As the politicized side of social media continues to fester through society, war widow Seana Arrechaga has one request: please stop turning a photo of her and her dead husband into a political meme.
Or at least stop sharing it.
The 29-year-old lost her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, in 2011, when he was killed in Afghanistan.
Journalists later photographed her seeing her husband’s body for the first time after he returned to Fort Campbell.
Since then, the Nashville woman said she has been fighting a constant battle to stop faceless Facebook pages from using the image for their own political ends.
“We’re being used for likes and shares,” she said.
The photo has most recently emerged as a meme in the seemingly ceaseless debate about whether NFL players should take a knee during the national anthem.
Seana touches her dead husband’s uniformed hand in the image, which she said was taken when she first saw him after his return to the states.
“To all the overpaid players in the NFL: Put on this uniform, then you might understand why we stand,” the meme crows. “Can this hero get a RIP and a share?”
“They don’t even take the time to learn his name and are using him to push political opinions,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter if my belief aligns with that. It’s inappropriate.”
Arrechaga said she’s had to get used to seeing the photo of her and her late husband turned into a meme that goes viral once a year or so.
“But it has definitely gotten much worse and more often since the whole national anthem thing,” she said this week.
Arrechaga said it happens to other war widows as well. Photographs from a very painful and personal moment that were shared with the public are used for political ends.
“A lot of people forget that not only was my husband a real person, but he leaves behind real people,” she said. “He’s in a casket.”
Their son is now 10, and Arrechaga wonders whether the boy will find the memes of his fallen father when he enters the social media world.
“He’s going to be able to see these things and I’m going to have to explain all of it, why is his dad a meme,” she said. “I think people forget that.”
She said she has called out several conservative taking heads, including Dinesh D’Souza, for sharing the meme.
“I had a lot of people telling me my opinions are wrong, when I’m staring at a picture of me and my deceased husband in a casket,” Arrechaga said. “What a world we live in, with all our keyboard warriors.”
Along the way, Arrechaga has gotten used to the trolling.
“I get called a ‘libtard,’” she said. “You don’t even know anything about my thoughts on the actual matter, I’m just telling you to stop using this photo.”
While politics among Gold Star families inevitably differ, Arrechaga said they have been united in their opposition to such photos being used for political ends.
“We can’t stop them from creating memes, but we don’t have to share it,” she said.
Arrechaga said her friends tag her in posts that use the meme. Some pages accommodate her requests to take the images down, others don’t.
She pointed out instances where the photo is used to hawk patriotic t-shirts.
“I don’t know how to contact big Facebook and say this is a problem and you need to fix it,” she said. “I also don’t know if anyone would care. They’re all making their money.”
Sgt. 1st Class Arrechaga was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a teenager, his wife said.
He deployed to Iraq three times and became a U.S. citizen during a ceremony at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, she said.
Arrechaga said she is not sure the memes will ever end.
“Because of the world we live in, I don’t think this will ever stop,” she said. “At some point I’m just going to have to let it go and be okay with it, but I don’t know how I’ll be okay with it. That’s my husband, the father of my child.”
“It’s just so gross.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.