This documentary was probably scary when it was made in 2006, but it's even scarier in the lens of history. It was prescient in 2006 and is instructive 2021.
I'll try to give as few spoilers as possible. The movie follows Becky Fischer, founder of Kids on Fire camp in Devils Lake (really!), North Dakota, and three children who are campers: Levi, 12; Rachael, 9; and Tori, 10. Levi and Rachael are friends and go to the same church in ND. Tori has traveled in from Kansas. It tells the story through vignettes of the children at home, at church, at camp, at play, and in other evangelical contexts (rallies and evangelizing strangers). There's no commentary between the vignettes. The opposing view is presented through conversations with Fischer and Mike Papantonio, a Christian radio host who doesn't agree with the politicization of religion or the techniques used to indoctrinate children.
The film opens with a Fischer making a comparison with her camp's indoctrination of children vs. Muslims'. Keep in mind, this is only 5 years from 9/11, and there's a lot of Islamophobia in the culture. She justifies her indoctrination by saying that some Muslims indoctrinate their children to carry guns or wear suicide vests. Then, the movie unfolds...
Much of the film shows stuff that's just part of the Pentecostal religion: praying in tongues, praying over the chairs in the building before the kids arrive. But there's a strong sense that the kids are indoctrinated, and in much more than religion. For example, one student, while being homeschooled is told "Science doesn't prove anything." The child is taught that Galileo was bad for choosing science over religion. In the same scene are discussions of why climate change is insignificant and evolution isn't real.
The picture the film presents of Fischer is not a pretty one. The movie was filmed when the Harry Potter books and movies were popular, and some of the kids had seen them. Some kids' parents forbade their children from watching or reading the series, and that certainly is their right. However, at one point, Fischer calls the characters in the series "enemies of God," and says that if Harry Potter had been in the Old Testament, he would have been put to death. Really, lady? At the main meeting, Fischer calls the kids "phonies and hypocrites." I know that a core tenet of Christianity is that humans are inherently sinful, but come on, these are kids! The kids are all crying, and one kid confesses that he's not sure he believes in God.
What's most disturbing, however, is the constant drumbeat of war. At one point, a white man with a South African accent tells the kids to "Break the power of the enemy over government" as the kids work themselves into a frenzy smashing cups with a hammer. At one point, Fischer says "make war with [government]," "This means war. Are you ready for it?" The kids are shown a cardboard cutout of then president George W. Bush and are told to "Do some warfare for him" at which point they begin speaking in tongues. At another point, two children tell the interviewer that they feel like they're "being trained to be warriors" At another point, a girl marvels that before her friends' dads, who are missionaries, go to a dangerous place, their kids rally around, jumping and shouting "Martyr! Martyr!"
With all the drumbeats of war, the scariest statement is from Fischer herself: "I think democracy is the greatest political system on earth, but that's just it. It's jus what's on earth. Ultimately, it's designed to destroy itself because we have to give everyone equal freedom."
The kids in the film are now in their mid to late 20s. We have to wonder. I think this is an important movie for everyone in America.