See updates through November 13, 2020 at end of post.
My eyes popped when I first saw this (figure 1):
Fig. 1. Photograph by author, November 22, 2019.
There are a few dissonances here. First, it’s a dump truck, painted in a camouflage scheme, as if its owner were prepared to deploy it in a combat zone. Second, it’s owned by a locksmith—for what, to build fortifications?
At the very least it indicates a fetishization of combat. Not unlike the tank I see pretty often parked outside a gun shop (figure 2):
Fig. 2. Photograph by author, September 26, 2019.
It’s a little implausible that the owners of these vehicles have seen real combat. People with combat experience know it for what it is and are generally glad to be done with it. But these vehicles join the artillery I see gratuitously displayed on public squares and outside Veterans of Foreign Wars halls.
Which leads me to wonder just what the hell is going on here. I’ve been mapping them (figure 3):
Fig. 3. Map of gratuitously displayed artillery.
I’ve associated this with racism. The weapons are nearly all located near areas with high proportions of Blacks in the population and so I’ve seen them, metaphorically, as aimed at Blacks. The dump truck is also near my apartment, just down Pennsylvania Route 51, a few doors down, in fact, from where I take my car to be washed almost daily. Almost all of these are relatively near the Monongahela River.
But now I have the sense of an almost certainly white population that perceives itself to be at war or preparing for war. As in the militia movement, which is itself linked with white supremacism—paleoconservative in my scheme to conservative tendencies—and the “Tea Party” (authoritarian populism). In the South Hills area of the Pittsburgh metropolitan region, I’m not really all that far from eastern Ohio, where Barton Gellman opened his 2010 story of extreme right-wing militia. The militia movement exploded early in Barack Obama’s presidency and now I would expect its adherents to believe they are allied with Donald Trump.
I see lots of Donald Trump 2020 flags, along with Confederate battle flags and Gadsden (“Don’t Tread On Me”) flags around here.
What the fuck have I stumbled into?
Note: A building with boarded-up windows can be seen in the background of figure 1. This is near the shuttered Century III Mall, which I guess was, once upon a time, the place to go. At some point, something that seems to me like it should have been eminently reparable needed repairing, and the mall’s owners went into bankruptcy instead. Now only JC Penney remains. But a number of buildings in this vicinity now stand empty.
Update, November 13, 2020: The Federal Bureau of Investigation says Pittsburgh is a “hub” for white supremacism, including, possibly, violent white supremacism. The FBI is limited in its investigations because much of the activity is talk—speech, protected by the First Amendment—and not actually criminal.
- David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/↩
- David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126)↩
- Barton Gellman, “The Secret World of Extreme Militias,” Time, September 30, 2010, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2022636,00.html↩
- Mary B. McCord, “Armed Militias Are Taking Trump’s Civil War Tweets Seriously,” Lawfare, October 2, 2019, https://www.lawfareblog.com/armed-militias-are-taking-trumps-civil-war-tweets-seriously↩
- Sam Bojarski, “Century III Mall boarded up; only JCPenney remains,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 5, 2019, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/century-iii-faces-uncertain-future-with-one-tenant-remaining/↩
- Ewan Palmer, “FBI Warn White Supremacist Activity in Pittsburgh Among Highest in Country,” Newsweek, November 13, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/pittsburgh-white-supremacist-fbi-far-right-1547149↩