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Every night, thousands of these parasites stream across the border like some f***in' piñata exploded. Don't laugh! There's nothin' funny goin' on here!
~ Derek preaching to his fellow skinheads

Derek Vinyard is the protagonist villain of the 1998 crime drama film American History X.

He was portrayed by Edward Norton, who also played Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear, Eric Byer in The Bourne Legacy, Nova in Alita: Battle Angel, and Steve Frazelli in The Italian Job.


Derek Vinyard was originally portrayed as a violent White supremacist and a proud supporter of a dark underbelly of American society ruled over by neo-Nazi groups, including his own newly-founded violent gang called Disciples of Christ (better known as "D.O,C." for short). Derek's hatred for other races climaxes in the movie's most famous scenes, in which he is woken up by his younger brother, Danny, who informs him that two black men are breaking into his truck, which his father had given to him.

Derek loads up his Ruger P94 pistol and goes downstairs, where he recognizes the two as some thugs his team had beat in a game of basketball earlier. Derek also realizes that one is armed with a gun. Derek quietly turns the doorknob and kicks the door open, shooting the armed one several times in the chest. When the other tries to run away, Derek shoots him as well. The getaway car arrives and Derek fires his gun at it as it drives off. He then releases the slide of the empty pistol (making it sound like he had reloaded) and then holds the gun to the surviving gang member's head, ordering him to put his teeth on the curb. Not wanting to die, he does so.

Derek then promptly stomps on his head, smashing his teeth and breaking his neck, killing him. Derek spits on the body before the police arrive, and he is arrested. He is soon found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and sentenced to three years in prison.

While in prison, Derek's path to redemption begins, and although he remained racist, he eventually befriended Lamont, an African-American inmate serving six years for stealing a television set and assault on a policeman he dropped it on, and he (somewhat ironically) would prove to be one of Derek's only true allies during his stay in prison. This friendship would put Derek at odds with the Aryan Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi prison syndicate whose gang's dealings with non-white gangs has him disappointed with them and disillusioned by prison gang politics, and it resulted in him being raped as a form of punishment.

After leaving prison, Derek tried to return to normal life but found himself continually battling his past as he tried to distance himself from his violent past, including a confrontation with his brother Danny. However, after Derek explained to Danny why he had changed (including the rape), Danny starts to understand.

However, the story ends in tragedy when Danny is shot by a black student named Henry (who also calls himself "Little Henry") he had been in conflict with and the film ends with Derek holding his dead brother. What happens next is left to speculation.


  • In an early draft of the film, after the death of his brother, Derek shaves his head again, implying he had once again become a Neo-Nazi. Edward Norton objected to this, claiming that the whole theme of the film is that hatred solves nothing. Meaning that his character did not join the Neo Nazi again.