TREAD (2020, streaming on Netflix) is a taut and tense documentary about Marvin John Heemeyer’s incredible rampage in an armored bulldozer that wrecked a small Colorado town in 2004. The documentary rolls out in an interesting way, presenting Heemeyer’s side of the story–much of it through audiotape recordings he made prior to his rampage–before rolling out additional testimony pointing to him being delusional and quite possibly a sociopath, making the truth as complicated and individual as it probably is. It’s pretty well done, and in the end, it’s not the feel-good, average-bluecollar-guy-pushed-too-far-and-fights-city-hall tale we want it to be, but rather a tragic and sad story about a man hitting the breaking point.
The documentary tells the whole story with plenty of interviews and perspectives, Heemeyer’s tapes telling his own version, some slick reenactments, and photos and video taken on the fateful day. The basic story is this: Heemeyer lived in Granby for ten years after buying a piece of land on auction and building a muffler shop on it. His various disputes with the town council set him at odds with various people, including a powerful family that owned a concrete business. The way Heemeyer tells it, this family controlled the town and conspired to punish him for standing up to them, creating a deep resentment taken to the level of mythic proportions. The way others tell it, nobody was out to get him, and he was just unreasonable and stubborn. Fed up, burning with a sense of persecution, and believing God commanded him to act, Heemeyer sold everything he owned, bought a bulldozer, armored it in steel and concrete, and went on a rampage. The rampage is incredible, as the police were virtually powerless against what was effectively a homemade tank crushing vehicles and buildings. Heemeyer got his revenge, and he paid for it with his life.
Watching TREAD, it’s tempting to project one’s own resentments against the establishment onto the story and wish Heemeyer was a hero, but once you get to the end, you realize the story is far too complicated, sad, and tragic for anything other than regret this happened, and if nothing else, it’s proof that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, even if the truth isn’t certain.