In the fall of 1859, abolitionist John Brown – America’s first terrorist – overtook a federal armory with twenty men to start a slave insurrection across the South. This is that story.



When is violence necessary?
When are the oppressed valid in their rebellion?
When do the ends justify the means?

The violent and radical actions of America’s first domestic terrorist awoke the national conscience, incited the Civil War, and facilitated the end of slavery. For John Brown, the viable path toward reconciling the gross injustice of slavery eschewed politics and diplomacy for the appalling and immediate shock of spilled blood. The pinnacle of his master plan was to overtake a government-run weapons armory in 1859 in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in an effort to then arm the slaves and start a revolt.

It looked as though Brown and his eighteen-man army had succeeded in their plan until Robert E. Lee and an army of marines reclaimed the fallen armory, killing most of Browns men in the process. Brown was critically injured in the assault and held in a prison cell awaiting trail. During this time, Brown conducted countless interviews and wrote dozens of letters expressing his thoughts on the matter of slavery and equality. Many historians believe these acts and ultimately Brown's death by hanging ignited the Civil War and ultimately led to the end of slavery.

Brown’s strange journey toward effecting lasting change in America was marked with ruthless violence, yet in the end, he was the force of change behind one of the greatest injustices in history. Today, the historical significance of Brown’s life and death challenges us to question the symbiotic relationship of violence and injustice.

How do we define morality? How do we define terrorism? How do we distinguish between inexcusable global violence and the means to end inexcusable global injustice? 



This film will be shot in the style of a 16mm documentary. The camera will be capturing events as they occur as well as collecting first hand accounts and recollections of the events as the characters remember them. For a more detailed example of how this approach will look and feel, please watch the Cinematography References video below.


Download full treatment HERE


“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood.”