The Frommer’s travel guidebook on Alaska describes the city of Wasilla as “the worst kind of suburban sprawl of highway-fronting shopping malls and gravel lots.” With a population of about 8,000, it’s also filled with an abundance of churches and, oddly enough, has the distinction of being the state meth capital despite its citywide ban on strip clubs. But in Nick Broomfield’s new documentary, Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, the city more closely resembles Twin Peaks, with its most popular resident, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, serving the role of the malefic Killer BOB, having brainwashed her former constituents into believing she’s someone worthy of their undying admiration.
Things began innocently enough. Broomfield and his co-director, Joan Churchill, moved to a house in Wasilla and were invited into the homes of many of Palin’s acquaintances and family members—including that of her parents, Chuck and Sally Heath.
“We tried incredibly hard to ingratiate ourselves to Sarah Palin and her family,” said Broomfield in an interview. “I didn’t go out there in any way whatsoever to do a hit piece on her. We were like the best-behaved Boy Scouts there could be.”
The title of the film comes from a promise the Tea Party figurehead and former vice presidential candidate made to Broomfield at a book signing when he requested an interview, but it soon became readily apparent that Palin was just leading the filmmakers on. To make matters worse, word had spread throughout the town that Broomfield was intending to make “a hit piece” on Palin, which scared many of the townspeople into silence, with one former Palin classmate worried that speaking out against Palin would ruin him financially in Wasilla. And that’s when things got strange.
“I got Anchorage police calling me up, then I started getting some weird phone calls to the office—people calling me ‘scum’ and a lot of people just saying one word and then hanging up,” said Broomfield. “Just creepy stuff.”
Broomfield is known for his in-your-face filmmaking style, which has influenced Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, among others. He’s often depicted ambushing subjects in his films clutching a sound boom with a tape recorder dangling from his neck. The cheeky Brit’s most famous documentaries include Kurt & Courtney, in which he suggested that Courtney Love drove Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain to suicide, and Biggie & Tupac, which supported the popular theory that the LAPD was in on the rappers’ murders.
“I’m very drawn to these subjects that have a bigger reflection of the world and the society we live in,” said Broomfield. “In this particular one, it’s this evangelical politician who is very much reflective of a Michele Bachmann or a Rick Perry, and who is unfortunately very representative of where the Republican Party is going, and the diminishing separation of church and state, which I think is one of the most dangerous things that could happen in this country.”
With the exception of Palin’s parents, Broomfield fails to land interviews with any of her current acolytes. Instead, he concentrates on the people who will speak to him—former associates and colleagues of Palin who were burned by the mama grizzly. There’s John Bitney, who has known Palin since junior high and was a key aide in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and who was dismissed as her legislative director over a rumored affair; Walt Monegan, the former public safety commissioner whom Palin, the documentary suggests, dismissed because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten, of Troopergate fame; and an exclusive interview with Wooten, who claims Palin was a terrible mother and that he and his ex-wife raised their children for four years.
“Her irrational way of dealing with people, and the way she gets rid of people and makes them enemies, should have people thinking twice,” said Broomfield.
The film’s most explosive revelations come courtesy of John Stein, the Wasilla mayor whom Palin ousted in the 1996 mayoral race, who alludes to possible affairs by Palin and her husband, Todd; anti-Palin blogger Jesse Griffin, who makes unsubstantiated claims that Palin had a boatload of plastic surgery; and “Tank,” Levi Johnston’s manager, who alleges that his client is aware of drug use by the Palin family. One of Broomfield’s best “gets” is Yvonne Bashelier, a former high school classmate of Palin’s whom he tracked down in Egypt. She says Palin discriminated against anyone who wasn’t a member of Wasilla’s Assembly of God Church and once told her she would “burn in hell.”
Nothing in Broomfield’s documentary compares to the tabloid-ready allegations levied against Palin in Joe McGinniss’s recent biography, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. McGinniss writes of Palin blowing lines of cocaine off a 55-gallon oil drum and sleeping with then-Michigan college basketball star Glen Rice while serving as a local news sportscaster.
“I kind of like Sarah Palin for doing cocaine and sleeping with Glen Rice. It makes her kind of human and wonderful,” said Broomfield with a chuckle. “Of course I heard stories about her and Todd taking drugs and a lot of stories about her temper as a mother, but I didn’t really feel like that was part of my remit. Who hasn’t done drugs at some point or another? If you’re going to bring somebody down, I would bring somebody down for other reasons.”
As for the rumors in McGinniss’s book that Trig Palin—Palin’s youngest child, who has Down syndrome—isn’t her son, Broomfield claims he investigated the matter in “great detail” and conducted several interviews with Shailey Tripp, a woman who claimed she massaged Palin months before she gave birth and found no evidence she was pregnant. However, Broomfield said he was unable to verify any of Tripp’s claims, and all the witnesses she produced who she claimed observed Palin go in for the massage denied the accusation.
While it’s looking incredibly unlikely that Palin will jump into the 2012 race, Broomfield said he still believes she’s a “kingmaker” within the Tea Party, and recent polls still have her in the mix behind GOP presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Despite her reality TV-diminished clout, Broomfield is more fearful of what Palin—and the Tea Party—represent in American politics, and what that means for this country’s future.
“The Rick Perrys and the Sarah Palins have created this romantic fiction of a piece of American history that never existed that people have bought into,” said a fired-up Broomfield. “Until the liberals come up with their own equivalent, and come up with their own heroes, and actually have the balls to stand up and argue their beliefs in a consistent way in terms of a larger political framework, the Perrys, Bachmanns, and Palins are going to be very powerful, and I think the country will go into a very dark period—both within the country, in terms of the dwindling middle class, and the world stage.”