"The thing that you have to understand about conspiracy theory is that, at some point, it's no longer a theory."
Such is the idea explored in A Gray State, the documentary that probes into the death of David Crowley. The filmmaker and veteran, along with his family, were killed in their suburban Minnesota home in 2015. He was working on a film in which FEMA troops forcibly took over the country, and its trailer was well received by the online community of libertarians, Tea Party activists and members of the nascent alt-right. News of their deaths therefore became fodder for conspiracy theorists who speculated that Crowley was assassinated by government officials.
"David Crowley was incredibly charismatic, and had a limitless future as a spokesman for the movement. But he was beset by personal demons, which ironically were many of the same demons that drove him into his worldview. He invented a construct that justified his paranoia," director Erik Nelson tells THR. "He was a gifted propagandist who consciously reached out to document the worst fears of his intended audience in order to turn their fears into what he thought would be an action blockbuster feature."
The Hollywood Reporter's exclusive clip of the doc includes extremely violent scenes from Crowley's film. "I was struck at just how amazing a filmmaker he was, creating his vision of this dystopian future by inspiring his friends and the local acting community into working for free, just so they could be a part of his vision. He wrote, edited, did the CGI, scored the music, did everything, and was an incredibly focused artist - catering to an audience who wanted to see what their worst fears might look like."
Executive produced by Werner Herzog, the doc makes its world premiere on Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival. Upon combing through Crowley's photographs, videos and recordings, Nelson says the doc sheds light on the current American experience.
"There's a toxic stew going on, which led to the last election's results. Donald Trump is the symptom, and I felt that through this story we might be able to get a clear look at the disease," Nelson explains. "I've been a faithful Breitbart reader for five years; I've had run-ins with Alex Jones on other projects. I've known not the alt-right, but the alt-media - the entire subcutaneous media system that exists that the 'mainstream media' is unaware of. David tapped into that in a very primal way. He was creating a feature film that illustrated their worst fears about what might happen when the government takes over."
[Warning: The following clip contains extreme violence from the trailer for Crowley's film.]