Better This World reconstructs the story of the relationship between friends Bradley Crowder and David McKay and grassroots relief organization co-founder Brandon Darby and the twists and turns of their legal cases.
Growing up in Midland, Texas, Bradley Crowder and David McKay received little political education beyond their parents’ encouragement to “stand up for the oppressed” and “stand up for what you believe in.” Somewhere along the way, partly during late-night walks through their town’s deserted streets, the friends began to form their own interpretation of their parents’ words. It was Crowder who made the first public statement of his political beliefs. In 2003, when the United States declared war on Iraq, he drew an upside-down American flag with the words “No War” on a T-shirt and wore it to his high school the next day &mdash a move that, he recounts, “became a pretty dramatic event.”
Seeking “something else,” Crowder and McKay moved to more progressive Austin, where they met Brandon Darby, who had gained prominence as the co-founder of Common Ground Relief, a grassroots relief organization that fed and housed thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Crowder and McKay were flattered when the larger-than-life activist approached them at a bookstore in Austin to talk about organizing together.
As several people in the film who knew Darby, Crowder and McKay recount, Darby urged the young men to become more radical — to take more extreme actions. According to Larra Elliott, one of the activists who accompanied the three to the RNC, “Brandon [was] talking and he said something that caught my attention, like, ‘Don’t you feel that firebombs and armed militias . . . don’t you feel like that kind of action is necessary sometimes?’ And Brad was like, ‘No, I don’t feel that way.’ Brandon would not leave it alone.”
Darby echoes some of this sentiment in letters to his FBI handler about meetings with McKay and Crowder, writing, “I told them that direct action is intense, and we could all expect to have violence used against us. I told them I was ready to deal with that, and if they weren’t, then they shouldn’t work with me.”
On August 28, 2008, Crowder and McKay joined Darby and several other activists Darby had brought together for the long van ride up to the RNC, where they would join thousands of other protestors. Within days Crowder and McKay were under arrest. The “Texas Two,” as they came to be known, faced multiple domestic terrorism charges, agonizing legal decisions and decades in prison. Darby, until then their mentor, would be the government’s star witness against them.
Better This World reconstructs the story of the relationship between these three men and the twists and turns of their legal cases through interviews with Crowder, McKay and their family members; interviews with FBI agents and attorneys; and a wealth of intriguing surveillance and archival footage — presenting an extraordinarily well-documented account and untangling a web of questions: Why did Darby, a committed activist, become a government informant? What led these young men to build eight homemade bombs? Did Darby and law enforcement save innocent victims from domestic terrorists bent on violence and destruction? Or were Crowder and McKay impressionable disciples set up by overzealous agents and a dangerous provocateur? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?