Witness the testimony, by turns frightening and heartening, of Greg Withrow, once a charismatic rising star in the white supremacist movement who dramatically turned his back on the ideologies of hate. In Elizabeth Thompson’s haunting new documentary, Blink, Withrow and those who know him take us on an epic journey through the psychological and social realities of white supremacy in America. But Blink is no ordinary media portrayal of personal redemption. It presents us with an on-going internal struggle whose outcome isn’t certain—for Withrow or for America.
It’s easy to see why Withrow would rise to leadership in Tom Metzger’s racist skinhead movement or, indeed, in any movement he might join. He is intense, and breathtakingly resourceful. Withrow is also angry and prone to violence, the result of an upbringing that taught him not only to hate non-whites, but also to use violence to motivate himself and to make the world pay attention. And he is burdened with the feelings of marginalization and helplessness that afflict some working-class white Americans in a rapidly changing and divided society.
Greg Withrow with wife Maria. Credit: Ben Hurlbutt
For the psychologically and physically armed Withrow, all that began to change when he fell in love with a woman whose (non-Jewish) family had been the victims of persecution in Nazi Germany.
Filmmaker Thompson skillfully uses Withrow’s own intense introspections, home videos and news reports of white supremacist gatherings, as well as interviews with current and past associates to chart Withrow’s tortured course through the social quagmire of white American racism. Included are the surprisingly frank recollections of Withrow’s former white supremacist colleagues and the reflections of the Latina woman he ultimately married.
In one of Blink‘s tour-de-force elements, Thompson creates a chilling evocation of the “warrior” ethos that might be a way to find in hate and violence a twisted expression of idealism, or present a road to redemption. Exploring this precarious duality of shame and honor, Blink recounts Withrow’s public rejection of his racist past—which included what may have been a staged “crucifixion” allegedly committed by former skinhead associates—as well as how he is attempting to use the discipline of martial arts to translate the warrior impulse into socially positive behavior. But herein lies the paradox that threatens Withrow’s redemption—he is still using an ethic of violence to change himself and his world, and the film leaves us with a question; how much has Withrow really changed?
“When I started the film, I thought this was a more straight-forward story of redemption. But I found myself walking at times through a wilderness of mirrors. While I doubted some of the sensational aspects of Greg’s story, I did trust the emotional logic behind his myth making,” says Thompson.