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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


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Reading Toni: Explore Morrison’s Body of Work Before New Biopic “The Pieces I Am” Premieres in Theaters

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, a new biographical film about the Nobel Prize-winning author premiers in select theaters Friday, June 21. Whether you’re familiar with Morrison’s narratives, looking to re-experience her storytelling before the film, or new to the author’s work, Falvey Memorial Library has a number of Morrison’s novels for you to explore:

    • The Bluest Eye (1972) The story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlover—a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others–who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different.
    • Sula (1973) Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies.
    • Song of Solomon (1977) With this brilliantly imagined novel, Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars, and assassins…inhabitants of a fully realized black world.
    • Tar Baby (1981) The place is a Caribbean island. In their mansion overlooking the sea, the cultivated millionaire Valerian Street, now retired, and his pretty, younger wife, Margaret, go through rituals of living, as if in a trance.
    • Beloved (1987) Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is considered to be Toni Morrison’s greatest novel and the most spellbinding reading experience of the decade.
    • Jazz (1992) This passionate, profound story of love and obsession moves back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of Black urban life.
    • Paradise (1997) In prose that soars with the rhythms, grandeur, and tragic arc of an epic poem, Morrison challenges our most fiercely held beliefs as she weaves folklore and history, memory and myth into an unforgettable meditation on race, religion, gender, and a far-off past that is ever present. 
    • Love (2003) A Faulknerian symphony of passion and hatred, power and perversity, color and class that spans three generations of black women in a fading beach town.
    • A Mercy (2008) Reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter—a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
    • Home (2012) The story of a Korean war veteran on a quest to save his younger sister. Frank Money is an angry, broken veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars. He is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from that he’s hated all his life.
    • God Help the Child (2015) A tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult. At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love.

Kallie Stahl, MA ’17 CLAS, is communication and marketing specialist at Falvey Memorial Library. Her favorite Toni Morrison novel is The Bluest Eye.


Dig Deeper: Award-winning History Professor Recommends Films Exploring Rarely Seen Sides of World War II

Marc Gallicchio

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, June 6, 1944, first we take a look at World War II with Marc Gallicchio, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of History, who was named a winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy for his book Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945.

Implaceable Foes Book Cover

Dr. Gallicchio, who is not a fan of actual war films, offered recommendations for American films that deal with aspects of war not normally captured on film. (Films are in chronological order by subject portrayed.)

The Last Emperor (1987). “This lavish film is based on the memoir of Puyi, the last emperor of China and the nominal ruler of the Japanese-created puppet state of Manchukuo. The movie takes viewers from the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 to a few years after the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

“The parts of the movie dealing with Japan’s takeover of Manchuria in 1931 and the subsequent creation of Manchukuo, the first acts in Japan’s invasion of China, are particularly well done.”


Empire of the Sun (1987) “Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie is based on the autobiographical novel by the same name by British science fiction writer J.G. Ballard. This movie begins just before the attack on Pearl Harbor when Japan has already been at war with China for four years.”

“As the movie opens, its central figure, a young boy named Jaime (played by Christian Bale), is living the privileged life of Englishmen in the Shanghai International Settlement. That existence abruptly ends with Japan’s attack on American and European possessions throughout the Pacific, including the Shanghai International Settlement. I included this film because it vividly portrays that period before the war before U.S. entry that many Americans rarely see depicted in film.”


Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) “This is the companion film to Flags of Our Fathers, both of which were directed by Clint Eastwood. Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story of the battle from the Japanese perspective. By this time in the war, February 1945, the main Japanese objective in continuing the fighting was to make the war as costly for the Americans as they could.”

“The Japanese had long lost any hope of victory in the war. Their ultimate goal was to stave off unconditional defeat by bringing a war-weary United States to the negotiating table.  The movie does an excellent job of depicting the Japanese defensive strategy based on heavy fortification inland from the beaches. The whole island had been turned into a fortress by the time the Americans attacked.”


The Americanization of Emily (1964). “Vanity Fair called this little known gem one of the most subversive American films ever made. It stars James Garner and Julie Andrews and was based on a novel by journalist William Bradford Huie, who, coincidentally, was a war correspondent on Iwo Jima.”

“Garner plays a confirmed coward who got his first and last taste of war in the assault on Tarawa in the Pacific. From that point on, he ingeniously avoids combat and becomes an adjutant to rear admiral stationed in London before the Normandy invasion. The movie is a dark comedy enlivened by sharp provocative dialogue.”


Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library, and is proud to have watched half of these films in the theater as a kid.



Last Modified: June 5, 2019