Passing by without a ton of attention at this year’s SXSW was documentary Tread, on the 2004 rampage of Marvin John Heemeyer in Granby, Colorado, but the first trailer for the film has officially piqued our interest. The film documents the events that led up to Heemeyer’s spectacularly destructive venture out into town driving his own self-constructed, armored bulldozer, which led to it now being referred to as the “Killdozer” incident.
Heemeyer was a clearly unstable man who had been involved in a protracted feud with town officials related to zoning permits, land ownership, and fines he’d been forced to pay regarding improper dumping of sewage. As a response, he labored in secret on a modified Komatsu D355A bulldozer for 18 months, constructing an entire cupola of steel and concrete around it to serve as armor. He then embarked on a wild rampage of destruction, smashing the Granby town hall along with many other buildings—including a hardware store and library that had held children minutes earlier—before the bulldozer became trapped in a basement, leading to Heemeyer taking his own life. Thankfully, thanks to town evacuations, no other lives were lost in the incident, despite Heemeyer reportedly firing his gun numerous times during the rampage.
That alone seems like powerfully fascinating material for a documentary, which is complete with some of the religiously charged tapes Heemeyer left behind to explain some portion of his motivations, but the story only gets stranger from here. Although Tread is certainly interesting in its own right, arguably even more fascinating is the incredulous cult of personality and hero worship that has now apparently grown up around Heemeyer and his rampage, largely led by anti-government groups.
A single visit to the trailer’s YouTube comments section makes this quite clear, as pretty much every comment—with hundreds of upvotes—is in passionate defense of Heemeyer, the clear work of a coordinated campaign to push the image of the man as some kind of modern day folk hero who was simply standing up for himself when he endangered the lives of countless bystanders.
I mean really, this is word for word: “This looks like they are going to paint this guy as a terrorist. What he did was justified. He stood for the same things the founding fathers fought the redcoats over. He is a true patriot and the real story deserves to be told.”
Or if you prefer more capital letters: “KILLDOZER WAS THE HERO, THE ENEMY WAS THE GOVERNMENT THAT BETRAYED HIM.”
Cited by all the supporters is the fact that Heemeyer ultimately didn’t kill anyone but himself, but it doesn’t appear to have been for a lack of trying. They seem to attribute divine knowledge to the man, claiming he was aware that any given building he demolished was empty, while being unable to explain why a modern day folk hero would be spending his time demolishing public libraries that had been filled with kids only minutes earlier. The reactions to Tread, in fact, seem to offer a disturbing glimpse at the warped perspective of a segment of America that believes itself to be, like Heemeyer, under constant attack and oppression.
Tread’s official release date is Feb. 28, 2020, via Gravity Ventures. Check out the full trailer below.