Column:: Trump’s ho-hum message about Portland attack does little to address hate
It only took four days — four days! — but President Donald Trump finally extended his sympathies to victims of the murderous knife attack on a Portland, Ore., light-rail train by an alleged white supremacist.
“The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable,” he tweeted Monday morning. “The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/them.”
If you missed it, that may be because the tweet curiously appeared on the @POTUS Twitter account, which has 18.2 million followers, not the president’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump, which has 31 million followers.
Pardon me, but I can’t help but wonder whether the president would have taken as long with his sentiments or sounded as perfunctory if the murder suspect had been a Muslim. Or someone living in this country illegally. Just wondering.
I’ll get back to that suspect. First, let’s talk about those who deserve to be talked about: the three uncommonly courageous heroes who came to the aid of two teenage girls who were being bullied and harassed by an alleged white supremacist, police said, for “religiously and racially motivated reasons.”
One of the teens is black. The other was wearing a hijab.
Three white men came to their aid, witnesses told police, and the suspect violently attacked all three.
Two of the men died. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, was a 2016 graduate of Portland’s Reed College who earned his degree in economics, worked at a local consulting firm and had just purchased a house, according to the Portland Oregonian.
Before Namkai-Meche was carried away on a stretcher, an eyewitness told the Oregonian, he had a last message: “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”
The second fatality was Ricky John Best, 53, a retired U.S. Army platoon sergeant and father of four who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and worked as a technician for the city of Portland. A Republican, according to news accounts, he ran in the non-partisan Clackamas County commissioner’s race and refused to take campaign contributions — a gesture that some locals, in my experience, would say is a “very Portland thing” to do.
The third hero, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, survived with knife wounds described as serious but not life-threatening. Fletcher, 21, is a Portland State University student and poet who won a 2013 competition, ironically with a poem that opposed prejudice against Muslims.
His mother on Saturday described his condition as “really bad,” with a broken jaw and a long puncture wound in his neck that barely missed a jugular vein.
The suspect in this deadly mayhem was identified as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, of North Portland, Ore., who has a history of making racist and Islamophobic remarks, according to the police and civil rights advocacy organizations.
Conservatives have taken some comfort out of reports that Christian was a Bernie Sanders supporter. But as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s profile of him notes, Christian’s Facebook page shows “an individual all over the political spectrum” who also holds some racist and other extremist beliefs.
In video posted on Twitter by Oregon freelance journalist Mike Bivins, Christian can be seen prancing around at an April free speech march in Portland, wearing an American flag like a cape and waving Nazi salutes while yelling racial slurs and threats about Muslims, Jews and “fake Christians.”
Other demonstrators at that march, which was organized by young conservatives, pointedly disavow association with him. That’s fair. But it took some cheek, in my view, for white nationalist alt-right leader Richard Spencer to try to distance himself from Christian.
“The #PortlandStabbing was a saddening event,” he tweeted, “and I condemn the actions of Jeremy Joseph Christian.”
Yet, though Spencer sounds more articulate and rational than Christian, that’s not saying much. Both have advocated breaking up the United States into separate regions for different races in a bizarre white nationalist version of the late Elijah Muhammad’s dream of a black nation for his Nation of Islam.
This is the company that President Trump also keeps, whether he realizes it or not. He should learn from the Portland heroes. When he responds more quickly and passionately to victims of Islamic terrorism, for example, than he does to domestic anti-Islamic terrorism, he becomes less of a problem-solver and more of a problem.
Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/pagespage.