When Derek is released from prison, it’s clear something has changed, but he holds this close to his chest. He doesn’t reveal anything to his family until after confronting the leader of the D.O.C. and his former mentor, Cameron Alexander. “American History X” begins the descent toward its violent conclusion halfway through when Derek faces Cameron, who indoctrinated him into white supremacist ideology as a young man.
Some critics, like Variety’s Todd McCarthy, have critiqued the film for glossing over how Derek first came to be radicalized by Cameron. While this isn’t directly covered, the implication is clear during their confrontation, during which Derek calls Cameron a chickenhawk and accuses him of preying on people. Cameron capitalized on Derek’s grief after his father was killed, twisting the boy’s mind by exposing him to racist propaganda. Cameron’s interactions with Danny give a taste of the rhetoric he must have used to manipulate Derek years before. When Derek tells Cameron, “I’m out. Out! And Danny’s out too,” all Hell breaks loose, and the members of the D.O.C. who once idolized Derek turn on him.
This shows how the shared hate of a perceived enemy, not loyalty or community, unites this gang. Frank Meeink, a former skinhead who some claim Derek was based on, told the Des Moines Register he was desperate for a community when he was recruited as a teenager. “I was a broken soul,” he said. “I was angry. Finally, somebody took an interest in me. I was the perfect target for them to bring me into their world.”