White Supremacist Arraigned For Portland, Ore., Train Murders
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Portland, Ore., man accused of killing two men after they stood up to him as he shouted anti-Muslim hate speech was arraigned today, and he took the occasion to protest the proceedings in court today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEREMY CHRISTIAN: Free speech or die in Portland. You got no safe place. This is America. Get out if you don't like free speech.
SIEGEL: Jeremy Christian stabbed the men as they came to the defense of two young women, one of them Muslim. A third man who also tried to protect the women survived. The incident happened on a light rail train in Portland on Friday. Amelia Templeton of Oregon Public Broadcasting joins us now from Portland. And Amelia, you were in the court today. Tell us about the scene.
AMELIA TEMPLETON, BYLINE: It was a very small courtroom. Dozens of people showed up to show solidarity with the victims, and they had to wait outside in the hall. Just before the arraignment started, the surviving victim, Micah Fletcher, was escorted into the courtroom surrounded by his family. You could see a bright-red scar running down his chin and neck. He was only recently released from the hospital.
And as soon as the suspect, Jeremy Christian, entered the courtroom, he began shouting. We heard a little of it. Free speech or die, Portland, he said. You got no safe place. Death to enemies of America. And that continued and - until the sort of the abrupt end of the arraignment. And at that point, pandemonium sort of broke out in the hall where people were watching it all unfold on Facebook live. The whole thing was quite chilling.
SIEGEL: Amelia, what more do we know about Christian and what might have led to the events on the train?
TEMPLETON: Police say that they are investigating what they call his extremist beliefs. And they've received numerous tips from the public about previous incidents and erratic behavior. That includes an incident where he allegedly threw a bottle at an African-American woman shortly before the murders and also his attendance at a recent, quote, "rally for free speech" where he was captured by reporters on video carrying a baseball bat, giving the Nazi salute, using racial epithets. And in court documents that were filed, a police detective says there is cellphone and surveillance video of the stabbings that took place on this light rail train in Portland.
SIEGEL: Now, alt-right groups are planning two rallies in Portland, and the mayor has appealed to the organizers to cancel those events. What's the mayor's concern?
TEMPLETON: First I think that it's insensitive to the local Muslim community. This attack happened right as Ramadan was starting. People are already feeling extremely tense. And I think he's also worried about the kind of thing, you know, that we saw in court today where you have supporters of the victims in this case and people who are calling themselves free speech activists clashing and that that could lead to more violence. Now, the ACLU and other free speech groups are saying, look; the mayor has to allow people to have, you know, political speech no matter their views.
SIEGEL: Now, this was Christian's arraignment. What's he actually charged with?
TEMPLETON: He's been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, attempted murder and intimidation in the second degree. That is an Oregon bias crime charge that essentially alleges that he threatened somebody on the basis of their race or religion. A grand jury is considering additional charges, and there could potentially be federal charges as well, but the FBI has said it's too early to determine if this was an act of domestic terrorism or meets the definition of a federal hate crime.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Amelia Templeton of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks.
TEMPLETON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.