Uncovering Extremism: Encounters with Capitol Insurrectionists

By Felix Hawthorne October 15, 2023

Alexandra Pelosi documents her time spent with Capitol insurgents in the riveting HBO documentary, "The Insurrectionist Next Door".

Alexandra Pelosi, a seasoned documentarian, is known for her empathetic explorations of individuals with disparate political leanings. In her latest venture, an HBO documentary titled “The Insurrectionist Next Door,” she follows this tradition, delving into the lives of individuals involved in the January 6 Capitol insurrection.

In a fascinating twist of fate, Pelosi herself was present at the Capitol on that unprecedented day. Her real-time footage of the event included poignant vignettes of her mother, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This footage was prominently featured in her previous film, "Pelosi in the House".

“The Insurrectionist Next Door” is Pelosi's 15th collaboration with HBO. It features her interactions with several individuals who were arrested following the Capitol storming. Through gentle probes, she attempts to unravel the motivations that drove them, explore their possible regrets, and discern whether their loyalty to ex-President Trump was impacted by the experience of being imprisoned.

Interestingly, Pelosi finds many of her subjects defiant, still believing in the falsehood that the election was rigged against Trump. She talks to Paul Hodgkins, who served an eight-month prison sentence, and is taken aback to find him consuming right-wing media like OAN, known for propagating the hostility that flared after the election. Hodgkins assertively tells her that his views about what's best for America remain unaltered.

Pelosi strives to maintain respect while occasionally deviating from serious questions to ask playfully about their actions on that day. However, the gap between the unyielding beliefs of her subjects and reality does not leave much room for meaningful dialogue.

While discussing with Johnny Harris—who insists the Capitol invasion was planned by government agents disguised as Trump supporters—Pelosi emphasizes the importance of understanding each other.

The prominent filmmaker also chats with Ronnie Sandlin, presently incarcerated for his Jan. 6 deeds. Sandlin, whose attitude seems to develop with time, comments that many sane individuals abandoned reason for those few hours.

The documentary bears resemblances to Pelosi's earlier work, "Journeys With George,” where she captured George W. Bush's Presidential campaign with a unique lens, given that she is Nancy Pelosi's daughter. In “The Insurrectionist Next Door,” Pelosi attempts a similar approach, even after the violent attack on her father, Paul Pelosi, managing to stir viewers' empathy for some of the protagonists.

However, the documentary usually imparts a gloomy impression: when the chasm of understanding is this extensive and the inflexible belief in misinformation this powerful, a meaningful conversation seems impossible.

Don't miss “The Insurrectionist Next Door,” set to debut on HBO on October 15 at 9 p.m. ET.