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Deus Vult: The Dark Templar Imagery and Language of the Modern Neo-Nazi and Alt-Right Movements.

By Robert LeBlanc

Since the Spring 2019 semester, I have seen three young men on or near campus wearing t-shirts sporting the words “Deus Vult” (“God Wills”) or the image of the Knights Templar cross. I have no way of knowing if these were Villanovans or not, but the idea that students at a Catholic University might be sporting Knights Templar iconography out of a misguided or uninformed sense of pride is not beyond the realm of possibility.

In order to clarify the current meaning of these words and symbols, I decided to pen this brief summary of the use of these signifiers as code for a growing lexicon of alt-right and neo-nazi propaganda.

 cross-out templar cross

Origins of Hate

Burgeoning online hate communities have been developing a new symbolic language in recent years. Seemingly innocuous words and images such as milk (a symbol of racial purity), the upright OK symbol (and abstraction of the initials for White Power), Pepe the frog, and a host of other false symbols were originally adopted by alt-right “trolls” to identify each other or incite outrage and paranoia from the left. Unfortunately, many of these false symbols have been adopted by legitimate racist, misogynistic, nationalistic, and anti-LGBT groups.

However, a handful of hateful symbols were not created by online provocateurs. The symbology and mottos of the medieval order of the Knights Templar have been used by racist organizations for decades. The order of the Knights Templar was a militaristic quasi-religious organization formed between the first and second crusades (c. 1119) and tasked with shepherding European pilgrims to the recently “liberated” holy lands. It is this concept of “liberation at the end of the sword” in the name of God (hence “Deus Vult” or “God Wills”) resulting in the mass slaughter of entire populations of Muslims and Jews that appeals to modern neo-nazi and far-right groups who publicly revile middle eastern culture and religion.

Several esoteric societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries also utilized these symbols and mottos, notably the openly racist Order of the New Templars and the Thule Society, which formed the underlying racist mystical doctrine of the Nazi party. In recent years, neo-Nazi nationalist groups have co-opted these same symbols to support their xenophobic, racist, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic agendas. “Deus Vult” is emblazoned on alt-right parade banners and chanted at rallies. The Templar Cross in either its traditional red cross on a white field or its inverse, white on red, is a popular symbol used in lieu of swastikas, the double SS symbol of the Nazi Gestapo, or the Norse Othala rune.  Even though the link between Templars and extreme anti-Islamic violence is not accurate—most scholars agree that Templars were far more religiously tolerant than your average crusader—far right extremists are still attracted to the false ideology of violence and cultural extermination.

Freedom of speech on our campus and in our community is very important. But this goes beyond a MAGA hat or AOC t-shirt. These images and words are actively being used by neo-Nazi and extremist hate groups to incite fear and violence toward other cultures and religions. Regardless of their original meaning or intent, these words and symbols in their current context have no place at an institution devoted to diversity, inclusion, and acceptance.

Now, more than ever, it is important for all our community members to be aware of the meaning behind the symbols they openly display and the impact it has on others, both on and off campus.

Identifying the Symbol

The Templar cross versions most often used by hate groups:

templar cross








(Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

For more information, please consider these scholastic sources:

Relevant News articles:

For more information or comments, please contact First-year Experience librarian Rob LeBlanc at


1 People Like This Post


  1. Comment by Kayla Smith — October 2, 2019 @ 11:17 AM

    “These images and words are actively being used by neo-Nazi and extremist hate groups to incite fear and violence toward other cultures and religions. Regardless of their original meaning or intent, these words and symbols in their current context have no place at an institution devoted to diversity, inclusion, and acceptance.”

    Very well said. However, the library whiteboard behind the desk has this hateful symbol prominently displayed for all to see. A more appropriate whiteboard drawing would have been the first one in this blog, with the prohibitory sign over it. Because the prohibitory sign is next to it, not over it, the message given on the white board is confusing – and in reality we should be aware that most students will not go to the link written below; they will just see a hateful symbol on the board. I work at the front desk of the library and have been very uncomfortable as I feel that I am in some way promoting the use of this symbol because it is shown on the board.

    This blog is interesting and accurate, in many ways. However the advertising committee for it needs to put some more time and consideration into their work before broadcasting a hateful symbol for the entire university to see, especially in a location as prominent as the front desk of the main university library.

  2. Comment by Robert LeBlanc — October 3, 2019 @ 4:20 PM


    Thank you very much for your contribution to the discussion. For those who did not see the board in question, the display was an image of the Templar cross on the left side of the board with the words “if you see this” and the black cross-out circle on the right side with the words “think this.” Underneath was the blog post address. The Templar cross displayed separately from the cross-out circle was intentional. Firstly, the cross-out circle largely obscures the Templar cross making it difficult to identify it. Secondly, the Templar cross, in itself, is largely unknown outside of the hate community, so a clear depiction is essential for recognition. Finally, the idea that a patron would recognize the cross as a hateful symbol, then NOT follow up by consulting the provided blog post is an assumption that devalues the critical thinking skills of our campus community.

    As the blog post notes, symbols have power. They possess the power to challenge us, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. But this discomfort often encourages us to discuss, learn, and develop resilience, with are essential skills in this modern, chaotic world. If the symbol outside the circle made you uncomfortable, I apologize, but that was its ultimate purpose; to make viewers uncomfortable enough to learn about its meaning and actively reject what it represents once armed with this knowledge.

  3. Comment by Justin — December 5, 2019 @ 3:41 AM

    A lot of veterans also sport this iconography and similar phrases because of the insurgents tendency to call american troops Salibi which means crusader. A lot of soldiers adopted that moniker with pride. There are also modern “knights templar” organizations that are full of senior citizens who donate food and raise money for the poor. Hardly nazis.

  4. Comment by JP — January 5, 2020 @ 6:05 AM



    Islam is right about women, Rob. And you know it.

    Using your logic, ISIS use the Qur’an as their motivation to commit heinous crimes, so… would you say the Qur’an is now a symbol of hate? To be fair it has “no use in today’s society” apart from to illicit hate against non believers, homosexuals, women and Jews (Muslims really hate the Jews).

    It’s people like you Rob, people like you.

  5. Comment by James — January 6, 2020 @ 9:10 PM

    Interesting that Donald Trump Jr. is carrying an automatic machine gun with the Knight’s Templar Cross on it. Almost as if he’s telling the World that the Trump family “Loves to Hate” and that he want’s his dad to be the the “Dictator of America”.

  6. Comment by Rick Sherrill — July 26, 2020 @ 6:34 PM

    So by my understanding, someone should check with the SPLC, or ACLU, before committing the faux pas of displaying icons or symbols that might a small group of white supremacists put on a t-shirt? American flags? Camo? Crosses? Shields, swords, anything military? Did you mention milk and the brands New Balance, Ray Ban, Fred Perry, Converse, Doc Martin, and Ben Sherman? It’s a lot of work to stay virtuous by PC standards.

  7. Comment by War between the sons of Abraham — December 18, 2021 @ 10:06 PM

    It begins the battle of Rights of Inheritance for the children of Abraham.

  8. Comment by GlueFondue — August 4, 2022 @ 3:39 PM

    I’m still laughing about James’ comment on Junior’s rifle… the unmedicated never cease to crack me up… James, dude (he/him ??): It’s not an “automatic machine gun”. It is a light, semiautomatic sporting rifle, get it ? The Trump family doesn’t hate anyone except, deservedly so, the media…. and NOBODY WANTS A DICTATOR. Nobody. Got it ? Now, dab that pee stain in your jeans with a cloth… the symbol is a common military symbol. I have a tattoo of it on my arm and I’m just a regular, boring dude with a job. It’s no more a hate symbol than Antifa’s anarchy symbol – some folks just like the symbol and they have no connection to Antifa. Same goes with this. Now…. go take your meds and lay down for a bit.

  9. Comment by Matt Johnson — November 4, 2022 @ 10:30 AM

    The use of academia to forward such overtly PC societal pushes against common symbols is heinous. Milk? Milk? C’mon. And the Templar’s Cross? As a Christian, Rob, you are usurping my culture and dictating it as “bad.” Why can’t I exist? What is so abhorrant to you about my existance. Why can some groups use the fist as a symbol of their hate and you do not acknowledge that whatsoever, but instead focus on somebody flashing an “OK” symbol. You are aware that in Europe, the “OK” symbol also means “three.” So people in Europe can’t count now in order to conform to your PC standards? Answer these questions, sir: 1) Are you a pacifist?; 2) What is your view of the U.S. military?; 3) Do you find any leftist reactionary symbols equal of the scrutiny you’ve given what you consider to be “right-wing symbols?”; and 4) Why don’t you abhor the ultimate symbol of hate — your own white skin. Your point is that white people, by existing and embracing their heritage is patently wrong. That is both hurtful and shameful. I celebrate the cross and Jesus Christ. I wish you’d let me do that just as Muslims celebrate Muhammad and Jews seek out Abraham and Moses. You are aware that Christians, Muslims and Jews are all praying to the same God, are you not? Thank you, sir for the thoughtful position paper, but understand that the position holds zero traction and, in fact, on it’s face, racist against another segment of the population. –Matt Johnson

  10. Comment by Craig Varey — February 13, 2024 @ 5:31 PM

    Forgive my ignorance but I had absolutely no idea that the Templar Cross was a racist symbol. And, it seems extremely crass to me to jump to that immediate conclusion. It’s like saying the Union flag of the United Kingdom or the Red Cross of the English flag is racist iconography also. One can be proud of one’s country and heritage without being a racist. My father and his generation fought the REAL racists during WW2. He was involved in the liberation of Belsen and fought all over the World. I will NEVER be ashamed of our heritage or our flags. And although unfortunately racist groups adopt these symbols the sight of them will never immediately bring to mind racist ideology. No sir, it brings to mind what a great country we are and pride in the generations that fought and died through the centuries.

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Last Modified: September 30, 2019

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