PORTLAND, Ore. – Concern about white supremacist activity in the Portland stepped up after the fatal sting of two men who tried to protect young women from an anti-Muslim rant, and some people worry that the famous tolerant community could see a resurgence of hostilities that, as soon as the the nickname “Skinhead City.”
The attack on board a light-rail train happened on Friday, the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for the Muslims. Authorities say Jeremy Joseph Christian began verbal abuse of two young women, one of whom is wearing a hijab. If three men on the train intervened, police say, Christian is attacked, killing two and injuring.
Christian, 35, was arrested during his brief first court appearance Tuesday, shouting: “You call it terrorism I call it patriotism!”
He repeated bursts to say “you have no safe place!” and “death to the enemies of America!”
Christian, who faces aggravated murder and other charges, are not in an argument. He is appointed to the public defense. In a statement, Lane Borg, the head of the local public defender agency, said the office is “saddened by this tragedy”, but urged people to let justice take its course.
In the court documents, prosecutors say that the Christian confession, while in the back seat of a patrol car after his arrest. His court-appointed lawyer, Gregory Scholl, did not immediately return a call for comment.
The death stunned the city, but also underlined nervousness about the recent events, including a series of apparent hate crimes in the region, and contentious public meetings nationwide attention.
The Pacific Northwest has a long and violent history of white supremacist and other racist activities, despite the more recent reputation as one of the nation’s most socially liberal regions.
“The idea that Portland is so liberal replaces this dark, hidden secret about racism,” said Karen Gibson, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University.
The lone man to survive Friday sting says that he has a difficult time processing what happened. Micah Fletcher told KGW-TV that he’s focusing on trying to get better.
“I’m helen,” Fletcher told the station. He was released from the hospital Monday.
Many of the first inhabitants of Oregon were from Southern states and brought with them negative views about blacks, Gibson said. Only 6 percent of the Portland population is black, while more than 70 percent is non-Hispanic white, statistics.
Some residents said President Donald Trump has caused that racist demons to stir again with his administration, travel bans, his promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and his actions against illegal immigration.
Since Trump’s election, Portland has led all major metropolitan areas in the reported hate crimes, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said.
“I don’t have that feeling like it can’t happen here — the way people talk about Portland because we have racism. We have all types of things,” said Murr Brewster, who came to see a monument in the city transit center.
“It is everywhere and the problem is, it is becoming more and more frequent.”
On Tuesday, Wheeler repeated his call to organizers of a June 4 protest, to cancel, to say that he fears that they could further enflame tensions. The event, organized by the group of the Patriot Prayer is billed on the Facebook page as a Trumpet Free Speech Rally, “one of the most liberal areas of the west coast.” A number of counter-protests planned.
Christian followed a similar rally by the end of April, the wearing of an American flag around his neck, and with a baseball bat. The police seized the bat, and he was then caught on camera clashing with counter-protesters.
Wheeler has also asked the federal government to cancel a June 10 rally that the goals of the shari’a out of fear of creating unrest.
“This kind of rally’ s, … these are usually people who come from elsewhere and hold rallies here, because we have a deep blue city. They intend to provoke,” Wheeler said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The AP. “I’ll do my best to keep the peace.”
In a video posted on Facebook, Joey Gibson of the group Patriot Prayer, condemned Christian and recognized that some rallies have attracted “legitimate Nazis.” He described the Christian as “crazy” and “not a good man” during the April 29 event. He hurled insults at the rally organizers as well as counter-protesters and was not a Trump supporter, Gibson said.
“To say that one of my speakers are racist, that is ridiculous,” Gibson said in his video.
No one immediately responded with a message sent to the Patriot Prayer via Facebook.
The turmoil caps a series of disturbing events in recent months in and around Portland.
Earlier this year, the organizers of a small community parade connected with the famous Rose Festival canceled the celebration over fears of violence, after protesters said that the local Republican y had plans to create a “neo-Nazi hate group” to march with them. Local GOP leaders denied the charges.
In the suburb of Troutdale, an Iranian refugee found his home painted with racist graffiti and death threats. And in Gresham, another suburb to the east, officers of justice, a man with a hate crime after police said he chased a black teenager with his car after a fight and he beat him, to kill him.
For years, Portland is the home base for the popular front, a now defunct white separatist organization, founded in 1994, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
“There are skinheads in that region forever,” said Heidi Beirich, spokeswoman for the law center.
One of the most notorious attacks in Portland’s racial history occurred in November 1988, when an Ethiopian immigrant was beaten to death by three white supremacists in front of his apartment.
Mulugeta Seraw was a student who came to the United States to study. The members of the California-based White Aryan Resistance killed him with a baseball bat.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League won a multimillion-dollar civil suit in 1990 against the White Aryan Resistance on behalf of his family, and the damage crippled the organization.
Associated Press Writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Washington, contributed to this report.