Until late last week, the bulky, homely pedestrian bridge leading to the Hollywood MAX platform was as mundane and utilitarian a structure as you could find in Portland.
That changed on the afternoon of Friday, May 26, when the bewildering acts of a bigot took the lives of two men standing against racism, and very nearly killed a third. Today, and for the foreseeable future, that pedestrian bridge is something else: an unlikely symbol of selfless sacrifice, overflowing with flowers and messages of hope.
It was, after all, the Hollywood station that authorities rushed to on Friday, responding to the increasingly alarming details of an attack that had just unfolded.
Witnesses reported a MAX passenger spewing racist vitriol at two teenage girls—both of them Black, one wearing a hijab—when three bystanders intervened. In a detailed account released Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors said the alleged assailant, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, turned his attention to the men, managing to stab or slash all three in the neck.
Ricky John Best, 53, an Army veteran and city employee, died at the Hollywood platform.
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, a 23-year-old Reed College graduate, died after being taken to the hospital.
Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a 21-year-old Portland State University student, survived thanks to aid he received from witnesses.
Christian was apprehended not far from the platform, and prosecutors described a litany of vile confessions following his arrest. He faces a host of felony and misdemeanor charges, including aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, intimidation, and unlawful use of a weapon.
The Hollywood station was front and center once again on Saturday evening, when somber Portlanders flocked there by the hundreds bearing candles and flowers and, above all, their sincere gratitude to the men who’d paid such a drastic price for intervening.
“They lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we looked, and I just want to say thank you to them and their family,” a tearful Destinee Mangum, one of the two teens Christian had allegedly been harassing, told KPTV. “I appreciate them because without them, we probably would be dead right now.”
Today, that mundane pedestrian bridge is utterly transformed—covered with flowers and written tributes to the three heroes of Friday’s attack. “This will not stop us,” they read, and “I would die for you” and “love prevails.” In response to such unspeakable ugliness, the bridge is suddenly beautiful.
But it’s hard not to see worse changes afoot.
The slayings Christian allegedly carried out last week appear to be the most violent outcroppings of overt bigotry the city has experienced in recent months, but they are far from unusual. As Donald Trump’s victory has emboldened far-right causes, people with racist, white-supremacist sympathies have gleefully glommed on. That includes Christian himself.
Last month the man showed up, armed with a baseball bat and wrapped in a Revolution-era American flag, to a right-wing “March for Free Speech” along 82nd Avenue in Montavilla. Christian was enraged by left-wing protesters. A police officer quickly confiscated his bat, but he continued ranting at the crowd, yelling “Fuck all you niggers!”
Christian repeatedly gave the Nazi salute throughout the hours-long event and yelled “Hail Vinland,” a term used by far-right white nationalists to assert that they “are Vikings in a new land continuing the ancient battle for the preservation of their people,” according to an antifascist expert who spoke with the Guardian. Notably, Christian had a length of chain looped repeatedly around his neck—a choice that would offer protection should someone slash or attack that part of his body.
On Facebook, Christian expressed admiration for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and far-right Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, and regularly lauded Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
The man had exhibited more recent troubling behavior, too. KATU reported on video footage of Christian on a MAX train a day before the attack, shouting: “Fuck all you Christians and Muslims and fucking Jews. Fucking die.” Though no one was engaging him, Christian also said he was “about to stab some motherfuckers.”
The three victims of the knife attack are now icons of resistance to that racist tide, and support for the men and their families—along with the teens who were the initial targets of hostility—has been effusive. As of Tuesday morning, four crowdfunding efforts had raised more than $1.2 million.
The pictures that have emerged of the men since Friday are universal in their admiration.
Best was an employee of the Bureau of Development Services, a job he took after a 23-year-stint in the Army, according to KATU.
The man’s family—which includes his wife and four children—told the station he was cheerful and principled, always looking to help those in need of assistance. His co-workers gave similar accounts to local news outlets.
“He couldn’t just stand by and do nothing,” Best’s oldest son Erik told KATU. “He died fighting the good fight, protecting the innocent. Honestly, that’s what he probably wanted.”
The Oregonian quoted a witness who said Best was trying to stop Christian’s unhinged and profane ranting about Muslims, saying: “I know you’re a taxpayer. But this is not okay, that he was scaring people.”
Meche had recently earned an economics degree from Reed College, where professors praised his acumen. His family issued heartbreaking statements of mixed anguish and pride after the young man succumbed to his injuries, and his mother embraced supporters at Saturday’s vigil.
“My heart feels empty from the loss of my big brother, but also from the cruel awakening that hate & judgment can cause someone to do such a thing,” Meche’s sister wrote on Facebook. “I am so proud to call someone so brave and strong my big brother. You have always and will always be my hero.”
Meche was urging Christian to get off the train when he was attacked, according to the Oregonian. Among his last words, a witness told KOIN, were “I want everybody to know, I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.”
Fletcher, the lone survivor of the knife attack, is a poet and student who’s demonstrated with Don’t Shoot Portland. He was released from the hospital on Monday, but has not yet offered his own account of the attack.
The account released by prosecutors on Tuesday alleges Christian first confronted Meche, then pushed Fletcher when he stepped in. When Fletcher pushed back, authorities say, Christian slashed him with a folding knife, then immediately attacked Meche.
At that point, Best stepped in and was also attacked.
There were other heroes, too. Stories have emerged of citizens on the packed train rushing to the aid of the injured men, offering comfort and medical attention. Others pursued Christian as he fled the station, and alerted police to his whereabouts.
As fallout from the murders continues, the significance of an already-planned “Trump Free Speech Rally” set for Sunday, June 4 has ramped up. The event was organized by Vancouver-based right-wing organizer Joey Gibson, who goes by “Patriot Prayer.” Gibson also organized the April 29 rally where the bat-wielding, slur-yelling Christian garnered attention. The organizer and others disavowed and criticized Christian at the time, but other, less-overt white nationalists were also in attendance.
Gibson’s plan is to bring several major “alt-right” figures to Terry Schrunk Plaza on June 4, including convicted felon Kyle Chapman—known as “Based Stickman” because he’s assaulted left-wing protesters with a large stick—and Tim Gionet, a right-wing troll who goes by “Baked Alaska.”
Rose City Antifa and other leftist groups have planned a “Stand United Against Fascism Rally” directly across the street at Chapman Square.
A separate right-wing “March Against Sharia” is scheduled, in concert with events around the country, for June 10.
The tension surrounding these rallies caused Mayor Ted Wheeler to make an atypical and controversial request on Monday, May 29. Wheeler said that the federal government had already issued a permit for Gibson’s June 4 rally (the feds control Schrunk Plaza), and called on officials to immediately revoke that permit, saying he feared violence.
“Our City is in mourning, our community’s anger is real, and the timing and subject of these events can only exacerbate an already difficult situation,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I am appealing to the organizers of the alt-right demonstrations to CANCEL the events they have scheduled on June 4 and June 10. I urge them to ask their supporters to stay away from Portland. There is never a place for bigotry or hatred in our community, and especially not now.”
Gibson said he’s not canceling the event, and a spokesperson from the US General Services Administration, which manages Schrunk Plaza, would not discussion the government's plans Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the ACLU of Oregon and others criticized Wheeler for his request, saying it encroached on free speech.
“The government cannot revoke or deny a permit based on the viewpoint of the demonstrators,” the organization wrote in a statement. “Period.”
There are concerns about the approach in City Hall, too.
“We are walking a very fine line here,” Commissioner Nick Fish told the Mercury. “I appreciate the mayor’s concern for public safety and desire to avoid more violence. I also share the concerns of the ACLU and others that we must never make any decision based on the content of speech, no matter how abhorrent.”