Last month, even as hardcore activists with opposing ideologies clashed on the streets of Portland, Ore., as police officers kept watch, Jeremy Joseph Christian stood out.
He was big, standing over 6 feet tall and weighing 235 pounds, according to booking details. He wore an American flag cape. He was marching through the crowd yelling the racial epithet “n—-r” and throwing off one-armed Nazi salutes.
“I think this guy has a mental illness of some sort,” said Corey Pein, a freelance writer who encountered Christian that day and interviewed him for the local Williamette Week.
Now, Christian, 35, is accused of fatally stabbing two men Friday night as they tried to intervene when he shouted anti-Muslim hate speech at two young women on a light-rail train in Portland. He was “yelling and ranting and raving a lot of different things, including what we characterized as hate speech or biased language,” Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said. Christian was being held on two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted murder, among other charges, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
The attack comes as Portland has weathered rising tensions between groups with fiercely opposing views, including white nationalists, right-wing extremists, anarchists and so-called left-wing “antifascists,” known as the “antifa.” These groups have been colliding with increasing frequency across the country since the election last fall of President Trump — especially in cities regarded as liberal. In April, Berkeley, Calif., was the scene of riots as protests and counter-protests swirled around planned appearances of conservative commentator Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart News editor.
In Portland, clashes broke out last month during what was supposed to be a parade to start the city’s annual Rose Festival. The April 29 parade was canceled after anti-fascist groups pledged to disrupt the event because of the participation of a county Republican Party float. Parade organizers did not want to risk violence. Instead, the day was marked by protesters from across the political spectrum.
That’s where Christian showed up, with his flag cape, where he was noticed by journalists from The Oregonian who were live-streaming the event.
“That’s the dude who wrote all that ranting, weird stuff on the Facebook page. That’s the dude in the ’76 cape,” one of the journalists said, referring to the 1776 American flag that Christian wore around his neck, “the one who got kicked out earlier.”
“Oh, the one who was shouting at everyone.”
“He was shouting racial epithets at the park,” she continued.
The video was shared by Christian on his own Facebook page. It appears Christian also shared other videos of himself marching. When someone later asked him online if he was truly a Nazi or just trying to be a provocateur, Christian responded that he was not racist.
“I will generally knock out a person that calls me a racist,” he wrote. He described himself as a white nationalist, adding, “I Support Balkanization for racists and religion lines.”
Christian’s Facebook page is awash in hateful and angry memes and photos. He makes threats of violence against police. He called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh a “TRUE PATRIOT!!!” on April 19, the anniversary of the 1995 domestic terrorist attack. Attempts to reach Christian’s family members for comment were unsuccessful Saturday.
Christian noted on his Facebook profile that he likes comics, marijuana and heavy metal music. He also said he was an ex-convict. Online court records show that he was convicted of robbery and kidnapping charges in 2002. It was unclear how long he served in prison.
When Pein saw Christian at the April 29 rally, he decided to follow him and another man who was dressed in biker gear. Christian agreed to be interviewed, the biker did not. Pein said he noticed that while Christian stood out, he did not seem like an outsider to others. Christian nodded and saluted other protesters and appeared to be part of a larger group, Pein said.
Pein said he’d been worried for a while about tensions in Portland exploding into violence.
“I was really worried something was going to happen on June 4,” he said, referring to one of the biggest days for the city’s Rose Festival.
“But it’s happening now.”
Amy B Wang contributed to this report.