were able to get in touch with them and convince them.

D: Have they, or some of the Oath Keepers who are also in it, seen the film and expressed an opinion?

CS: I don't know, you know, I haven't heard from any of them yet. If I don't hear from them soon I'll probably send them a link to make sure they have a chance to see it; you know, it might not be popping up on their algorithm at this point, but I would be interested to hear what they have to say.

D: it's interesting to see some of the January 6th footage all over again, because most of us saw it on the day, but there's been this new narrative with, for example, Nick Searcy and his documentary Capitol Punishment, and others like him basically going, Oh well, I was there, they let us in, we just thought we were tourists. You very carefully show some key moments of this footage to show it wasn't mere tourists. Have you seen any of these movies like his that are pushing back on that narrative, and did you sort of have that in mind with what you chose?

CS: Yeah, we have a section where we show people, not just conspiracy theorists, but sitting members of Congress and the Senate, who say, “If you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a normal tourist visit.” That myth has been out there since the beginning. I will say that early on, when we started making the film, the people who were being investigated and prosecuted were being categorized as patriots all along by the people I was talking to. So when Donald Trump more recently started calling them patriots and political prisoners, I was not at all surprised because these things that eventually make their way up into leaders' and politicians' talking points are things that have been bubbling up on the Internet, and amongst the kind of people I was embedded with all along. Trump is somewhat of an opportunist, but he's also an aggregator of sorts.

D: After you make a movie like this, do you move on to something completely different next? Is Against All Enemies something that's easy to leave behind and go on to the next thing?

CS: I am working on something completely different right now. It's a film called Immutable, a documentary on urban debaters in Washington DC. A much more uplifting story. I'm not moving past this film, because, you know, I'm talking to you about it! We're doing all the publicity for it, and it's a movie that I think is relevant now, will continue to be relevant, and people will want to see it and talk about it. It's the #1 doc on iTunes right now [when this interview was conducted in early April 2024], so I think it's resonating with people, and it's probably going to be something that I'm talking about for at least the next… eight months.

Luke Y. Thompson has been a professional entertainment writer, film critic, and editor since 1999, starting at New Times LA, with bylines in the LA Weekly, LA Times, Nerdist, Deadline, Village Voice, Coming Soon, and many more. He has also appeared as a talking head in the documentaries Unknown Dimension: The Story of Paranormal Activity and Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story.