Schroeder, an Iranian-born Swiss filmmaker, has spent decades documenting the morally despicable. His “Trilogy of Evil” began in 1974 with General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, a character study of the Ugandan dictator. The second installment, Terror’s Advocate (2007), was on the French-Algerian defense lawyer Jacques Vergès, whose clients have included Klaus Barbie, Carlos the Jackal, the Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, and the Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. Wirathu is Schroeder’s final subject, and, for him, the most terrifying. “I am afraid to call him Wirathu because even his name scares me,” he said in a recent interview with Agence France-Presse. “I just call him W.”
The film charts Wirathu’s rise from provincial irrelevance in Kyaukse to nationwide rabble-rouser. It centers on the crucial moments of his budding ethno-nationalism, such as in 1997, when he says his eyes were “finally opened” to the “Muslims’ intentions” after reading a pamphlet entitled In Fear of Our Race Disappearing, which appeared in print by an unknown author; or 2003, when he delivered a chilling sermon—caught on camera—against Muslim “kalars” (kalar is the equivalent of “nigger”). “I can’t stand what they do to us,” he says to rapturous applause. “As soon as I give the signal, get ready to follow me…I need to plan the operation well, like the CIA or Mossad, for it to be effective…I will make sure they will have no place to live.” One month later, in Kyaukse, eleven Muslims were killed, and two mosques and twenty-six houses were burned to the ground. Wirathu was arrested by the military junta for inciting violence, and spent nine years in Mandalay’s Obo prison.