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Remember the Fallen: An Ode to Nex Benedict

This nine-page piece is dedicated to the memory of Nex Benedict (pronouns he/him or they/them), a 16-year-old transmasc non-binary student who was killed in the girls bathroom of Owasso, Oklahoma on February 7th, 2024. I say "killed" because the actions taken there led swiftly to their murder (they died of their injuries a day later, delaying their actual death to February 8th)—one that the local community has tried to sweep under the rug. I will do no such thing: Nex was the victim of a modern-day witch-hunt, one led by the usual suspects enabled and defended by moderate politics.

Edit #2: This piece discusses Nex' death, including its causes and consequences. However, my partner recommended this twitter thread by Theo Hendrie to me, which celebrates Nex' life and who he was as a person: "This thread isn't about how he died, it's about HIM. It's the memories his friends and family have shared because he was so much more than what happened to him." 

Edit: I don't have the reserves to cover Aaron Bushnell—the 25-year-old Airman who immolated himself to death two days ago—in the same breath, save that I wish to acknowledge his last words: "I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I'm about to engage in an extreme act of protest. But compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers its not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal" (source: CrimethInc). We are living in Gothic times; as the horrors of Capitalism break through the veneer of Capitalist Realism, desperate and seemingly contradictory acts like these will also—along with the murder of minorities and political dissidents—become more and more common in defiance of state domination. People will lose their nerve, but also their belly for slaughter (update: 2/29/2024: I did a write up on Aaron: "Bushnell's Requiem: An Ode to a Martyr").

I didn't feel initially as though I had the mental strength to address what was obviously a murder at Owasso high school—goaded by those in power to encourage Puritanical youngsters to do their dirty work—but here we are. The status quo is that of a Christian enthostate, a white supremacist settler colony dressed up in Christian dogma (and American Liberalism in a neoliberal market) demanding its defenders carry out attacks to keep things in line. Fear rules the in-group to attack a given out-group as demanded by the establishment; i.e., us-versus-them, the creation of a monstrous enemy. In turn, settler colonialism demands a war of extermination through a heteronormative scheme, delivered through the regressive language of a village scapegoat sacrificed for the Greater Good. It's a blame game, and not one that stays put.

The increasing boldness of open hate crimes (and their lack of punishment) owes itself to one of Capitalism's central tenets: infinite growth. Both through frontier genocide and military urbanism, the continuation of said crimes relies on constant, widespread dehumanization; i.e., of those the state would persecute and destroy for profit: there must always be a monster to marginalize, punish and annihilate. Equally so, there must be someone just as monstrous to carry these executions out—a jailor, but also a judge, jury and executioner dressed up as a "protector." Sadly, such persons are often not those "who know better." As Nex' untimely death proves, state killers are often those most susceptible to fear and dogma handed down from on high by canonical patriarchs and their subordinates—children. Nex was murdered by other teenagers taught to fear what is different from the norm, abjecting a 16-year-old peer into a state of exception where death is expected (a "useless eater" being both a waste and a threat). In short, Nex fit the bill because they weren't cis-het, thus meant be destroyed by those who were. The crime and its execution are embodied, then, by a moral code that can be seen; i.e., similar to male/female or black/white, but in this case, correct/incorrect insofar as cis-het is correct and anything else is not.

Despite the American tendency to debate Nazis and white moderates, there isn't anything to debate, here. Simply, the actions taken against Nex by their peers—the student body and school at large—were entirely wrong. Nex was failed by their community but also lynched by them, made into an involuntary sacrifice despite following the rules. Segregation is no defense, and Nex went to the "correct" bathroom only to be killed anyways by those the rule was supposed to "protect": teenage girls (in truth, the rules are coding behaviors that condition cis-het people [and token agents] to attack "incorrect" persons). The three attackers used the rule to isolate Nex, then entered the bathroom in bad faith to execute them (the rule and the person). In turn, the state's ipso facto sanctioning of selective punishment has been demonstrated by their shielding of Nex' hangmen (or rather, in this case, hangwomen).

(source: Britannica, "the witch hunts")

What followed has often been described as "a fight," as though Nex had some say in what happened or that the engagement was somehow "fair." That's not how reactive violence works and there's certainly nothing fair about three-against-one. Instead, the target of genocide is isolated and kettled, then brutally punished with extreme prejudice and total impunity by the in-group playing DARVO ("Deny Attacker Reverse Victim Offender"); i.e., while acting as instruments of bigoted revenge, blaming Nex instead of Capitalism for the so-called "hard times" the system yields by design. In turn, said in-group enjoys the privilege of security inside the shelter as a fortress to defend from perceived outsiders; i.e., they're the victim protecting themselves from someone dangerous attacking them (what's known in military parlance as a false flag operation). Fortress mentality isn't just a byproduct, but an essential fixture of settler-colonialism; its fear of the outside, the dark, the unknown leads to a foreign plot from within that must be exorcised through the destruction of an assigned victim that is met in bad faith by those playing the victim. In truth, state defenders are actually the murders-in-disguise imprisoned by the state. It's prison gang behavior.

Except, the truth is more complicated: Nex' killers were not men trapped within established prisons made to punish criminals after-the-fact, but teenage girls punished a priori living in a prison by another name—home. It constitutes a structure that jails everyone, but teaches one side that they are not in a jail at all... provided they "do their part" (a euphemism for neglect, ignorance and disdain, but also murder). As such, those who rationalize and embrace the brutal nature of the state's Faustian bargain tokenize to uphold it, killing perceived vermin so they themselves are not chattelized, thus killed. To maintain elite hegemony at a domestic level, American dogma pits its occupants against each other by having them assign these roles to themselves. This has been the case since America's inception. The country was once more openly described as a colony—a fact that remains constant after its so-called "liberation." As Howard Zinn rightly expressed in A People's History of the United States (1980), a select group during the War of Independence was purchased by pitting said group (white men) against black slaves and Indigenous peoples; said group were openly slaves themselves (indentured servants) and, from that point on, became "slaves in secret," slaves to the myth of them being middle-class, thus "free" and "righteous."

The reality is these groups militarize inside America as a police state on home soil, one equally bloodthirsty towards those inside the state of exception at home as abroad. And yet, the Imperial Boomerang does not "stay put," reliably sending Imperialism back home to empire. As the chickens come home to roost, part of the ignominious perfidy is the reenslavement of those once-liberated to do the state's dirty work again. Witch-hunts aren't carried out by cruel men alone, but scared little girls who become bigots of many kinds*, doing what they're told in service to capital, the Man, the elite: TERFs. Capitalism sexualizes everything dimorphically to serve a heteronormative, settler-colonial binary's profit motive; per Cartesian dualism, said motive thrives on division, creating monsters inside the home that activate and lynch themselves to uphold the Imperium. It's less "an enemy at the gates" and more an enemy possibly inside. So, just as the fortress stands in defiance of perceived invasion, it likewise must be manned from all angles lest its bastions fall from within. So commence the witch-hunts, smoking out "Trojans." Except accuracy isn't the point, the maintaining of power and control's illusion is, and through constant looming threats of lethal force that flower invariably into murder.

*Feminism is historically rooted in genocide, its various waves having been increasingly bigoted the further back you go: racism, in the first; transphobia, in the second (fascism, thus settler-colonialism, with more steps). Intersectional solidarity demands the equality of convenience be put aside for the equality of all, challenging older forms of selective activism that haven't gone anywhere. TERFs, whether people like it or not, are still feminists (and queer-coded ones at that). The dumb vigilantism of the Owasso trio extends to those who should know better but choose to colonize themselves anyways.

Though not all-powerful, the state will try to monopolize violence, terror and monsters to serve profit; i.e., through a lie of sovereignty that is haunted by the victims of its own abjection (the ghost of the counterfeit). Nex, then, was a monster in the eyes of those who became monstrous in ways the state wanted. This kind of moral panic/persecution mania is useful, keeping the bourgeoisie in charge and those around them obedient, faithful and scared, thus violent. The girls who killed Nex were policing the school's territory for its owners, and the owners of those owners. 

In other words, marginalized in-fighting (divide-and-conquer) triangulates against those who are different, all done to prove oneself as worthy against the Ultimate Foe for the Ultimate Good. If one isn't a "good little girl," one is a bad girl, a demon, a whore and must be punished. So the killers took matters into their own hands, prosecuting a civil war to stall their own torture for as long as possible; i.e., clemency being a temporary reprieve, granted wordlessly by throwing someone else recognized "of their kind" under the bus: capital punishment for appearing to have disobeyed state tenets, for being "incorrect." The degree for which open violence is called for changes, but the results—of spoken or unspoken examples calling for vigilante/official violencedo not. People like Nex are regular casualties of fascism victimizing its own executioners to a lesser degree.

This is how stochastic terrorism works. It targets children, turning them into cops and victims, deputized from a young age to seek out evil and brutalize it stupidly. Indeed, no one is more stupid or scared than a stochastic terrorist; e.g., Chaya Raichik following her interview with Taylor Lorenz (The Human Report, 2024). All of these uphold the status quo, defending capital at the cost of everything save the elite's well being. Nex was killed to serve the elite; the girls killed them to serve the elite; Raichik defended it (badly) to serve the elite; the teachers, principal and superintendent let it happen to serve the elite—on and on, up and up, all around. The tragic legacy of this stupid violent affair is how preventable and unnecessary Nex' death was. Not only are theyan innocent enbydead, but their killers were taught since birth to see Nex as a) a zombie or demon who must die, and b) someone whose execution would be rewarded with protection by the state and its more established (and non-bloodied) proponents (which will sacrifice the girls if needed, in order to save face).

In turn, the girls' own legacy adopts the self-defeating nature of settler colonialism—that they, as girls, become the very thing they were taught to fear: a killer in the bathroom. They're the danger, the one who knocks. Worse, their fulfillment of revenge against a perceived backstabber becomes expected of them; i.e., to backstab others time and time again—not out of genuine self-defense, but to lie about being under attack while living in a constant state of fear, of fight or flight that leads them to kill without question. They become weak, treacherous and duplicitous, claiming victimhood while, in the same breath, beating a 16-year-old enby to death in the bathroom. Whether in-doors or not, a lynching is still a lynching and ultimately a false, cowardly act. There is nothing "moral" about what they did—all the more tragic given those with the power to end the violence continue to do nothing. There's a reason for this, and a cold, cruel and calculating one: they want Nex' premature demise to signal a series of deaths that expand outward; i.e., to regress towards medieval positions of power that, while they frankly haven't gone anywhere, are maintained through fear and dogma as Capitalism decays by design (thus leading to fascism).

(source: "U.S.A. Surpasses All The Genocide Records! poster and fact sheet," 2016)

Make no mistake, America has always been an empire. That empire is in decline, its fascists elements coming out of hiding to do said empire's work for it. Nex' murder should demonstrate that. Their death and its downplaying is not the actions of the moral or the just, but a cabal of fascist hangmen and hangwomen having children do their dirty work for them; it's the epitome of cowardice, but also the stuff of the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusades, the work of empire brought home to roost seemingly from another age evoked in this one. And yet, just as with Palestine's own faraway purge, this isn't another age; it's the here-and-now, and the return of the barbaric past shows that nothing has functionally changed. Until February 8th, Nex was alive but living in terror; after February 8th, they were dead—killed by their fellow students who should be protecting them, but chose not to. The students failed them, the parents failed them, the system failed them. Except the horror of the latter comes by design: to have people destroy the marginalized for profit; it isn't a failure of Capitalism at all, then, but a success meant to enrich the smallest number of people possible to the detriment of all others.

I will not stand idly by and let this child become of a victim of circumstance. Nex deserves justice, just as the Indigenous peoples of the Americas deserve justice, the victims of American Imperialism in Asia and the Global South deserve justice, and those of the Transatlantic Slave Trade ferried along the Middle Passage deserve justice, and so on. The dead then-and-now deserve justice, and the undead sentenced to die but not-yet-dead deserve justice. The state assigns "undeath" as a giving and receiving of police violence delivered in paramilitary forms, but also stochastic (random) ones. Things start small in the beginning and wait to explode, a dogwhistle to summon up the hounds, who have been preparing their whole lives to rip state workers apart from the outer margins inwards. They eagerly sharpen their knives, drooling for the apocalypse and its zombies to emerge so they may wet them with fresh blood. In doing so, state enforcers, including little girls, become the vampiric fangs of the bloodthirsty elite; they gather blood for others to drink, and subsist on the curdled dregs.

GNC people have always been alienized and made into deathly fetishes within the state apparatus. Nex is far from the first, but they do constitute a signal for those watching—to act in one of two ways during genocide: to kill more of us when dog-whistled, or to stand by our side thus against the elite and their attack dogs enacting genocide from moment to living moment. Nex was human, as are we, and Capitalism has no use for people who see each other as human; it wants us dehumanizing ourselves so capital can function as normal, moving money through nature at the cost of human life. Capitalism needs us to die, so we need to remember and honor Nex' humanity. We must if some of us are to survive and develop a better world, one that Capitalism forbids us from imagining through Capitalist Realism (the canceled future, one where vigilante violence against "mutants" is expected and performed as a means of escapist fun). We need to stand together against the ultimate foe: the state and its enforcers, but also their harmful illusions. If not, all of us will die (or be forced into the closet, which is no different) just so white powerful men like Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Elon Musk (and their tokenized subordinates) can profit off our misery, then forget about it when their memory fails them. Fuck them and the ghost of Rome they retreat into. That needs to be burned—subverted into something safer for all peoples.

This piece is dedicated to Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old enby person who was murdered by three of their peers and whose murder was covered up by those who should protect them from harm. I, for one, see you, Nex, and am so sorry this happened to you; I, for one, will not be quiet. I, as a trans woman, stand with you in the face of tyranny. Go with Satan, little one.

"The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas." —Ursula Le Guin, "Those Who Walk Away from Omelas" (1973)


Persephone van der Waard is an anarcho-Communist, sex worker, genderqueer activist and Gothic ludologist. She sometimes writes reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews for fun; or does independent research for her PhD on Metroidvania and speedrunning every now and again. She's also an erotic artist and a writer. If you're interested in her work or curious about illustrated or written commissions, please refer to her website for more information.