Two murders and an attempted murder in Portland, Oregon, on the first day of Ramadan (May 26), by a white racist are the latest in a string of hate crimes inspired by President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric and actions since he took office.
Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of hate crimes, told Democracy Now! on May 30: “President Trump, whose words in the campaign unleashed against immigrants, against Muslims and others, unleashed a wave of hate crimes and bias incidents, especially right after the election.
“The SPLC has documented about 900 of them in the first 10 days [after the election].”
Since then, such crimes have accelerated.
The Portland murders began when alt-right supporter Jeremy Christian, with a history of racist violence, armed with a knife, accosted two Black teenagers on a commuter train. One of the young women was Muslim, wearing a hijab.
Christian screamed racist and Islamophobic slurs at the women, yelling at them to get off the train and get out of the country. Three white men intervened and tried to stop Christian, who then stabbed two to death, gravely wounding the third.
These heroes were Ricky John Best, a 53-year-old Army veteran and Portland city worker; Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, a 23-year-old graduate of Reed College in Portland; and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a 21-year-old poet and Portland State University student. The three were stabbed in the neck.
Best and Namkai-Meche were killed, and Fletcher survived in hospital.
In an emotional interview on CNN, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum, one of the young women Christian targeted, said in tears: “He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, that we shouldn’t be here and to get out of his country. He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should just kill ourselves…
“Me and my friend, we were going to get off the [train]. And then we turned around while [Christian and the three interveners] were fighting, and he just started stabbing. It was just blood everywhere, and we just started running for our lives…
“I just want to say thank you to the people who put their life on the line for us, because they didn’t even know us. And they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we looked.
“I just want to say thank you to them and their families and that I appreciate them, because without them, we would be dead right now.”
Mangum’s Muslim friend remains anonymous, for good reason.
At his arraignment on May 30, Christian shouted in court: “Free speech or die, Portland. You’ve got no safe place.
“This is America. Get out if you don’t like free speech.”
He later yelled: “Death to the enemies of America. Death to antifa [anti-fascists]. You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism. Die.”
It took several days and growing outrage before the White House issued a perfunctory statement that did not even mention Islamophobia or the alt-right — a motley collection of fascist-minded organisations that are one of Trump’s support groups.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Portland’s top Republican official James Buchal told The Guardian that Republicans could use alternative security arrangements rather than rely on city or state police. He suggested using far-right armed militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.
The Oath Keepers are an extreme right group of about 10,000 former law officers and army veterans. The Three Percenters were formed to fight the federal government after the election of Barack Obama.
Buchal recently made a video that took aim at “our enemies” who “want open borders, because they know if they keep the borders open, bring in all sorts of people from Third World countries who have no conception of liberty … it will change this country forever, it will destroy everything that is special about America.”
He praised Trump as the bulwark against these “enemies.”
In the US Socialist Worker, eyewitness reporters in Portland said: “But here is another side of the story beyond the awful stabbings: hundreds of thousands of people who shared this city with Ricky Best and Taliesin Namkai-Mechein were horrified by their murder, and many of them want to do something to stand up against hate.
“The day after the killings, some 1,000 people came out to a hastily organized vigil to honor the heroes who tried to stop a racist. People of all ages and races, including many women in hijab, held candles and left flowers at a makeshift shrine at the [train] station near where the stabbings took place…
“Those working for social justice in Portland won’t forget about this horror. Despite the killings, Alt-Right organizations are still planning to mobilize June 4 for a rally for ‘free speech,’ but a strong and growing coalition of left organizations is building for a counter-rally under the slogan ‘Portland Stands United Against Hate’ – to show with our numbers that Portlanders will stand up to violence and racism.”
This is the correct way to fight the right wing. Some opponents of the right are supporting the proposal of Portland’s Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler to ban the alt-right rally. But this goes in the wrong direction for several reasons.
First, we cannot trust the capitalist state to fight the right. A key element of the state is its armed wings, breeding grounds for groups like the Oath Keepers. Moreover, it is the capitalist system itself that gains from and supports Islamophobia, including from the very top in Washington. It uses it to “justify” its endless wars in the Middle East and North Africa.
Black Lives Matter, organised in response to ongoing police killings of Blacks, has exposed the institutionalised racism and violence that is alive and well in the US. Racist violence is furthered and protected by the capitalist state.
It is capitalism and its state institutions that nurture and create the far right. In an extreme crisis, the capitalist class can throw its support behind fascism, as occurred in the 20th century in Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal.
Second, the left should not support any state bans on free speech. History has amply demonstrated that such bans, even when originally proposed against the right, end up targeting working people and the oppressed even more.
In this case, it plays directly into the hands of the alt-right. The June 4 rally has been called to defend their “free speech” to divert attention from their hate speech.
The best way to oppose the alt-right’s hate speech and actual violence is mass mobilisation from below of the exploited, oppressed and their supporters — not reliance on our exploiters and oppressors from above.