SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 14, 2011
Director: Kelly Duane de la Vega, Katie Galloway
David McKay and Bradley Crowder, a.k.a. the “Texas Two,” became household names during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota when they were arrested on domestic terrorism charges. First the St. Paul police, without a warrant, seized homemade riot gear from a trailer belonging to McKay and Crowder’s organization (for lack of a better term), then they were accused of an alleged plot to throw Molotov cocktails at empty police cars parked in a parking lot.
But, let us first rewind… McKay and Crowder are childhood friends hailing from the Christian conservative lands of Midland, Texas. They discussed politics, but never really acted upon any of their beliefs, that is until they met an infamous radical, Brandon Darby, in Austin. Darby brought McKay and Crowder under his wings, teaching them everything he knew.
The three amigos, along with a few other comrades in arms, drove to the 2008 RNC to protest against John McCain and Sarah Palin; after eight long years under George W. Bush’s reign, they were beyond frustrated with the tyrannical state of the union. Their plan was to move the attention from McCain and Palin to their own causes. McKay, Crowder and Darby packed a U-Haul trailer full of homemade riot gear, but from the best I can surmise, they really did not have much of a plan other than that.
A couple of days into the convention, McKay and Crowder were arrested and the FBI seemed confident that they had an impeccably strong case against McKay and Crowder because of a key informant. Crowder accepted a plea bargain, but McKay opted to bring his trial to court with the defense that he was the subject of entrapment by a controversial FBI informant.
At the risk of spoiling too much, I will leave it at that… Co-directors Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway do a much better job than I could ever do in retelling this amazing story of idealism, loyalty, lies and betrayal. In constructing their narrative, de la Vega and Galloway must first re-create for the audience what happened prior to the commencement of their production, so they rely on archival footage and talking head interviews recollecting the events. De la Vega and Galloway allow everyone, including the FBI, to tell their version of the story and surprisingly enough, they all seem to be on the same page (or at least the same chapter), except for the actions of the FBI informant.
The unfolding of the events is spine-tingling (at least for someone of my political persuasion). Better This World represents how conservative America’s post-9/11 War on Terror went terribly awry, ripping away the civil liberties of American citizens and instantly squashing any form of political dissent. The line between protesters and terrorists was blurred, as was the definition of terrorism. (I am using the past tense, but I would argue that this is still true in the present tense as well.) The question remains: Should the FBI be permitted to punish “radicals” (“protesters”? “terrorists”?) who were recruited and trained by FBI informants?
Speaking of conservative America… BigGovernment.com recently alerted its readership: “[Better This World] depicts David Guy McKay and Bradley Neil Crowder as idealistic activists who, according to the official blurb, ‘set out to prove the strength of their political convictions to themselves and their mentor.’ In fact McKay and Crowder are convicted domestic terrorists who manufactured instruments of death calculated to inflict maximum pain and bodily harm on people whose political views they disagreed with.” (Of course if McKay and Crowder were targeting abortion doctors or Democrats who supported the health care bill, the tone of this conservative rhetoric would probably be a lot different.) I have absolutely no doubts that other conservatives will line up to write-off de la Vega and Galloway as propagandists working for America’s so-called leftist liberal media (most without ever watching Better This World, of course), but as I see it, Better This World lays out a lot of undeniable evidence that, as part of the War on Terror, at least one FBI informant has overstepped their bounds and personal freedoms for American citizens has been lessened.