POV: How did you decide to approach this topic and take a look at this alleged entrapment case?
Katie Galloway: We first got interested in the story when we read an article in The New York Times in early 2009. It said that two young men from Midland, Texas, David McKay and Brad Crowder, had been accused of domestic terrorism at the 2008 Republican National Convention, that David McKay was going to trial and that there was an allegation of entrapment by an FBI informant. Kelly and I had both noticed, as I think many Americans have, that since 9/11 there have been many cases, often involving people from Muslim subcultures, but also involving activists and political dissidents, where there was an FBI sting of some sort, accusation in the media of domestic terrorism and a subsequent claim of entrapment. We were very interested in taking a behind-the-headlines look, a deep look at one case to see what really went on.
POV: What was it like going into a prison to conduct these interviews?
Galloway: We didn’t have much time, because when we first read the article, the federal trial was starting in about a week. When we called the jail and said that we’d like to come in and film David McKay, they said, “Well you’re going to have to get the Department of Homeland Security, ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives], FBI, local sheriffs and many other agencies to sign off. We got the sign-off of every single agency with the agreement of the others, and then we went back to the jail and told them that we had everyone’s sign-off. Then they said, “Actually, we don’t shoot interviews here. We don’t allow them.” We said, “That’s not fair,” and they finally conceded and let us in.
POV: Tell us a little bit about your production process and how you brought all of this information together to tell this story.
Galloway: One of the big challenges in making this film was [figuring out] how to tell a story that largely took place in the past, which was further complicated by the fact that we did not have Brandon Darby’s involvement. We expected to have it. He agreed to interviews early on but subsequently changed his mind. We also were not allowed in to film the federal trial. It’s very unusual to have cameras in the courtroom in a federal trial. So, we have a mixture of surveillance and reenactments. People don’t always know what’s what — what’s authentic and what’s recreated. We get a lot of questions about that in Q-and-A sessions, and I think it’s a question and a debate within the broader documentary community — what is a documentary? — and I think that definition is always morphing.
Kelly Duane de la Vega: All of the moments with our characters are authentic. None of our characters are acting or re-acting, recreating a scenario. We had cameras on them for a great deal of the time and we were lucky. We caught some really magical moments. That’s important to note when we’re talking about reenactments. I think when you watch the film the reenactments are quite obvious. They’re stylized differently so that they don’t look like the other footage.
POV: How difficult was it for you to get the surveillance footage?
Duane de la Vega: The Twin Cities got a $50,000 grant to put up cameras throughout the cities for the Republican National Convention as part of a security effort. There was a massive amount of security footage filmed throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. That footage is actually part of the public domain — not very many people know that, but we discovered that. We got a great deal of that footage, and then we started looking for our subjects. And it was like a needle in a haystack in many ways, but they would pop up, because there were cameras absolutely everywhere. There’s a scene in a Walmart where the young men are going in to buy materials to build Molotov cocktails. And that’s from Walmart’s security cameras. We’re all being filmed all the time.
POV: Do you know how much was spent on this case? What was the amount of public dollars that was spent?
Galloway: Well, we know that Brandon Darby, on the record, was paid $12,500 plus expenses for his involvement in this case. We also know that because Minneapolis-St. Paul was designated a Homeland Security site, two years before the RNC [Republican National Convention], a massive inter-agency plan was moving forward. We’re talking about two years of many government agencies being involved in preparing for the RNC. We know that there was the fanning out of many informants into various activist and dissident communities. Hard numbers — the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force do not make those available, but it would be totally safe to say that it’s in the hundreds of thousands. And I would say it’s almost certainly in the millions if not tens of millions around the 2008 RNC.
POV: How prevalent do you think FBI informant use is?
Galloway: The FBI’s use of informants has grown dramatically since 9/11. The numbers that we’ve heard reported are 15,000 FBI informants registered in the United States, and two to three times as many of what are known as hip pockets — people who give information to the FBI who may not even think of themselves as informants. These are people who are supplying information because they are potentially compromised by knowledge of either their vices or their immigration status or their financial status. They’re leaned on to give information so as not to be prosecuted or outed. That’s very common in Muslim subcultures and activist circles to the point that there’s a pretty high level of, I would say, reasonable paranoia in various communities that have been targeted since 9/11.
POV: Let’s talk about the scene where McKay is back with his family and they’re all talking about what the next steps are. There was so much intimacy in that scene and the family members spoke so openly. How were you able to build that kind of trust with the family?
Duane de la Vega: We spent a lot of time on the phone talking with the families. We spent a lot of time with Michael McKay, who’s David’s father, in Minneapolis during the trial. We developed relationships with them, so there was an inherent trust there. David Layton, who’s our cameraman, our D.P., was alone [with the family] in that house during that conversation with David’s grandmother. It was such an intense moment for them, in some ways, that I think the cameraperson was insignificant. The enormity of what they were dealing with, the enormity of the fear and the decision overpowered the self-consciousness about the camera. We were lucky that the trust was already there. It was this tiny crew, and they knew David [Layton]. It was easy to forget about him and get in the moment. It felt like nothing compared to what David [McKay] was grappling with.
POV: Tell us a little bit about the risks that Brad and David took by agreeing to participate in this film?
Duane de la Vega: I think any documentary subject takes a risk, especially when you don’t know the person who’s creating the film. Over time we built trust with them, but they took a huge leap of faith. They took that leap of faith, I think, because they hoped that we would be willing to tell a full and honest story of what happened. But they were at risk. Somebody could have come in with an agenda to turn them into domestic terrorists, as a lot of the media did. It’s a tremendous responsibility as a filmmaker when somebody trusts you to do right by them and also make sure that the truth and an honest story are the number one objective.
Galloway: They didn’t have anywhere to go but up, essentially, at the time we came to them. They had been absolutely demonized in the media. I think at that moment they were desperate, especially David [McKay], to have a more nuanced representation. There are things that happen in the course of making the film and things that we represent in the film that are uncomfortable for them. I think that is hard. But I also think both of them are thoughtful, intelligent, authentic human beings who understand that this is not a black and white case on either side. As difficult as it is to watch the mistakes they’ve made, they appreciate the honesty. They both see the film as being a very honest representation of their cases, warts and all.