Hate, Pittsburgh Style

Something that caught my eye in Nan Levinson’s absolutely outstanding article on white supremacy in the military was this: “As an Army captain emailed me, ‘The military recruits heavily from the same population that extremist organizations do — socially isolated, downwardly mobile, and economically vulnerable young men.’” She also notes “a larger ‘cultural project’ that, however unexamined, is aimed at creating an ever-more-militarized (which also means an ever-more-extreme) society,” in which “war is sold, not just as acceptable, but as necessary to maintain the vaunted American way of life.”[1]

It’s hard for me not to think of what I’ve seen since coming to Pittsburgh, most obviously an overwrought patriotism and reverence for veterans that leads me to wonder what folks here are compensating for, but then the banners commemorating white veterans but very, very few from other races, and the guns, tanks, and other armaments ostensibly meant to honor veterans but seemingly placed only in or near neighborhoods where Blacks feature prominently among the population. Also that local governments here all fly the white on black POW-MIA flags that perpetuate a conspiracy theory about prisoners of war and missing in action from the Vietnam War, prisoners who never existed, soldiers who were never missing.[2] There’s a fetishization of military service—examples include a statue of a soldier on patrol in front of the Sto-Rox High School, a Pleasant Hills locksmith who displayed a dump truck with a camouflage paint job, and a West Mifflin gun shop that has a tank with a blue and white camouflage pattern aimed right at the Allegheny County Airport—that extends even to reserved parking spaces at Giant Eagle supermarkets.

A fictional version of “second amendment” rights[3] is part of a gospel here that simultaneously refuses to rely on the police, yet displays Punisher skulls,[4] thin blue line flags, and other pro-police paraphernalia. Ludicrously monstrous pickup trucks[5]—I call them “testosterone trucks”—are driven in sheer rage at anyone or anything that isn’t moving at least as fast as they are in an outpouring of toxic masculinity that Jason Togyer associates with the now-nearly-gone steel industry.[6]

People aren’t looking for justice here. They’re looking for vengeance.

But perhaps most revealing, they’re looking to prove they’re tough.[7]

It’s all a package I’ve intuitively and analytically associated with white supremacy[8] and Levinson brilliantly documents some of these linkages.[9]

Some say Pittsburgh is the worst place in the country to be Black and it is, at the very least, as remarkably a hostile place for Blacks, with a vast intersection between race and class, as it is remarkably a hospitable place for white supremacists.[10] Togyer worries that much of western Pennsylvania will be deserted as tolerant people find this place unwelcoming and intolerant.[11] One passenger told me a friend from Mississippi remarked that he saw more Confederate flags here than there. Actually, Confederate flags seem mostly to have come down since the Capitol Hill coup attempt, but Trump campaign flags are going back up—a Martian could be forgiven for thinking the election had not yet been held.

The hatred here is so pervasive, so blatant, that I could only wonder why.

And then I think of those whom Levinson refers to as “socially isolated, downwardly mobile, and economically vulnerable young men,” the men whom white supremacist groups and the military both recruit.[12] And I think of despair, the despair in the ubiquitous expression, “It is what it is.” The despair of passengers who get in my car and tell me ironically that they’re “living the dream,” an expression I’d hardly even heard out in California, here meaning they’re doing anything but. The despair and the rage of people who lost their livelihoods and their pensions when the steel industry collapsed.[13]

I know that rage. It’s a rage I feel when, even having earned a Ph.D., the only job I can find is driving for Uber and Lyft.[14] Oh yes, I know that rage. I know it all too well.

But I don’t know how to heal it.

  1. [1]Nan Levinson, “The Far Right in Uniform,” TomDispatch, April 6, 2021, https://tomdispatch.com/the-far-right-in-uniform/
  2. [2]Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Deconstructing the second amendment,” Not Housebroken, October 4, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/10/04/deconstructing-the-second-amendment/
  4. [4]Dana Forsythe, “Punisher creator Gerry Conway: Cops using the skull logo are like people using the Confederate flag,” SyFy Wire, January 8, 2019, https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/punisher-creator-gerry-conway-cops-using-the-skull-logo-are-like-people-using-the
  5. [5]Angie Schmitt, “What Happened to Pickup Trucks?” CityLab, March 11, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-11/the-dangerous-rise-of-the-supersized-pickup-truck
  6. [6]Jason Togyer, “Will the sons of steelworkers see Trump’s COVID-19 behavior as strong, or reckless?” Columbia Journalism Review, October 6, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/year-of-fear-pennsylvania-steel-trump-masculinity-covid.php
  7. [7]Jason Togyer, “Will the sons of steelworkers see Trump’s COVID-19 behavior as strong, or reckless?” Columbia Journalism Review, October 6, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/year-of-fear-pennsylvania-steel-trump-masculinity-covid.php
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh, race, and a threat to appropriated identity,” Not Housebroken, May 30, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/17/pittsburgh-race-and-a-threat-to-appropriated-identity/; David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, March 14, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/; David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, April 6, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/
  9. [9]Nan Levinson, “The Far Right in Uniform,” TomDispatch, April 6, 2021, https://tomdispatch.com/the-far-right-in-uniform/
  10. [10]Miriam Berger, “Pittsburgh paper accused of barring black reporters from covering protests, censoring stories,” Washington Post, June 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/media/2020/06/06/pittsburgh-post-gazette/; Colin P. Clarke, “One Year After Tree of Life, We Still Aren’t Talking Enough About Violent White Supremacy,” Rand, October 27, 2019, https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/10/one-year-after-tree-of-life-we-still-arent-talking.html; Letrell Deshan Crittenden, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media and everyday life in the Steel City,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 25, 2019, https://www.cjr.org/tow_center_reports/racism-black-burnout-in-pittsburgh-journalism.php; Ryan Deto, “The FBI declared Pgh. a new hub for white supremacy. That ignores decades of history,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, November 16, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/civil-rights-social-justice/the-fbi-declared-pgh-a-hub-for-white-supremacy-it-has-a-long-history-already/; Kim Lyons, “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Cartoonist Fired as Paper Shifts Right,” New York Times, June 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/business/media/pittsburgh-cartoonist-fired.html; Moriah Ella Mason, “Pittsburgh Doesn’t Need More Guns — We Need Less White Supremacy,” Forward, October 29, 2018, https://forward.com/scribe/413104/pittsburgh-doesnt-need-more-guns-we-need-less-white-supremacy/; 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
  11. [11]Jason Togyer, “Will western Pennsylvania become a string of ghost towns?” Columbia Journalism Review, September 8, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/year-of-fear-mckeesport-census.php
  12. [12]Nan Levinson, “The Far Right in Uniform,” TomDispatch, April 6, 2021, https://tomdispatch.com/the-far-right-in-uniform/
  13. [13]Jason Togyer, “Fear and Loathing in the Time of Coronavirus,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 25, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/mckeesport-year-of-fear-covid-19-pandemic.php
  14. [14]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/

One thought on “Hate, Pittsburgh Style

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.