Memorializing white supremacy

It’s Memorial Day again. I’ve been back in Pittsburgh now for three years.

Fig. 1. Reproduction of poster, via Relational Implicit, “Understanding social myth: Why it’s so hard to find common ground & how to do it,” September 2020, fair use.

It has been good that I moved here. I needed to break out of the San Francisco Bay Area bubble, needed to witness the rise of white Christian nationalism—now as conservatism becomes increasingly monolithic and a far more potent force even than when Donald Trump was in office[1]—from a different perspective.

Fig. 2. “Gratuitous guns.” Map of gratuitously displayed weaponry compiled by author. This map will continue to be updated as I find more.

As I drive around, as I see the highly visible support for white Christian nationalism in Trump’s name in yard signs and flags, some of which are obscenely directed against Joe Biden, I still think of that billboard with Trump’s face ludicrously superimposed on Rambo’s body, carrying a massive assault weapon. The image (figure 1) is now available as a flag on Amazon though I don’t think I’ve yet seen it flying around Pittsburgh. And I see the “thin blue line” flags and the “support our police” yard signs. I see the ubiquitous memorials, ostensibly to veterans, but often featuring heavy weaponry, all too often around poor and working class neighborhoods where Black people seem more visible (figure 2). And I see the pervasive gun nuttery that persists, massacre after massacre.

It’s all, all too obviously, directed against people of color,[2] but it is also, also all too obviously, a desperation for heroes, not unrelated to adoration for the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s football team that was winning when Pittsburgh was losing, losing its steel mills,[3] losing its prosperity,[4] losing its identity, with a brutal side effect of increased toxic masculinity.[5]

On Memorial Day, we memorialize those we call heroes, all too often those who have victimized people of color, sometimes in foreign countries—we have the gall to call this “fighting for our freedom”—sometimes here in the U.S. “Blue Lives Matter” is inescapably an attempt to rebut “Black Lives Matter,” when it is all too apparent that Black people are disproportionately targeted by police, too often fatally.[6] I now accordingly label police white supremacist gangsters because the evidence is so overwhelming,[7] egregiously in the January 6 coup attempt to keep Trump in the presidency,[8] as to leave me no honest alternative. And Trump will almost certainly be riding[9] the sort of pervasive white supremacy to be found so blatantly around Pittsburgh[10] back to power in the 2024 election,[11] utterly dispelling any silly notion that this is even remotely a Pittsburgh problem alone.

Those who seek understanding will rightly point to a wound inflicted generally by capitalism throughout its history, exacerbated by neoliberal policies, against labor,[12] a wound that should perhaps be memorialized as well, and as if people of color were not also workers. The wrong—the evil—of white Christian nationalism does not make this right.

I have always viewed Memorial Day with doubt. I felt it was yet another holiday glorifying violence, the violence of war. But on this Memorial Day, in Pittsburgh, I am left to see it as a white supremacist holiday, because the linkage between violence and white supremacy is so inescapable.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, May 25, 2022,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, April 6, 2021,
  3. [3]Ed Simon, An Alternative History of Pittsburgh (Cleveland, OH: Belt, 2021).
  4. [4]Jason Togyer, “Fear and Loathing in the Time of Coronavirus,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 25, 2020,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Hate, Pittsburgh Style,” Not Housebroken, February 26, 2022; Jason Togyer, “Will the sons of steelworkers see Trump’s COVID-19 behavior as strong, or reckless?” Columbia Journalism Review, October 6, 2020,
  6. [6]Amanda Arnold, “What Exactly Does It Mean to Defund the Police?” Cut, June 12, 2020,; Mark Berman et al., “Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people,” Washington Post, June 8, 2020,; Zak Cheney-Rice, “Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics,” New York, June 15, 2020,; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Blue Lives Matter,” Atlantic, December 22, 2014,; Jason Dearen, “White supremacist prison guards work with impunity in Fla.,” Associated Press, November 19, 2021,; Democracy Now! “Report Documents 32,542 Police Killings in U.S. Since 2000 with Vast Undercount of People of Color,” June 1, 2021,; Ryan Devereaux, “The Thin Blue Line Between Violent, Pro-Trump Militias and Police,” Intercept, August 28, 2020,; James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020,; Kellie Carter Jackson, “The Double Standard of the American Riot,” Atlantic, June 1, 2020,; Sarah Jones, “There Will Be More Rittenhouses The forces that created a vigilante also exonerated him,” New York, November 19, 2021,; Amina Khan, “Police officers treat Black and white men differently. You can hear it in their tone of voice,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2021,; Kimberly Kindy and Kimbriell Kelly, “Thousands dead, few prosecuted,” Washington Post, April 11, 2015,; German Lopez, “Police officers are prosecuted for murder in less than 2 percent of fatal shootings,” Vox, April 2, 2021,; Wesley Lowery, “Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no,” Washington Post, July 11, 2016,; Brentin Mock, “What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings,” CityLab, August 6, 2019,; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020,; Emma Pierson et al., “A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States,” Nature Human Behavior 4 (2020): 736–745,; Kevin Rector, “Bias, far-right sympathies among California law enforcement going unchecked, audit finds,” Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2022,; Jon Schuppe, “Police across U.S. respond to Derek Chauvin trial: ‘Our American way of policing is on trial,’” NBC News, April 15, 2021,; Sandhya Somashekhar et al., “Black and Unarmed,” Washington Post,; Alene Tchekmedyian, “Inspector general identifies 41 sheriff’s deputies who allegedly belong to gang-like groups,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2022,; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Do We Change America?” New Yorker, June 8, 2020,; Robin Wright, “To the World, We’re Now America the Racist and Pitiful,” New Yorker, July 3, 2020,; Odette Yousef et al., “Active-duty police in major U.S. cities appear on purported Oath Keepers rosters,” National Public Radio, November 5, 2021,
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Stephen Zappala’s resignation would be nowhere near enough,” Not Housebroken, January 4, 2022,
  8. [8]Kyle Cheney, Sarah Ferris, and Laura Barrón-López, “‘Inside job’: House Dems ask if Capitol rioters had hidden help,” Politico, January 8, 2021,; Kurtis Lee, Jaweed Kaleem, and Laura King, “‘White supremacy was on full display.’ Double standard seen in police response to riot at Capitol,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2021,
  9. [9]Jelani Cobb, “Donald Trump’s Idea of Selective Citizenship,” New Yorker, July 29, 2019,
  10. [10]Ryan Deto, “The FBI declared Pgh. a new hub for white supremacy. That ignores decades of history,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, November 16, 2020,; Ewan Palmer, “FBI Warn White Supremacist Activity in Pittsburgh Among Highest in Country,” Newsweek, November 13, 2020,
  11. [11]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, May 25, 2022,
  12. [12]Daniel Altman, Neoconomy (New York: PublicAffairs, 2004); Mark Blyth, Austerity (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013); Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2004); Thomas Frank, Pity the Billionaire (New York: Metropolitan, 2012); Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012); Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: HarperPerennial, 2003).

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