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Played By: Edward Norton
- The Ace: Derek is good at many things, including basketball and school.
- The Atoner: After prison, he has abandoned his racist ways, and tries to make sure that Danny won't follow in his footsteps.
- 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.
- Corpsing: He really tries his hardest not to laugh or smile anytime Lamont does something funny. It doesn't last.
- 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.
- Disproportionate Retribution: His father as the hands of black drug dealers sparks Derek get revenge for this death against all minorities.
- Freudian Excuse: The death of his father at the hands of afroamerican gangbangers. His father, however, was also spouting some bigoted attitudes.
- HeelFace 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.
- Ignored Epiphany: If one takes the deleted ending as canon, then it's implied by Derek shaving his hair off once more after Danny's death.
- 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?"
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Until he realizes the error of his ways.
- 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 HeelFace Turn.
- Revenge Myopia: His father was killed by black drug dealers, however, Derek becomes a Neo-Nazi to avenge him by opposing all minorities, not just his father's killers.
- 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.
- Villain Protagonist: Prior to his HeelFace Turn.
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.
- HeelFace Door-Slam: Gets shot after renouncing Neo-Nazism.
- JerkWithAHeartOfGold: 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, including his consideration for his family and the revelations that he's not really that racist, but following his older brother. Notably, he quickly drops his own racism as soon as Derek does.
Played By: Beverly D'Angelo
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
- Asshole Victim: Downplayed, not as bad Cameron Alexander, but he was still a racist.
- Death by Racism: He is racist and was killed by a black drug dealer.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Subverted. He was a racist and unintentionally fed into Derek's racism.
- Greater-Scope Villain: Him being a racist in the first place and his death motivating his sons to turn to racism as well would qualify him as this.
- 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. Despite his sons becoming Neo-Nazis in his name to avenge his death against all minorities, it would not be what Dennis wanted.
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. Though he did do it because Cameron told him to.
- Plucky Comic Relief: His idiocy and the sheer extent of his racism is the main source of the film's humor.
- 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 an interracial couple just minding their business.
- Berserk Button: Gets furious when Derek calls him a chickenhawk and points out that he's a massive hypocrite, because nothing hurts more than the truth.
- 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, since he presumably couldn't stand watching out for his back any longer.
- Evil Old Folks: Neo-Nazi old guy who doesn't seem to have been worn down by age.
- 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: Despite the movie's message that hate is baggage, Cameron Alexander comes across as a completely despicable individual without a single redeeming quality. He is responsible for the corruption of Derek and others, feeding into their latent bigotry and inciting hate crimes. While he acts the part of A Father to His Men, in the past, he has been more than willing to throw his men under the bus when it benefits him. When Derek returns from prison reformed, he makes a mockery of his rape in prison. In a deleted scene, he appears to display compassion towards a homeless veteran, but only with the intent of spreading his racist beliefs. Shortly after, he menaces an interracial couple and drives them out of the diner.
- Hypocrite: For For all his boasts of doing prison time and racial unity, he sold out two teenaged members 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, which implies that he did less out of compassion and more in order to promote his political agenda.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: He's not just a racist. He is the leader of all racists this side of Los Angeles and specialises in grooming Politically Incorrect Villains by preying on their insecurities, their hatred and biterness, the crime rates and the unemployment to point the blame for everything towards every single immigrant individually.
- Surrounded by Idiots: He enforces this on himself to an extent, since he chooses to be surrounded with people who follow him blindly and don't think for themselves. Not all of them have equals wits however and a deleted scene where he is talking to Seth takes it to the extreme, despite being only one idiot.