The opening seconds of “Rush to Judgment” might trigger segments of the viewing audience.
It’s images of red hats, MAGA hats to be specific, tumbling off the assembly line.
Need some Chamomile tea, perhaps? That’s part of the message behind a film capturing one of the worst media meltdowns of the modern era.
“Judgment” recalls what happened after a group of Covington Catholic students ran into a Native American with a slippery grasp on reality and hate-spewing activists.
If you guessed the teens got slimed in the worst ways possible, then you’ve been paying attention to the raging culture wars. Filmmaker Steve Oldfield certainly has, assembling a striking portrait of a culture in moral decline.
Blame the Internet, social media or journalists who care more about narrative than the truth. It all adds up to a powerful, and dispiriting, indictment of America in the 21st century, spiked by a group of young men who stood tall amidst the maelstrom.
Nick Sandmann is the reluctant star of “Rush to Judgment,” a soft-spoken teen recalling how the Jan. 19, 2019 confrontation changed his life forever. At first, both social media and journalists tag-teamed against him and his friends. Collectively, they sparked a feeding frenzy against minors that should never have happened, even if they were guilty of the thought crimes in play.
And they weren’t, for the record.
Bill Maher called Sandmann, “a little prick” from his HBO perch. Far-left comic Kathy Griffin weaponized her massive social media flock against Sandmann and his peers.
“Name these kids. I want NAMES. Shame them. If you think these f***ers wouldn’t dox you in a heartbeat, think again.” She later survived a lawsuit over her verbal attacks.
It’s easy to forget these high schoolers weren’t grown men but teen trapped in the media’s rage against all things Trump. Their crimes? Wearing MAGA hats and appearing at a March for Life event. That, and being utterly flummoxed by Nathan Phillips and black Hebrew Israelites shouting the nastiest things possible at them, sealed their fate.
CNN contributor Reza Aslan famously dubbed Sandmann’s visage “punchable.” That was one of the kinder attacks against the boys and their families. Death threats flooded in from all directions. Commentators on the Left and the Right savaged the lads.
All for a video taken out of context.
For one Nick Sandmann (who was smeared in an out-of-context video clip & overwhelmingly vindicated by longer video), there’s a hundred people who got screwed. The idea that being the target of an Internet mob is a good career move is nuts. https://t.co/rRm3w5b76M
— Cathy Young (@CathyYoung63) August 19, 2020
“Rush” shows the global nature of the controversy and how, little by little, the truth began to seep out. The damage was already done.
The imbroglio sparked an avalanche of influencers talking about the story, including podcaster Joe Rogan.
“People on the Left are calling for violence. This is very confusing to me,” the future Spotify star said, showing both his empathy and ignorance.
“Rush to Judgment” lets some Covington Catholic kids speak out, including Sandmann. They share their bewilderment and horror over the incident, as well as a loyalty to their school. One student says something so obviously true it should break anyone’s heart just hearing it.
Shouldn’t adults be the ones protecting teens, not siccing mobs on them?
We also meet a black Covington Catholic student who got verbally insulted by the Israelites during the confrontation. The ensuing backlash soured him on the school, convincing him to leave after one tumultuous year,
He was 14 at the time of the confrontation.
The film makes copious use of social media influencers, appropriately enough, to shape the evolving story. We also hear from sober journalists who remind us how their peers broke every rule, written and unwritten, to trash the teens.
“I had known that the news media was biased and there was Fake News. Until I lived the Fake News, I didn’t believe it could be as vicious and vile as it was,” one Covington Catholic parent says.
“Rush to Judgment” does a far better job cataloging the hate thrust upon MAGA hat wearers than any mainstream media outlet, or documentary, has done to date. We’re reminded how often innocent people wearing MAGA hats were shamed and attacked, all for wearing the cap associated with the country’s Commander in Chief.
It’s a narrative thread the media feared to follow, for obvious reasons. A shockingly large percentage of Trump haters crave violence against his followers.
It’s one of many themes Oldfield teases without telling us what to think or process. His sense of restraint teeters from commendable to maddening. The documentary could use more rage against journalists, but “Rush” takes the high road for a more balanced presentation.
What’s implied is damning enough.
“Rush to Judgment” lacks the glossy veneer of many modern documentaries, the kind HBO and Netflix regularly churn out. The content stays king despite the lack of razzle dazzle. In fact, the documentary overflows with morsels aching for more depth, more conversation.
Perhaps the most impactful sequence comes with a young black woman sharing how she judges those who wear MAGA hats even though she knows that’s wrong. Her self-awareness is touching, a quality journalists lacked in their zest to score cheap points against President Trump.
HiT or Miss: In a just world “Rush to Judgement” would be one of many films documenting one of the media’s worst moments. As is, Steve Oldfield’s documentary efficiently highlights the lessons learned from the debacle.