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Published: Monday, 3/26/2012

Documentary chronicles domestic terrorism plot


Two best friends from Midland, Texas, are caught up in a government investigation of homegrown terrorism at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis.

The pair planned to lob Molotov cocktails at police cars outside the convention to confuse attendees and police, and disrupt the political event. The defiant act of destruction is meant to protest, they say, the U.S. war machine. At least, that was their idea. David McKay and Bradley Crowder never made it that far in their plans; a community activist-turned FBI informant named Brandon Darby, acting as the ringleader of a radical activist group, ratted them out.

How did these two likable, intelligent, 20-somethings get to this point? And was justice served in their punishment? That’s the premise of Better This World, a 2011 documentary that tackles issues of justice and civil liberties, and the increasingly fractured intersection of both in a Post-Sept. 11 United States. The film is screening at 6:15 Monday as part of the independent film festival, Film Focus, at the Main Library in downtown Toledo.

Directed by Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, Better This World is a twisty novel of a film, with major surprises foisting on us new drama and tension, and radically altering our opinions along the way. In the course of the documentary there will be reactions of empathy, anger, and sadness. McKay and Crowder made a poor choice, that’s undeniable, even by them. But they claim their scheme was never about causing injuries or deaths, rather using domestic chaos to chide America for its two foreign wars.

The government says McKay and Crowder’s motives were always clear and has recordings to back up their case. But there’s never clear-cut proof of true intent, and the case plays out in the familiar courtroom dance of accusations and counter-accusations, with no resounding victor.

Even more troubling than McKay and Crowder’s would-be terrorist act, though, are the actions of the government in its effort to exact justice.

Better This World paints a disturbing picture of civil liberties quashed by federal law enforcement officials determined to stamp out terror at all costs. The documentary takes a side, allows for dissenting voices, and then damns them with mounds of contrary evidence.

You’ve probably never heard of McKay and Crowder. The government will contend that’s a win for its war on terror. Better This World makes a compelling argument otherwise.

Better This World is playing at 6:15 p.m. Monday night at the McMaster Center at the Main Library, 325 Michigan St. The event is free, with parking available underground at the library. The Film Focus festival runs Mondays through April 16. For more information, call 419-259-5285 or visit toledolibrary.org.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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