“Look at where we are right now,” states former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock of the divisions in America and the disinformation war that has reached an even higher pitch three years after the violent assault on the Capital. “About three weeks ago, polling said a fourth of Americans think that the FBI actually incited January 6.” the one-time presidential candidate says incredulously. “We have 171 election deniers in the House, a third of the overall members of Congress.”
To Bullock’s point on this day of the New Hampshire primary, polls also show that a significant swath of Americans are weary of a re-match between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Starring Bullock as a semi-fictional POTUS, War Game, a film debuting right now at the Sundance Film Festival, worries about a possible and bloody consequence of a disputed 2024 election that could make January 6, 2021 look like a tame rehearsal.
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“This isn’t some like idle. ‘Oh, this could happen,’” Bullock adds of the likelihood of another insurrection and rise of right-wing zealots in the armed forces and law enforcement. “This is happening,” he says of 2020 election deniers. “Where the third highest (GOP) House member (Rep. Elise) Stefanik says, ‘well, we’ll see if it’s a valid election or not,’” the two-term Democrat notes of 2024. “We all should be concerned about where we are, not just January 6 2021, but where we are today.”
Going inside the Situation Room as neo-Nazis members of the military go rogue, extremists try to stop the 2024 election certification (sound familiar?) and state capitals are attacked, War Game brings together real-life politicians like Bullock and ex-North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, as well as officials from various administrations and the armed forces.
Fueled in part by alarming research and scenarios provided the Vet Voice Foundation, the Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber directed 94-minute film tracks top players in the fictional Hotham administration trying to the oxygen out of a January 6, 2025 uprising without being baited into an overreaction. Along with high skilled and high-tech nativists pulling the strings from their keyboards, a Trump-like rival and a Michael Flynn-like disloyal general are seen on screen and online at various stages in the exercise.
As much as the Warren Littlefield produced film is caught in a tumultuous near future moment, the chilling War Game is very much trying to capture a toxic trait of American democracy without falling into the pit of ideology.
“Everybody wants to pinpoint this on the former President Trump, but this was ripe ground for a long, long time,” points out former Senator Heitkamp, who plays a senior advisor to Bullock’s extremely measured President Hotham in War Game. “So, I think that the worst enemy for us in meeting this challenge is denial,” Heitkamp continues, outraged at how the jailed insurrectionists of Jan. 6, 2021 are referred to as “hostages” by Trump and his supporters.
“Where we get into challenges is when people equate having this discussion with curtailing conservative thought. There is a difference between, you know, insurrectionist thought and conservative thought, and that line is often blurred in the political discourse,” the ex-one term Senator laments. “It’s got to be a common purpose to defend our democracy, but also have that space for everybody’s political thought to be represented, as long as it’s not insurrectionist.”
Like Senator Heitkamp, Gov. Bullock worries the reality of the rise of extremists in the military and in American life has taken the country to an unprecedented precipice. “We’ve allowed these fictions to actually get into the mainstream, and it’s dangerous,” Bullock declares of right-wing belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and Biden is the real threat to American democracy. “It’s dangerous for what could happen, and it’s dangerous for what is happening when you had literally last time have the 50 people running for governor across the country that denied the results of the last election.”
“This experiment in representative democracy …is being tested right now.”
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