Two men were killed and another injured in Portland, Oregon last Friday when they reportedly attempted to stop a man from berating two Muslim girls on a commuter train. The alleged assailant, Jeremy Joseph Christian, was said to be shouting anti-Islamic slurs before he pulled a knife and stabbed the men in cold blood.
The harrowing incident has garnered national attention for any number of reasons, such as the heroism of the victims and the Muslim community’s inspiring response. But as analysts continue to assess the attack, some have struggled to parse the bizarre views of the suspected attacker, whose ideas complicate historic categories used by hatemongers.
Well, except for his white supremacy, that is.
Christian made his embrace of vitriol clear when he arrived for his arraignment hearing Tuesday evening, where he immediately began spouting hateful, violent rhetoric.
“Free speech or die, Portland, you got no ‘safe place!’” Christian shouted as he entered the courtroom, possibly referencing the right-wing backlash against safe spaces on college campuses. “Death to the enemies of America! Leave this country if you hate our freedom!”
“Death to Antifa!” he continued, mentioning the antifascist movement that has clashed, sometimes violently, with racist protesters in recent months. “You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism… Die!”
— KATU News (@KATUNews) May 30, 2017
At first glance, Christian’s disturbing declarations don’t appear to make a lot of sense, as they do not perfectly align with some rants on his apparent Facebook page as identified by hate group experts at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). For one thing, the postings defy traditional partisan divides: He claims to be a fan of Bernie Sanders, for instance, but calls for the “death” of Hillary Clinton supporters, refers to his opponents as “libtards,” and shares memes disparaging to transgender people.
“He’s definitely disorganized to some extent,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said of Christian.
But if there is a central theme to Christian’s ravings leading up to the attack, it’s his tendency to articulate a volatile synthesis of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and white supremacy. In addition to calling for violence against Muslims on his Facebook page, Christian reportedly attended a “free speech rally” in April, where he shouted the n-word at protesters and offered up Nazi salutes.
“It’s not the first time you’ve seen someone move through various [hateful] ideologies, and then get violent when they hit white supremacy.”
He also praised the horrific actions of Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, and published a diatribe in which he suggested making the Pacific Northwest (Cascadia) a “white homeland.”
“So, its [sic] like this. If you support Israel for Zionist homeland for Jews then you should also support Cascadia as a White homeland for whites only racists, Alabama and Mississippi for Nation of Islam and racist Black Power groups and give back at least so cal [Southern California] to Mexicans for all the illegal Latinos and any Brown racist peeps. They can still contribute segregated army platoons and taxes,” he wrote. “Their [sic] can be a central area ran by feds were all the normal people who don’t really care about race and gay marriage is legal. Problem solved.”
While his ideological journey may appear scattered, Beirich said she isn’t surprised Christian’s violent attack came after he embraced aspects of white supremacy.
“It’s unclear how dedicated of a white supremacist he is, but it’s not the first time you’ve seen someone move through various [hateful] ideologies, and then get violent when they hit white supremacy,” she told ThinkProgress.
Beirich pointed to notorious neo-Nazi Bill White as another white supremacist whose ideology bended and shifted over time, culminating in his arrest in 2012.
“[White] started with all these crazy left ideas, way off the map,” she said, noting that he moved on to become one of the best-known white supremacists in the country. “The radicalized tend to go to other radicalized movements… It’s just often white supremacy that ends with the deadly attacks.”
“The one thing about white supremacy as opposed to anarchy…is that it actually gives you a logic for exterminating people.”
She was quick to dispel any notion that she was making a quantitative argument about white supremacy and violence. But while any number of hateful ideologies can involve attacks, Beirich insisted white supremacy is an unusually combustible mental framework.
“The one thing about white supremacy as opposed to anarchy… is that it actually gives you a logic for exterminating people,” she said.
Christian’s own brand of hate seems to be a relatively new mix, however, fusing older forms of hate with more modern expressions that have emerged over the past few years. These newer expressions — particularly Islamophobia and anti-transgender hatred — have surged during Trump’s rise to power, as have more established varieties such as anti-Semitism, which Christian also appeared to espouse on his Facebook page.
“The one thing I think is interesting about him is that he seems to combine things he picked up on the Trump campaign with traditional white supremacists,” she said. “He didn’t come up with these ideas on his own.”
Indeed, while it’s unclear whether Christian spent time on white nationalist websites, his ravings mimic ideas that have been percolating on online hate forums for some time. And even if he didn’t encounter them at the source, online havens for volatile beliefs have become increasingly influential: Beirich said white supremacist forum Stormfront claimed around 100,000 users in 2008, but boasted roughly 300,000 by the time Obama left office.
It remains to be seen whether Christian’s unhinged ideology is the future of hate in America or simply the misguided thoughts of a twisted individual. In the meantime, however, Beirich hinted that his more troubling views are the “oldest” ones, and law enforcement would do well to pay close attention to strains of extremist thought that carry the longest track record of violence.
“To be honest, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism is shockingly uncreative,” she said.