In a shocking opening scene, teen Danny Vinyard who is played by Edward Furlong, races to tell his older brother, neo-Nazi Derek, about the young blacks breaking into his car in front of the house, whereupon Derek gets his gun and with no forethought shoots the youths in their tracks and he forces the other man to put his mouth on the curb, then brutally kills him by stomping on the back of his head, crushing his mouth against the curb. Danny watches in horror as this unfolds. The police arrest Derek as he smiles at a shocked Danny.. Derek having already been influenced by the latent racism of his bigoted firefighter father. Derek is driven to action when his father is shot and killed while fighting a fire in a suspected Compton drug den. Eventually Derek becomes second-in-command of a neo-Nazi street gang, The D.O.C. (Disciples of Christ), and entices young whites to join. Tried and convicted, Derek is sent away for three years in prison, where he acquires a different outlook as he contrasts white-power prisoners with black Lamont, his prison laundry co-worker and eventual pal. Flashbacks, told in reverse chronology and represented by black-and-white throughout the film which is opposed to the present-day events represented in color, Meanwhile, Danny, with a shaved head and a rebellious attitude, seems destined to follow in his big brother's footsteps. After Danny writes a favorable review of Hitler's Mein Kampf, black high-school principal Sweeney puts Danny #1
in his private "American History X" course and assigns him to do a paper about his older brother, who was a former student of Sweeney's. This serves to introduce flashbacks, with the film backtracking to illustrate Danny's account of Derek's life prior to the night of the shooting. Monochrome sequences of Derek leading a Venice, California gang are intercut with color footage of the mature Derek ending his past neo-Nazi associations and attempting to detour Danny away from the group led by white...
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