Two murders and an attempted murder in Portland, Oregon, by a fascist are the latest in a string of hate crimes inspired by Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
Heidi Beirich, Intelligence Project director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of hate crimes, told independent news program Democracy Now!:
“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 become more frequent.
The Portland murders began when alt-right supporter Jeremy Christian, armed with a knife, accosted two Black teenagers on a commuter train. One of the young women was Muslim and wearing a hijab.
Christian screamed racist and Islamophobic slurs at the pair. Three white men intervened and tried to stop Christian. These heroes were Ricky John Best, a 53-year-old army veteran and Portland city worker; Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, a 23-year-old recent 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 was severely wounded but survived. In an emotional interview on CNN, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum, one of the young women Christian accosted, said:
“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 … [After the three men intervened] me and my friend, we were going to get off the [train]. And then we turned around while they 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 them and their families and that I appreciate them, because without them, we would be dead right now.”
At his arraignment, Christian shouted, “Free speech or die, Portland. You’ve got no safe place. This is America. Get out if you don’t like free speech”.
A short time later he yelled: “Death to the enemies of America. Death to antifa [anti-fascists]. You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism. Die”.
It took days of outrage before the White House issued a perfunctory statement that didn’t even mention Islamophobia or the alt-right – a motley collection of fascist-minded organisations that are one of Trump’s outlying support groups.
Following the attack, the top Republican in Portland, James Buchal, told the Guardian that Republicans should defend themselves using patriot militia groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.
According to the SPLC, the Oath Keepers are an extreme right organisation of some 10,000 former law officers and army veterans. The Three Percenters were organised to fight the federal government after the election of president Obama.
Buchal recently made a video against “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 went on the praise Trump as the bulwark against these “enemies”.
Writing in Socialist Worker, eyewitness reporters in Portland said, “[There] 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-Meche 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 organised vigil to honour 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 organisations are still planning to mobilise 4 June for a rally for ‘free speech’, but a strong and growing coalition of left organisations 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. Some are supporting the Portland mayor’s proposal to ban the alt-right rally. But this goes in the wrong direction for a number of reasons.
First, we cannot trust the capitalist state to fight the right. Key elements of the state are its armed wings, which are breeding grounds for groups such as the Oath Keepers. Moreover, the capitalist system gains from and supports Islamophobia, including from the very top in Washington, using it to justify endless wars in the Middle East and North Africa.
Black Lives Matter exposed the institutionalised racism and violence that are alive and well in the US, and are furthered and protected by the capitalist state. The state nurtures the far right. In an extreme crisis, the capitalists will even support fascism.
Second, the left should not support any state ban on free speech. World and US history has amply demonstrated that such bans, even when originally proposed against the right, always are used a hundredfold more against workers and the oppressed. In this case, it plays into the hands of the alt-right, whose 4 June rally was called to defend their “free speech” and 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 and their state.