Two men, 53-year-old Ricky John Best (above left) and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Mache (above right) were murdered around 5pm local time on Friday (early Saturday morning GMT) on a transit train in Portland, Oregon after they came to the aid of two women – possibly Muslims – who were being verbally abused by 35-year-old white supremacist Jeremy Joseph Christian. When they intervened Christian turned on them and slashed their throats. He also stabbed a third man, 21-year-old poet Micah David-Cole Fletcher. He survived the horrific attack and is in hospital with injuries that “are not expected to be life threatening.” The two young women they were defending left the scene. They are believed to have been Muslim, with one said to be wearing a hijab. The women are thought to have not been aware of the seriousness of the attack before they fled in terror. Police later asked them to come forward, though the New York Times was reporting yesterday they have since been contacted by the police. Christian fled the scene but was arrested shortly afterwards and has now been charged with the aggravated murders, attempted murder, possession of a restricted weapon and the hate-crime, intimidation in the second degree. He will appear at Multnomah County Court tomorrow.
Christian (above) was a known white supremacist who has shown obsessive interest in far-right and “alt-right” issues on Facebook and at “alt-right” rallies he has attended. In April he was captured on video at a rally in Portland, a so-called “Free Speech Rally”, in Montavilla City Park, wrapped in an American flag giving Nazi salutes. Earlier that same day police confiscated a baseball bat from Christian and he was captured yelling racial insults and threatening to kill “anyone who tries to disarm me.” He has also posted online pro-Nazi and anti-semitic comments, saying for example: “I will defend the Nazis,” and “I want a job in Norway cutting off the heads of people that circumcise babies,” referring to the Jewish custom. His anti-Muslim views have also been expressed in posts such as “If we’re removing statues because of the Civil War … we should be removing mosques because of 9/11.”
Christian’s radicalisation may have happened comparatively recently. He is known to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A friend said that “Jeremy has always been an extremely damaged person since I’ve known him.” The friend, who remained anonymous, said that Christian “practically grew up in prison and his childhood was horrific but I’ve always known him to have a kind heart,” but also said that he “has an extremely obsessive personality. He gets fixed on a thing or an idea and flies off the edge of the world with it.” Listening to Christian’s friend, you might think these factors came together to create the man who yesterday carried out these terrible crimes. Yet it seems that Christian is not new to crime and violence. In 2002 he robbed a shop, handcuffing the shop-owner in the the process. Christian was shot in the face by a police officer during the incident. He also has convictions for kidnapping in the second degree, using a dangerous weapon, and robbery in the first degree.
The Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler (above) was on a flight to London when the attacks happened. On arrival in London he booked an immediate flight back and issued a statement:
“Two men lost their lives and another was injured for doing the right thing, standing up for people they didn’t know against hatred. Their actions were brave and selfless, and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. They are heroes.
“There is too much hatred in our world right now, and far too much violence. Too much of it has arrived here in Portland.
“My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives, and to those who witnessed what happened. Thank you to our first responders, who provided aid, and police who captured the suspected killer.
“Now is the time, we must come together as a community and love one another. We must reject hatred and violence. We must seek justice.”
Back in Oregon, he further addressed the attacks at a televised press conference, commenting on the current climate in America of anti-Muslim rhetoric – which is being spurred on by the “alt-right” movement and the election of President Trump:
“All of us standing here this afternoon are committed to ensuring the the killer will face justice.
“I want tor reassure our neighbours and our fellow Portlanders, to those in the Muslim community who have just begun observing Ramadan, know that Portland stands by you.
“To our immigrant community, you have our support. We will do everything in our power to ensure that people of all races and ethnicities are safe in our city.
“There is too much hatred in the world right now, and far too much violence. Our current political climate allows far too much room for those who spread bigotry. Violent words can lead to violent acts.
“All elected leaders in America, all people of good conscience, must work deliberately to change our political dialogue. We cannot abide bigotry or racism or xenophobia. We can never tolerate violence. We have to come together and love one another.”
The murders are certainly hate crimes, inspired by right-wing bigotry and racism towards Muslims, but some are suggesting they should be described as “domestic terrorism.” However, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Loren Cannon, says it is too early to decide whether they can be considered such under federal law. The attacks come at the start of Ramadan, during which Muslims around the world observe a month of ritual fasting, and police in Oregon and elsewhere will be on alert for more anti-Muslim violence and protests. The attacks have also left the Muslim community in Oregon on edge as they begin Ramadan. One local Muslim man attending a vigil in Portland on Saturday for the murdered men, which was attended by some 2,000 people, said: “The night before Ramadan, after prayer, usually it’s a hang out, especially for the dudes. You might talk about the Cavaliers and Celtics, or how hungry you are gonna be for the upcoming days. Just chilling. Last night there was extra security around prayers, and there’s fear. How many people would like to be told they can’t hang out after church on Sunday?” He was sad but not surprised that the attack took place, adding that those like Christian were becoming “more confident” in their desire to “impose themselves on the rest of us”.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement on the attacks and the growing Islamophobia in the United States. Their National Executive Director said in the statement: “President Trump must speak out personally against the rising tide of Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry and racism in our nation that he has provoked through his numerous statements, policies and appointments that have negatively impacted minority communities. Only a strong statement from the nation’s leader will send a message to bigots that such acts of violence targeting racial, ethnic or religious minorities are unacceptable.”
Fundraising efforts have begun to raise money for the families of the victims, quickly raising $250,000 – of which $50,000 came from the Muslim community. Carlos Espinoza, a friend of the surviving victim Micah Fletcher, wrote on one fundraising page: “He bravely did what anyone should do when confronted with terrorism and stepped in to stop the harassment of Muslim women by a known White Supremacist.”
Ricky Best was said by a colleague, Kareen Perkins, to be “the first person you would go to for help.” Mr Best was a 23-year veteran of the US Army, retiring in 2012. He had been working for the City of Portland and was on his way home from work when he was killed. Mr best died at the scene of the attack.
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Mache (above) was on the train with his aunt at the time of the attack. His aunt said he was on the phone, and she told him to get off the phone and video the abuse Christian was giving to the two women: “I didn’t mean for him to try to be a hero and get himself killed but he was trying to protect those two teenage girls,” she later said . Mr Namkai-Mache’s mother wrote: “He was a hero and will remain a hero on the other side of the veil. Shining bright star I love you forever.” Mr Namkai-Mache was conscious after the attack and told a person who was comforting him that “I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.” They may have been his last words for he died shortly after reaching the hospital.
Micha David-Cole Fletcher is a 21-year-old poet and student at Portland State University. He was on his way to a job at a pizzeria when he was attacked on the train. He was helped by a passer-by as he lay bleeding from his knife wound to the neck and was able to call his mother to tell her to go to the hospital, but played down his injuries so as not to scare her. He underwent surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat and is now recovering.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler praised the men’s “brave and selfless actions” and that the three men “should serve as an example and inspiration to us all”. The mother of one of the two teenage girls abused by Christian wrote on Facebook: “Thank you thank you thank you… You will always be our hero.”. The three men were very different but, as Nicholas Kristof says in today’s Washington Post, they were united by a sense of decency. He also says:
“In tragedy, we can sometimes find inspiration. In that train car, we saw that courage and leadership are alive — if not always in Washington, then among ordinary Americans converging from varied backgrounds on a commuter train, standing together against a threat to our shared humanity.”
Like many, Mr Kristof is “dispirited by recent events,” and in particular the election of Donald Trump and the consequences and crisis that has brought to America. He believes that Trump has abdicated American leadership and continues:
“Today’s White House seems to stand for nothing loftier than crony capitalism and the scapegoating of refugees, Muslims and immigrants. To me, Trump values are primarily narcissism, nepotism and nihilism. And this is infectious…”
He argues that this infection has given many the permission to embrace racism and xenophobia, for which many say Jeremy Christian in Portland was a glaring example. Mr Kristof says that we don’t know for sure if this is what inspired Christian to abuse the two Muslim girls before attacking her defenders, but as he says: “when the president incites hatred, civilization winces.”
On Saturday evening in Portland (early hours today GMT) thousands of Portlanders and others congregated for a vigil on a grassy area outside the Hollywood MAX train station in northeast Portland. It was at this station, on board a MAX train, that the three men were attacked after intervening to prevent verbal abuse of two teenage Muslim women. Two of the men died and the third was seriously injured. The crowd began placing flowers, candles, handwritten messages and other personal tributes to the men.
Oregon’s Democrat Senator Jeff Merkely (below left) said: “We stand with immigrants. We stand with African Americans, with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.” Merkely, speaking to the gathering, spoke of the way rhetoric of hate and intolerance emboldens the like of Jeremy Christian to carry out such atrocities, something the Portland Mayor had also alluded to in his statements on the killings earlier in the day: “A message of hate leads to violence, and violence leads to tragedy.” Mayor Ted Wheeler was also at the vigil. He was planning to speak but was jeered and thought twice. He contented himself with talking to individual members of the crowd before later addressing the Muslim Education Trust.
Some of those gathered also associated the violence in Portland with the rhetoric of Donald Trump, with signs such as “Trump is a Nazi” on display. Others associated the links with Christian’s mental health issues: “Mental Health Providers Unite,” while others were curious that Christian was not shot dead by police: “I’m upset that a white supremacist walked away from murder when a person of colour would have been murdered with impunity.” Christian was arrested shortly after fleeing the scene, but was not shot by police. A shooting in Mississippi this weekend, in which eight people including a police officer were killed, was allegedly carried out by a black man who was not shot. He was arrested, which is one contradiction to the message in Portland, yet the deaths of so many black men at the hands of police is a continuing and disturbing problem in the United States. The man in Mississippi seems to have set out to kill and later said he wanted the police to kill him as he had run out of bullets to do it himself – “suicide by police” as he put it himself after being arrested. The restraint of the police in not killing him is welcome.
One police officer on duty at the Portland vigil, Lt. Rob Wurpes, spoke of the bravery of the men who helped the Muslim women: “It’s impressive that those guys stepped up. It would have been easy to sit back. It’s a tragedy and I hope it doesn’t make people afraid to do what’s right.” A series of speakers over a period of about two hours addressed the crowd. They included the City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and a representative of Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden. The common theme was the need to unite against domestic terrorism and support the immigrant communities. Some speakers urged people to protest against white supremacists, of which Joseph Christian was one, who have protested frequently in Portland and plan to do so again next week. See HERE for more about the white supremacists in Portland.
UPDATES: TUESDAY 30 MAY 2017
One of the two young teenage women who were the subject of abuse on the transit train in Portland by white supremacist Jeremy Christian has spoke emotionally, thanking the three men who came to her aid. Two of the men were killed by Christian and the third was injured when he attacked them with a knife. Destinee Mangum (above), who is 16, told KPTV: “I just want to say thank you to the people who put their life on the line for me, […] Because they didn’t even know me, and they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we look.” One of the young women was wearing a hijab.
Ms Mangum was clearly distraught and struggled to get her words out as she recalled the attack and the abuse that preceded it: “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 just kill ourselves.” She said they then moved to another part of the train and were going to get off at the next station when the three men intervened, one telling Christian: “You can’t disrespect these young ladies like that”. Ms Mangum continued: “Then they just all started arguing, […] Me and my friend were going to get off the MAX and then we turned around while they were fighting and he just started stabbing people. It was just blood everywhere and we just started running for our lives.” She says that several other passengers called 911 and chased after Christian.
Ms Mangum was clearly blaming herself for the tragedy: “It’s haunting me, […] And I just want to say thank you to them and their family and that I appreciate them because without them, we probably would be dead right now.” Destinee’s mother Dyjuana Hudson added: “I want to say thank you so much, […] I couldn’t imagine what you’re going through right now as far as losing someone and I’m sorry it had to be at the hands of my children.”
Meanwhile, fundraising for the surviving victim and the families of those who died have continued, reaching $800,000 with an estimated $350,000 being raised by the Muslim community, by yesterday morning. A further two funds have been raising money for hospital bills and funeral costs. They haves so far raised $500,000.
In anticipation of planned demonstrations by the “alt-right,” including a “Trump Free Speech Rally” to be held in Portland in the coming weeks, the Mayor is calling on federal officials to block the “alt-right demostrations.”. He said the demonstrators are “peddling a message of hate and bigotry” and said the demonstrations will escalate an already volatile situation in the city. He argued that, although the organizers of the rallies have a constitutional right to speak, “hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.” He also asked of people planning to demonstrate: “I urge them to ask their supporters to stay away from Portland. There is never a place for bigotry or hatred in our community, and especially now.”
The Washington Post argue that the First Amendment does not cover all forms of speech, but hate speech is protected by the Constitution. They cite several examples of where hate speech has been ruled allowable under the Constitution, no matter how offensive it is:
“The high court did so in 1969, when it found that a state law banning public speech that advocates for illegal activities violated the constitutional rights of a Ku Klux Klan leader.
“It did so again in 1992, when the justices unanimously found that hateful acts such as burning a cross on a black family’s lawn are protected by the First Amendment.
“And again in 2011, when the court ruled in favour of church members who picketed and carried signs with homophobic slurs at a soldier’s funeral.”
The law professor Eugene Volokh agreed that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment: “Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn, for instance, Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal immigrants, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or socialism or Democrats or Republicans.” The American Civil Liberties Union also agree, criticising Mayor Wheeler for trying to ban demonstrations purely on the basis of what they wish to express. The Oregon ACLU said on Facebook:
“The government cannot revoke or deny a permit based on the viewpoint of the demonstrators. Period.
“It may be tempting to shut down free speech we disagree with, but once we allow the government to decide what we can say, see, or hear, or who we can gather with, history shows us that the most marginalized will be disproportionately censored and punished for unpopular speech.”
The main organiser of the upcoming rallies, Joey Gibson, tried to distance himself from Jeremy Christian and said he preaches limited government and free speech, not hate: “What I say, the things that I say, the things that I preach goes against everything that Jeremy Christian would’ve said.” He said the rally on 4 June would include music and was not a platform for bigotry or racism:
“If they pull our permits, we cannot kick out the white supremacists. We cannot kick out the Nazis. Do you get that?
“If anyone has a sign, a racist sign or anything, they will be gone. If anyone screams anything racist, they will be gone. But if they pull our permit, we will not have that right.”
Justice John G Roberts, writing in his opinion on the Westboro Baptist Church members picketing the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl Matthew Snyder in Maryland in 2001:
“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
As Eugene Volokh once wrote, the First Amendment provides a strong protection to ordinary citizens, even in cases that involve the most bigoted and racists forms of speech. It seems that Mayor Wheeler, like other politicians before him, will not get anywhere with his desire and calls for the rallies to be banned.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Man shouting ‘anti-Muslim slurs’ fatally stabs two men in Portland – theguardian.com – 27 May 2017 – by Amanda Holpuch and agencies
- Portlanders Arrive By the Thousands for Vigil to Celebrate Men Who Gave Their Lives on MAX Train – wweek.com (willamette week) – 27 May 2017 – by Ellsie Herron
- White Supremacists Are Brawling with Masked Leftists in the Portland Streets. Homeland Security is Watching. – wweek.com (willamette week) – 23 May 2017 – by Aaron Mesh & Corey Pein
- Two Killed in Portland While Trying to Stop Anti-Muslim Rant, Police Say – nytimes.com – 27 May 2017 – by Matthew Haag and Jacey Fortin
- ‘Final act of bravery’: Men who were fatally stabbed trying to stop anti-Muslim rants identified – washingtonpost.com – 27 May 2017 – by Amy B Wang
- Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online – theguardian.com – 28 May 2017 – by Jason Wilson in Portland, Oregon
- Portland stabbings: Police admit attacker could be ‘domestic terrorist’ – indepenent.co.uk – 28 May 2017 – by Rachael Revesz
- Portland deaths: Son who died trying to stop Muslim abuse ‘a hero’ – bbc.co.uk – 28 May 207
- ‘Violent words can lead to violent acts’: Portland mayor blames bigotry after double murder – video – theguardian.com – 28 May 2017 – Reuters
- Mayor Wheeler Statement Regarding the Attack on the Max Train Friday – portlandoregon.gov/wheeler – 27 May 2017
- ‘Brave and selfless’ Oregon stabbing victims hailed as heroes for standing up to racist rants – washingtonpost.com – 28 May 2017 – by Amy B Wang
- Portland train teenager thanks men who came to her aid: ‘They lost their lives because of me and my friend’ – independent.co.uk – 29 May 2017 – by Andrew Buncome, in New York
- ‘Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment,’ Portland mayor says. He’s wrong. – washingtonpost.com – 30 May 2017 – by Kristine Phillips