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Played By: Edward Norton
- The Ace: Derek is good at many things, including basketball and school.
- The Atoner: After prison.
- Ax-Crazy: He became increasingly violent after becoming a Neo-Nazi, culminating in the curb-stomping of those gangbangers.
- Bald of Evil: During his D.O.C. days.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Before his change into Neo-Nazism and after his change from it, he's shown to be a Nice Guy. However don't mistake his change as weakness, as he personally kicks the shit out of Cameron for threatening to make Danny a Dark Messiah like him.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The harrowing opener, wherein Derek kills two guys who are trying to break into his truck, Disproportionate Retribution to the basketball game they lost earlier. He even literally curb-stomps one of them.
- Dark Messiah: To the white gangs of Venice Beach.
- Death Glare: When he's arrested, the grin on Derek's face will haunt your dreams.
- Freudian Excuse: The death of his father at the hands of afroamerican gangbangers. His father, however, was also spouting some bigoted attitudes.
- Heel–Face Turn: It's unclear when this happens, so much as it does. It either occurs when he's raped by the other White Supremacist inmates; when he gets a visit from Sweeney who asks him the Armor-Piercing Question; or when he makes friends with a black inmate, who possibly saves him from further violence.
- Important Haircut: Played straight when he goes skinhead and inverted when he allows his hair to grow in prison. Zigzagged in the deleted ending when he shaves it again, after Danny is murdered by a black gangbanger.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Derek is a violent racist but an intelligent one. It's hard to argue his point about the Rodney King case, in that the video was cleverly edited not to show the high speed chase or King's impaired driving. Likewise, both Derek and Dennis' points reflect a common working-class mentality toward the poor—for this reason, they are more sympathetic as sides of an issue than simple political Strawmen.
- Knight Templar: Derek believes that he's cleaning up the worst elements of his neighborhood and calling others to a cause, but he does so through racism and violence.
- My God, What Have I Done?: When he finds Danny dead in the bathroom, he sobs, "What did I do?"
- Prison Rape: By the Aryan Brotherhood for denouncing their hypocrisy and playing basketball and trading drugs with black inmates.
- Rape as Drama: Part of his Heel–Face Turn.
- Straight Edge Evil: Derek is athletic and employed, gets good grades, and calls out one of his gang mates for smoking pot, because that's what "the enemy" does.
Played By: Edward Furlong
- Big Brother Worship: Towards Derek.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: After being shot by Little Henry, dies in Derek's arms.
- Heel–Face Door-Slam: Gets shot after renouncing Neo-Nazism.
- Jerkass: At the start of the film, he's a smarmy little git who blows smoke in someone's face. Things get better as we get to know Danny and his circumstances.
Played By: Beverly D'Angelo
- Incurable Cough of Death: Doris has an undisclosed illness, possibly cancer or COPD.
Played By: Jennifer Lien
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Almost every flashback scene she snarks at everything Derek says, but it's hard not to feel bad for her since she worries about him and Danny. It's toned down when Derek is out of prison and she's one of the few genuinely happy about his change.
Played By: William Russ
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Subverted. He was a racist and unintentionally fed into Derek's racism.
- Noble Bigot: He was a brave firefighter, but he was fairly racist. However, in his case, it's expressed mostly as an intense dislike towards affirmative action policies. He believes that one's character and personal qualities are what matters most when hiring new firefighters and he states his anger towards new black firefighters accepted into his squad is not out of sheer racism but because some previous white coworkers were laid off and these new black firefighters were not necessarily better at the job; The firefighters actually scored lower on the tests but were accepted to fill the black quota. His lecture to Derek actually sounds somewhat reasonable... up until the point when he uses the phrase "nigger bullshit" to describe Sweeney (who whe's never met) and his English classes.
- Posthumous Character: His death triggers Danny and Derek's descent into madness.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: He began Derek's descent into bigotry by decrying affirmative action. Despite his bigotry, he was still a brave public servant, and would have been aghast at his son turning into a Neo-Nazi.
Played By: Ethan Suplee
- Big Eater: Several of the scenes involve Seth either eating (jellybeans, burgers) or whining about being hungry.
- The Brute: He's not very smart, and mostly acts as muscle to Derek, and later, Cameron.
- Fat Bastard: Chauvinistic, petty, racist, loud-mouthed, perverted and fat.
- Fat Idiot: He is frequently shown to be dull-witted.
- Miles Gloriosus: Is rather boisterous in spite of his extreme ineptitude.
- Pet the Dog: In a deleted scene, he gives some change to a veteran outside a burger joint.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: The song, the racism, the open leering at Davina, and so on.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Pretty much every sentence.
- Stout Strength: He's morbidly obese, but at the end of the basketball game he easily lifts Derek up over Seth's shoulders.
Played By: Fairuza Balk
Dr. Robert Sweeney
Dr. Robert Sweeney
Played By: Avery Brooks
Played By: Elliott Gould
- Informed Judaism: Gould (the actor) is Jewish, and the character is stated to be Jewish, but there's no real indication that he practices Judaism.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Sees Derek's violence toward his family and tries to call him on it, and rather than suspend or fail Danny over the Hitler paper, sends him to talk to Sweeney.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Although genuinely concerned about Danny he's one of the few good guys that refuses to believe Derek has changed. When he laments to Sweeney that Danny is becoming like his brother, Sweeney calls him out on it since he witnessed the change firsthand.
Played By: Stacy Keach
- Asshole Victim: Being a racist who encourages violence against innocent bystander and brainwashing troubled youths into joining his gangs and accepting white supremacist culture is already enough reason for what later happens to him in the movie, but bonus points when Derek meets him after his prison release where he chews Cameron out for betraying skinhead members for reduced prison sentence and his racist ideology. When Cameron threatens to turn Danny into a member of the skinheads, Derek punches him. Cameron responds with an insult and Derek stomps him so hard he gots knocked out unconscious. In addition later in the movie along with a fellow skinhead associates, Cameron gets jumped by black gangbangers and is implied to be beaten hard. Deleted footage shows they received a brutal jumping and just before the assault, they were harassing some colored people just minding their business.
- Big Bad: The closest one the film has. By the time Derek is out of prison he's organizing several white supremacist gangs throughout the west coast.
- Dirty Coward: Threw two of his men under the bus to save himself from having more than two months of prison time.
- Evil Old Folks: Neo-Nazi old guy.
- Evil Mentor: To the D.O.C. in general, to Derek in particular. Took up Danny under his wing as well.
- Faux Affably Evil: Even when threatening Derek he keeps the polite façade.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Stacy Keach wears some pretty bad tinted old-man glasses.
- Hate Sink: Aside from the movie's message against hate, there's nothing to like about this guy. He's not stupid or insecure like Seth, and makes no efforts at atonement like Derek. He doesn't even care much about his gang, having snitched on a few members so he could get a reduced sentence, and he's grooming Danny to follow in Derek's footsteps. Furthermore, in a deleted scene, he's shown harassing an interracial couple at a diner without any provocation. The only thing resembling a redeeming trait he has is in the same aforementioned deleted scene where he tells Seth to give money to a homeless veteran, although he ruins that by telling the veteran that if "[he was] a nigger, he'd get a free meal".
- Hypocrite: For For all his boasts of doing prison time and racial unity, he sold out some of his own gang to have reduced jail time
- Pet the Dog: Has a moment like this in a deleted scene where he tells a homeless veteran that it's not his fault that he's homeless, and then requests Seth to give him some money. It's ruined when he makes a racist comment to the veteran, though.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: He's a racist, a hypocrite, and it's implied he might be a paedophile.
- Surrounded by Idiots: When talking to Seth an a deleted scene.