"Death to the enemies of America. Leave this country if you hate our freedom.... You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism. You hear me? Die.”
Those are 2 statements by Jeremy Christian, from his appearance in the courtroom as he was arraigned after the murders on the MAX Green Line train in Portland. I read those statements first "in the NYT
, which uses the verb "shouted" and a photograph of Christian with his mouth wide open to convey the tone of his speech. I was unsatisfied with the NYT because it shifted to the subject of Mayor Tom Wheeler's rejection of permits for "alt-right" events in Portland.
Looking for more detail about the arraignment, I switched to The Washington Post, which has video
of Christian making the above-quoted statements. The video makes a different impression:
I was surprised how scripted Christian sounded, as if he were delivering a memorized speech. I also heard an additional sentence, after "Leave this country if you hate our freedom": "Death to Antifa." I'd been inclined to think of Christian as a ranting lunatic, but the delivery of these lines makes him seem more controlled in his structure of beliefs — not that the beliefs are cogent.
Christian leaps from the love of freedom of speech to a sentence of death to those who don't like freedom of speech. "Free speech or die" seems like a variation on "Live free or die," but you have to misunderstand "Live free or die," which is supposed to express willingness to die for the cause of freedom, not a desire for other people to drop dead if they don't value freedom above everything else.
Perhaps it's disgusting to analyze the words of a person who has done something so evil, but Christian's words are being quoted and used. He's not being hidden away and denied a voice, so it's not as if I can close the door and say don't listen to the rants of a madman.
He's being quoted and used as a jumping off point for things people want to say, and what's particularly irritating — aside from the rank sensationalism of bloody murder — is the blithe assumption that Christian's agenda is racism
. You can see that the arraignment quotes have no racist content at all. The statements from the murder scene (and in a recording made of him on a train on an earlier occasion
) were anti-religion
(and not just anti-Muslim). Where's the racism?
The WaPo article proceeds to talk about the "long and violent history of white supremacist and other racist activities" in the Pacific Northwest. It gives us a quote from a professor of urban studies at Portland State University, Karen Gibson: “The idea that Portland is so liberal supersedes this dark, hidden secret about racism.” Maybe so, but the article never establishes that Christian is a racist
WaPo drags in Donald Trump:
Some residents said President Donald Trump has caused those racist demons to stir again....
“I don’t have that feeling like it can’t happen here — the way people talk about Portland — because we’ve got racism. We’ve got all kinds of things,” said Murr Brewster, who came to see a memorial at the city’s transit center. “It’s everywhere and the trouble is, it’s getting more and more prevalent.”
Primed, we hear next about Mayor Wheeler's effort to stop the planned rally, which, we're told, is billed on Facebook as "a Trump Free Speech Rally." Then this paragraph galumphs in:
Christian attended a similar rally in late April wearing an American flag around his neck and carrying a baseball bat. Police confiscated the bat, and he was then caught on camera clashing with counter-protesters.
put him on the pro-Trump
side. But where's the racism? Was he armed with a bat because he wanted to fight the counter-protesters? That fits with "Leave this country if you hate our freedom. Death to Antifa."
Elsewhere, I'm seeing assertions that Christian was actually for Bernie Sanders. And here's a piece in The Oregonian
, premised on a deep read of Christian's Facebook page: "His posts reveal a comic book collector with nebulous political affiliations who above all else seemed to hate circumcision and Hillary Clinton." And:
The question of whether Christian was a Trump supporter or a Sanders supporter, doesn't have an either/or answer, except: he definitely was not a Clinton supporter.
"Bernie Sanders was the President I wanted," wrote Christian in December. "He voiced my heart and mind. The one who spoke about the way America should gone. Away from the Military and Prison Industrial Complexes. The Trump is who America needs now that Bernie got ripped off."
But on Nov. 11, he posted that he was unable to bring himself to vote for Trump.
"I've had it!!! I gonna kill everybody who voted for Trump or Hillary!!!" he said in another post in early January. "It's all your fault!!! You're what's wrong with this country!!! Reveal yourselves immediately and face your DOOM!!!"
I'd say that sounds like a Bernie Sanders supporter. After Sanders dropped out and endorsed Hillary, he had nowhere to go. I don't know why white supremacists are getting blamed for Christian's insanely murderous rage. It would make more sense to blame the those who've been inflaming anger on the far left.
But back to the NYT, where this post began, because after reading The Washington Post, I did see more reason in the shift from what Christian said at the arraignment to
Tom Wheeler's rejection of pro-free-speech rallies. Christian made free speech sound like an ugly, evil cause related to murder. Now, you should see that the violence Wheeler uses to justify repressing a free-speech rally is violence from those who oppose
the rally, the counter-protesters. But Christian's extolling of free speech may obscure that. His jumbled, awful remarks at the arraignment are useful to anyone who would like to shape our brains to think: Free speech = Violence
. And: To suppress speech is to suppress violence.
And who doesn't wish that the police could have arrested Jeremy Christian when they had him speaking and carrying a baseball bat at a rally?