The place where I live

Update, January 1, 2020: The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Right Stuff as a white nationalist group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In itself, this doesn’t mean much. Their list also includes Counter-Currents Publishing, Identity Evropa, and Right Stuff in San Francisco, and the Patriot Front and WeSearchr as statewide in California.[1] I have lived in San Francisco and in a few places in California, mostly around the San Francisco Bay Area, without ever encountering any of these groups.


A few days ago, I pulled into my usual gas station. Behind me came, if I recall correctly, a Buick.

Pennsylvania doesn’t generally issue front license plates so people can put what they want there. This man, whom I’d judge to be in his sixties, had a plate including emblems of the National Rifle Association and the Confederate flag. He left just before I did. I saw his back bumper included a sticker which read, “Secession: It’s the right thing to do.”

I thought to myself, here’s a data point connecting the gun nuttery and the racism I’ve seen in this area.[2]

I picked up a Black couple in a nearby town today. They asked where I’m from. The curious thing here is that in California, some folks could detect a trace of a Pittsburgh accent—my mother grew up here and I spent a couple critical years here as a kid—in my speech. Now that I’m actually in Pittsburgh, people catch my California accent right away.

In short order, we got to my fears about possible militia activity in the area.[3] We had taken a detour to make an additional stop and the woman indicated a building on the corner ahead. I don’t remember the exact word she used to describe what she said the militia kept in a “cave” beneath the building, that appeared to have been a shuttered shop or possibly a shuttered bar, lacking any business identification whatsoever.

I didn’t ask how she knew. The question popped into my mind, but I hadn’t been ready for the conversation to take this particular turn and I absolutely did not want to sound like I was challenging her account.[4] My guess is that this is general knowledge, probably a step above rumor. One discounts the knowledge a subaltern group has of its enemies and oppressors at their own peril—that group’s survival may very well depend on that knowledge.

She also didn’t specify a militia group name or whether the group is specifically white supremacist. The latter is certainly possible, and given what I’ve seen here, I think likely, [5] but should not be assumed.[6]

In a way, that this may be general knowledge would serve a white supremacist militia’s purposes. Not only is it as I had earlier analyzed,

If, for all practical purposes, we only recognize white military valor [as with the banners that so overwhelmingly commemorate white war dead and so rarely commemorate Black war dead] and then display artillery near Black areas, this has to be a message to Blacks from whites: Keep your place. Keep in line. Whites still have the guns. Whites are proud of using those guns. Whites are even proud of dying, using those guns.[7]

It would even be that white supremacists aren’t even afraid to let it be known that they’re there. The Ku Klux Klan has a reputation for this.

The man asked how I’d noticed the racism. I told him about the banners and the guns.[8] He told me about an encounter he’d had with the police pretty close to where I live driving a car that turned out to have expired registration, expired insurance, and an expired inspection. (Pennsylvania also doesn’t issue annual stickers. If indeed it wasn’t his car, he’d have had no way of knowing unless he’d taken the trouble to look at the registration himself.)

I told him about the incident I’d seen with the police dog, where a cop had allowed his dog to bark ferociously at a Black man in a parking lot.[9] I also named the borough whose police officer and dog this was. He recognized it instantly and a certain old professor of mine would likely shame me for not being more suspicious of a town with such a name. He also named another town with a similar linguistic and racial issue.

I dropped them off at their destination. They wished me well with my culture shock. I wished them well living with this reality.

A little later, I took another passenger to a Walmart. There was that car again, with the secessionist, N.R.A., and Confederate flag stickers.

My god.

  1. [1]Southern Poverty Law Center, “White Nationalist,” n.d., https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/white-nationalist
  2. [2]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/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/
  4. [4]I am not conducting formal research but my reference here is the extraordinary Ruthellen Josselson, Interviewing for Qualitative Inquiry (New York: Guilford, 2013).
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/
  6. [6]Barton Gellman, “The Secret World of Extreme Militias,” Time, September 30, 2010, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2022636,00.html
  7. [7]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/
  8. [8]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/
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/

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