“American History X,” Charlottesville, and President Trump: Mystical Consciousness Alone Can Save Us

American History X

Keeping in mind the controversy around the recent white supremacist rally and violence in Charlottesville VA, you might want to watch American History X again. Some probably remember it well, even though it premiered back in 1998 – nearly 20 years ago.

However, the events in Charlottesville make the film more contextually relevant than ever. That’s because it depicts the inner dynamics of white racist gangs, and the psychology of its leaders and members. Even more importantly, it expresses exquisitely the fascist mind-set of current “leaders” in Washington including most prominently the president of the United States. Concurrently, it calls us all to a mystical conversion as our only salvation from encroaching Nazism.

Recall the narrative. Like the Charlottesville backstory, the plot of American History X centers around white supremacists afraid that they’re losing control of their neighborhood and what they consider their country.

Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton) is the main character. Derek’s a Nazi white supremacist whose father, a Los Angeles firefighter, is killed in the line of duty. Crucially for Derek, his father’s killers were members of an African-American drug gang.

That personal tragedy leads Derek even further into the depths of white supremacy. As the leader of a skinhead gang, he uses his extraordinary leadership charisma and street eloquence to become its legendary head and inspiration.

Here’s a speech that Derek gives to gang members before they trash a grocery store owned by an Asian immigrant. See if it sounds familiar:

Again, does any of that sound familiar? I think we’ve heard highly similar (though slightly less crude) remarks from our current president. As if we needed it, they remind us of the simplistic world-vision such sentiments presume. It’s the immigrants, not the capitalist economy itself, who are responsible for the job=loss and for Americans’ falling standard of living. Like President Trump, Derek apparently doesn’t understand how globalist trade policies and endless U.S. wars and bombings have destroyed the livelihoods and homes of the immigrants in question. And, of course, there’s no trace of comprehending the shared spiritual identity that precedes nations and borders that are by comparison quite artificial.

The one chiefly influenced by Derek’s example is his younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), who idolizes his brother and so becomes roped into the white gang’s culture.

After Derek shoots one and brutally stomps to death another of two black men attempting to steal his truck, he’s sent to prison for three years. There interactions with other white supremacists whose actions reveal their hypocrisy, along with an unlikely friendship with an African-American inmate open Derek’s eyes. He emerges transformed from his prison experience. He rejects his skinhead ideology, formally leaves his gang, and makes it his mission in life to open the eyes of his younger brother who is already well along the path Derek’s own footsteps have marked out.

In other words, the former skinhead moves from a stage of nationalism to something like world (or at least multi-racial) awareness that makes him more understanding and accepting of those he previously despised.

Importantly, the film’s conclusion even hints at the dawning of a salvific mystical consciousness on the part of Danny who narrates the film. Just before the credits roll he quotes an unnamed author saying, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Those words show a realization on Danny’s part that only a mystical recollection of a Higher Self (“the better angels of our nature”) will, despite contrary passions, prevent the severance of kinship’s bonds that precede the historical events that divide us one from another. To me, that echoes the dawning of a kind of cosmic-consciousness.

That consciousness alone can save us now (that and perhaps jailing those “leaders” I mentioned, so that they might share Derek Vineyard’s conversion experience). Put otherwise, we neglect our deep bonds of human spirituality at our own peril.

As the great Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, said about our future  so many years ago, “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”

Unfortunately, Rahner’s nothingness now constitutes humanity’s very horizon.

So watch American History X again. And see if it makes you think about where we are heading.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

6 thoughts on ““American History X,” Charlottesville, and President Trump: Mystical Consciousness Alone Can Save Us”

  1. Let’s not forget that, under President Obama, the United States was one of only three nations that voted against a United Nations resolution condemning Nazism. The reason: The United States facilitated and financed the coup against a legitimately elected president of the Ukraine, helping Svoboda and Right Sector (neo-Nazis) to take power. Photographs of soldiers from the new regime wearing Nazi symbols on their helmets can be found on the Internet.
    It is not a coincidence that the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville marched with torches and chanted the exact same slogans as the neo-Nazis in the Ukraine.

    The actual number of neo-Nazis in the United States is quite small. They are, for all practical purposes, powerless. And about one in ten is an FBI infiltrator. Though they offend me, I see their actions as defensive rather than offensive. They are angry that that the only group in America without special protections is whites, especially white males. Working-class white males have taken a beating from the neoliberal policies of both Republicans and Democrats. Their once-good life is gone and apparently non-recoverable. They think their enemies are nonwhites and immigrants, but their real enemies are the corporate oligarchs who oppress them and send their jobs overseas.

    I don’t see much to like or approve of regarding Donald Trump, he was correct when he said bad things were being done by both sides. The Antifa counter-protesters brought baseball bats, sticks, mace, helmets, etc. They were itching for a fight in the streets. As a believer in nonviolence, I cannot support this.

    Jesus said we should love our enemies. We are now being put to the test. I agree that mystical consciousness is the best hope for the future.

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    1. Because of MSM silence, few are aware of the true nature of the Ukraine government and of the way our government has been so soft on Nazism both before WWII and after. Thanks for reminding us. There is a lot of truth in the concepts of “fake news” and “fake history.”

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  2. The ways of love are not those of violent confrontation. Meeting violence with violence has got us where we are today. Gandhi’s peaceful revolution needs to be carried forward in creative ways. A revolution in consciousness that empowers people to withhold support from the power structures of our oppressive society is necessary. Boycotts, work stoppages, refusing military service, voluntary simplicity – there are many ways for nonviolence to be effective. Is victory in this struggle for a better, more loving and peaceful world guaranteed? No. But what does more violence offer? Changing hearts and minds away from violent “solutions” is the only way a world at peace will be born. Our belief in violence is a key component in our tragic flaw that will destroy all of us unless we can heal it. Selfishness leads to violence. Love and sharing lead to happiness and peace.

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    1. Hi Mike
      An interesting most informative post.
      At the same time insanity pours out of the USA
      Today we were told talks with my neighbors (NK) wont work. Correct. if we are not talking War related sales.
      I wonder what our friends the priests and bishops of America are up to. My guess (I don’t attend anymore to know) they are probably in the choir gallery. But not on the street corner. Too demeaning for men of the cloth
      And the Pope meets more US officials. This time with a smile. BBC quickly pulled it down.
      I think it was the Secretary of Petroleum!
      I have a problem with the mystical, and mystical consciousness is way out of range.
      Especially when we are talking something as basic as the Universal law of love.
      First mentioned in ironically where we now call Afghanistan about 9 thousand years ago.
      But our all taking a quick road to heaven cant be all that bad.
      It was the original plan I guess.
      Having said all that Mike I do appreciate your scholarly work.
      It is always more telling when not from the fence.
      Jim ’62

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      1. Always so good to hear from you. My heart goes out to you and your family in Japan as this insane U.S. president threatens nuclear holocaust so thoughtlessly. The realization of your proximity to Ground Zero has moved me to write about North Korea in this coming Sunday’s homily. As you suggest, would that our clergy might educate their congregations on this issue and its relationship to Jesus’ Gospel of Peace. But not a word. I truly wonder if the human race is going to survive the next four years — and beyond that (because of climate chaos), the century. It’s hard to accept that a madman has the power to determine the fate of us all.

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    2. Very wise words, Mike — as usual. I just wish the churches could accept Jesus’ Gospel of Peace and unite with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and other people of conscience to stop this worship of the military and violence. I wonder what we in Berea can do to be part of a peace church?

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