By MARTHA BELLISLE
The mayor of Portland, Oregon, on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a “Trump Free Speech Rally” and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said he hopes the victims will inspire “changes in the political dialogue in this country.”
It comes amid a wider debate in the U.S. about the First Amendment, often in liberal cities like Portland and Berkeley, California, and on college campuses, where violent protests between far-right and far-left protesters have derailed appearances by contentious figures.
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, and Ricky John Best, 53, were killed Friday as they tried to stop Jeremy Joseph Christian from harassing the women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, authorities say. Another who stepped in was seriously injured.
Christian’s social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence. He is accused of aggravated murder, intimidation — the state equivalent of a hate crime — and being a felon in possession of a weapon and is scheduled to be in court Tuesday.
The federal government has issued a permit for the free-speech rally Saturday and has yet to give a permit for an event June 10. The mayor says his main concern was participants “coming to peddle a message of hatred,” saying hate speech is not protected by the Constitution.
A Facebook page for the event says there would be speakers and live music in “one of the most liberal areas on the West Coast.” It says it will feature Kyle Chapman, who describes himself as an American nationalist and ardent supporter of President Donald Trump.
Chapman was arrested at a March 4 protest in Berkeley, the birthplace of the U.S. free speech movement in the 1960s that has become a flashpoint for the extreme left and right since Trump’s election.
The University of California, Berkeley, has been criticized for canceling an appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter in April and another by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in February. It canceled Coulter’s speech amid threats of violence, fearing a repeat of rioting ahead of the Yiannopoulos event.
Trump has condemned the stabbing, writing Monday on Twitter: “The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”
Wheeler said he appreciated Trump’s words but stressed the need for action.
“I hope we rise to the memory of these two gentlemen who lost their lives,” the mayor told reporters. “Let’s do them honor by standing with them and carrying on their legacy of standing up to hate and bigotry and violence.”
The mother of one of the targets of the rant said she was overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness for the strangers who died defending her daughter, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum.
Mangum told news station KPTV that she and her 17-year-old friend were riding the train when Christian started yelling at them. She said her friend is Muslim, but she’s not.
“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” Mangum said. “He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.”
The teens moved toward the back of the train, preparing to get off at the next stop.
“And then we turned around while they were fighting, and he just started stabbing people, and it was just blood everywhere, and we just started running for our lives,” Mangum said.
Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, was stabbed in the neck. His girlfriend, Miranda Helm, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he was recovering his strength in the hospital.
Telephone messages left at the home of Christian’s mother Sunday and Monday were not returned. It was not clear if he had a lawyer yet.
A day before the attack, cellphone video confirmed by police Sgt. Pete Simpson shows Christian using expletives as he rants about Muslims, Christians and Jews on a train. At one point, he threatens to stab the driver of the train Thursday, according to video from a passenger posted by TV station KOIN.
Simpson says police also are investigating an incident that day involving Christian and a black woman on the train, but he didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking additional details.
Christian served prison time after holding up employees at a convenience store with a gun in 2002, court records show. He went back after pleading guilty in 2011 to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was behind bars again in 2013 for violating a condition of his release, according to court records.
Tomica Clark told The Oregonian/OregonLive that she has known Christian since elementary school. She said she was surprised to hear people call Christian racist. Clark is black and said Christian had many black friends.
“He never disrespected me,” Clark said, but added that he changed after he got out of prison.
“Prison took the real him away,” she said.
Bellisle reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Joselyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed.