The suspect in the fatal stabbings aboard a Portland commuter train on Friday made his first court appearance Tuesday, and he shows no signs of remorse for an act that is being widely condemned as being motivated by racism and anti-Muslim sentiment. 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian shouted "You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism!" and "Death to the enemies of America!" as he made his court appearance, and he did not enter a plea though we are now learning that he allegedly proudly confessed to the stabbings while in the back of a police car on Friday. Also while in the car, as the Associated Press reports, he said "that's what liberalism gets you," and "I can die a happy man," according to court documents.
As the BBC reports, he was also shouting in court "Leave this country if you hate our freedom death to antifa."
Christian stands accused in the deaths of 23-year-old Taliesin Namkai-Meche and 53-year-old Ricky Best. As we now learn via an affidavit signed by Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin, Christian was apparently drinking sangria out of a bladder-type bag on the train when he began verbally attacking two young African-American women, one of whom was wearing a headscarf. An unidentified passenger who was not hurt tried to intervene, and the two women moved to different seats. Namkai-Meche either said something to get Christian's attention, or Christian simply turned his attention to him because he was nearby, and surveillance video shows Namkai-Meche stand up as Christian began shouting at him.
Another passenger, Micah Fletcher, stood up and shoved Christian and made him stumble, at which point Christian pulled out a knife and hid it in his hand as a shoving match began. A third passenger, Best, gets involved as well, Christian then allegedly stabbed all three in the neck. Best died on the train and Namkai-Meche died later in the hospital. Fletcher was said by doctors to have survived his wound by "millimeters" according to court papers.
One of the two young women Christian initially targeted, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum, has come forward and spoken to the press, telling new station KPTV, "He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn't be here, to get out of his country. He was just telling us that we basically weren't anything and that we should kill ourselves."
A neighbor of Christian's family talks to KPTV about Christian's criminal background, saying he's suffered from mental illness going back at least 15 years and it has apparently been escalating. After a 2002 incident in which Christian attempted to rob a convenience store, handcuffed an employee to the counter, and was subsequently shot in the face by police, the neighbor says, "He did his time in prison and clearly he should have stayed there, or at least gotten more help."
Over the weekend we learned that Christian was photographed wearing an American flag as a cape and giving a Nazi salute in attendance at a Patriot Prayer event in April in Portland, an event not unlike rallies that have happened in recent months in Berkeley in which Trump supporters and various brands of conservatives as well as neo-Nazis gather to stoke the flames of liberal protest in a bastion of liberal thought, under the auspices of "free speech."
Another Patriot Prayer event is scheduled this weekend in Portland, on June 4, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has called on organizers to cancel the event. "These kinds of rallies are typically people who come from elsewhere and hold rallies here because we are a deep blue city. They are intending to be provocative,” Wheeler said in a phone interview with the Associated Press. "I’m going to do my best to keep the peace here."
The Portland-based group Patriot Prayer is understandably trying to distance itself from Christian. One of its organizers Joey Gibson acknowledged in the Facebook Live video below that Christian attended the group's April 29 event but that he was "all crazy" and "not a good guy." Gibson says he met with Wheeler to try to make him understand that Christian is "not one of us," and says that at the April rally Christian was yelling insults at both event organizers and at counter-protesters.
Meanwhile Portland is contending with the possibility that their seemingly liberal enclave will once again gain a nickname it thought it shed in the 1990s, "Skinhead City." Locals are invoking the name of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student killed by white supremacists with a baseball bat in front of his Portland apartment in 1988. The suspects were known to be members of a group called White Aryan Resistance which was later successfully sued on behalf of Seraw's family by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The AP reached out to a professor of urban studies at Portland State University, Karen Gibson, who gave the quote, "The idea that Portland is so liberal supersedes this dark, hidden secret about racism," and talked about how the predominantly white population in the region still bears connections to the southern whites who migrated there over a century ago.
Jeremy Christian will make another court appearance next week, on June 7, and a representative from the public defender's office has said they are “saddened by this tragedy” but urged everyone to let justice take its course. It's unclear how Christian will plea.