2 Ore. men killed trying to stop anti-Muslim rants
Two men were stabbed to death and one injured Friday on a lightrail train in Portland, Ore., after they tried to intervene when another passenger began “ranting and raving” and shouting antiMuslim hate speech at two young women, police said.
Police identified the suspect as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, of North Portland. Christian is being held without bail on two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation in the second degree and one count of possession of a restricted weapon as a felon.
The two slain men were identified by Portland police as Ricky John Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23.
A third victim, Micah DavidCole Fletcher, 21, is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
According to witnesses, a white male passenger riding an eastbound MAX train early Friday afternoon began yelling what “would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions,” police said. Some of the slurs were directed at two female passengers, one of whom was wearing a hijab, according to police.
“This suspect was on the train, and he was yelling and ranting and raving a lot of different things, including what we characterized at hate speech or biased language,” Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said at a news conference Friday evening.
At least two men tried to calm the ranting passenger down, but “they were attacked viciously by the suspect” when they did, Simpson said.
Namkai Meche, of Southeast Portland, died at a hospital, while Best, a resident of Happy Valley, Ore., was pronounced dead at the scene.
Simpson said that several passengers, including the two young women thought to be the target of the man’s anti-Muslim slurs, left the train after the stabbings. Simpson said that it did not appear that the suspect had a relationship with the victims.
“We don’t know if [Christian] has mental-health issues or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or all of the above,” Simpson said. “With this incident, we’re obviously in early stages of the investigation.”
According to the Associated Press, the FBI and U.S. attorney for Oregon will work with Portland police on the case. The FBI said it’s too early to say whether the killings qualify as a federal hate crime, but U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said Saturday, “There’s a day of reckoning coming, a day of accountability,” the AP reported.
The attacks occurred just as Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, was set to commence at sunset Friday. Simpson said that Portland police had already reached out to Muslim organizations, mosques and imams in the community to talk about extra patrols during Ramadan — and that those extra patrols would continue.
On Saturday, people mourned the victims and praised them as heroes for their actions. Namkai Meche’s sister, Vajra Alaya-Maitreya, emailed a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of their family, saying her brother lived “a joyous and full life” with an enthusiasm that was infectious.
“We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common. He was resolute in his conduct [and] respect of all people,” she wrote. “In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward.”
The Portland Mercury newspaper reported that Christian was a “known right-wing extremist and white supremacist” who had attempted to assault protesters at local demonstrations in the past. Video from April 29, shot by Mercury reporter Doug Brown, showed Christian arriving at a “March for Free Speech” draped in an American flag and carrying a baseball bat. While there, Christian yelled to the crowd that he was a “nihilist,” shouted the n-word at people and gave Nazi salutes, Brown reported.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Facebook page they said belonged to Christian showed he held racist, whitesupremacist and extremist beliefs. On that profile, the Facebook user said he supported creating a “White homeland” in the Pacific Northwest and declared on April 9 that he had “just Challenged Ben Ferencz (Last Living Nuremberg Persecutor) to a Debate in the Hague with Putin as our judge. I will defend the Nazis and he will defend the AshkeNAZIs.”
On April 19, the anniversary of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the user praised bomber Timothy McVeigh.
“May all the Gods Bless Timothy McVeigh a TRUE PATRIOT!!!” he wrote. McVeigh was executed for the 1995 bombing, which killed 168 and was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil before Sept. 11, 2001.
Portland police confirmed to The Post that they believe the Facebook page belongs to Christian.
Christian’s mother, Mary Christian, told HuffPost that she couldn’t imagine why her son would be involved in such an incident, “unless he was on drugs or something.”
“He’s been in prison. He’s always been spouting antiestablishment stuff,” she told the news site Saturday. “But he’s a nice person. I just can’t imagine.”