Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck illustrates the elusive nature of truth in a handy bit of cinematic trompe l’oeil called Enemies of The State.
The documentary is initially a thrilling investigation into the espionage-based persecution of one Matt DeHart by the FBI.
And then it morphs into a small, sad, sordid crime story.
DeHart was a hacktivist involved with Anonymous and Wikileaks and was formerly a member of the U.S. Air National Guard; he trained in the drone program and was an intelligence analyst. Both his parents were linguists with the U.S. Armed Forces in the past and top secret security clearances were common in his family.
Enemies of The State begins in a flurry of cloak and dagger activity, with DeHart’s parents explaining why they packed in secret and fled the country with their son Matt to live in Canada in 2013.
What unfolds is a complicated and bizarre story about Matt DeHart’s involvement with activist groups (mostly in a middleman role as a computer wizard.)
According to his testimony, DeHart had access to highly confidential information that was damning to the U.S. and as a result he was targeted by the FBI.
One day in 2010 FBI agents showed up at the DeHart home and tossed the place, but their search warrant had nothing to do with national security. It was for a child pornography investigation.
That, claims the DeHarts, was a cover-up so the FBI could seize Matt’s computers for the sensitive political information he had access to.
Fearing for his safety with the FBI investigating him, DeHart spoke to officials at both Russian and Venezuelan embassies, hoping to defect.
He also spent time in Mexico where he allegedly sent copies of the information on his server to one colleague in the UK and another in the U.S.
Somewhere in all this, DeHart claimed he’d been tortured and given drugs by the FBI during an interrogation while in custody.
Addressing DeHart’s conspiracy claims are a host of impressive people, including a professor at McGill University who is an expert on the Anonymous group, a National Post reporter, a computer crime lawyer, immigration lawyers and a psychiatrist.
The National Post newspaper series on Matt DeHart and his alleged persecution by the FBI helped make the young man a cause celebre and other media covered his situation.
DeHart was named a beneficiary of Wikileaks’ Courage Foundation, a trust for the legal defense of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.
But things change.
The beauty of Enemies of The State is watching all the intricate details of DeHart’s story being both created and then dismantled. Someone says in the film, “There’s no way of knowing where the truth lies,” but in the latter half of the documentary, you get pretty close.
It is disconcerting in the extreme (in a good way) to watch Enemies Of The State and experience how and why the truth can be distorted.
Errol Morris is an executive producer on the film, which mixes interviews with most of the involved people as well as re-enactments (some using actual audio.)
Confusing at some turns and obvious at others, Enemies of The State is by no means a perfect film — but it is endlessly engaging for anyone interested in the construction and proliferation of conspiracy theories and fake news.
As Matt DeHart would tell you, disinformation is a powerful tool in the world of espionage. Turns out it’s useful in filmmaking too.