Days after U.S. President Donald Trump told Muslim leaders of the need to unite to stamp out terrorism and extremism, a man on a train in the northwestern U.S. city of Portland, Oregon, targeted two teenagers with an anti-Muslim rant, then killed two people and wounded another who confronted him.
The response from local and state officials to Friday’s attack, as well as others from other parts of the country, has included strongly worded statements declaring that that type of hateful attack has no place in their communities or the United States.
Portland Police have said one of the two young women on the train was wearing a hijab, and that the attacker ranted on many topics using “hate speech or biased language.”
“Two men lost their lives standing up to somebody spewing hateful words directed at Muslim passengers on an afternoon commuter train,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Our current political climate allows far too much room for those who spread bigotry. Violent words can lead to violent acts. All elected leaders in America, all people of good conscience, must work deliberately to change our political dialogue.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she was “heartbroken” by the attack.
“Safety while traveling through our community is a basic human right that we need to be able to guarantee to everyone, regardless of where they’re from, or what they believe,” she said.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, who represents Oregon, said such hatred is “unacceptable and un-American.”
“We all stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters who’ve had to face discrimination and fear,” he wrote on Twitter.
Trump said in his speech in Saudi Arabia that, “Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred.” On Friday, he issued a statement condemning an attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt.
But the statements from others following the Portland attack have in the eyes of some highlighted the lack of any public mention of it by Trump.
Dan Rather was for decades one of the most prominent voices in American journalism as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. He wrote an open letter to Trump on Facebook, saying the attack may not fit into the president’s campaign message that often singled out crimes by an undocumented immigrant or “radical Islamic terrorist.”
“I wish we would hear you say these names, or even just tweet them. They were brave Americans who died at the hands of someone who, when all the facts are collected, we may have every right to call a terrorist,” Rather said. This ‘extremism’ may be of a different type than gets most of your attention, or even the attention in the press. But that doesn’t make it any less serious, or deadly. And this kind of ‘extremism’ is on the rise, especially in the wake of your political ascendency.”
Since taking office, Trump has issued several executive orders on national security, including one seeking to ban people from six majority-Muslim nations from entering the country and another that targets so-called sanctuary cities and sets up a system for reporting on crimes by undocumented immigrants.
The suspect in the Portland attack is 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian. Police say they are investigating what appears to be an extremist ideology, and social media postings he made showed an affinity for Nazis and political violence.
“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” 16-year-old Destinee Mangum told Portland’s KPTV. “He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.”
Mangum was on the train with her 17-year-old friend. She thanked those who came to their aid, saying “without them, we probably would be dead right now.”
Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche died after being stabbed. Micah David-Cole Fletcher was hospitalized with injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.
Thousands of donors have contributed to online fundraising efforts to benefit the victims and their families, which as of Monday had brought in about $800,000.
“They saw injustice being committed, racism being practiced, and they intervened,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress. “They exhibited the best qualities of American heroes. And they were killed for it.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said the attack was the latest in an increase in hate-driven acts against Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Latinos, African-Americans and others during the past year.
“I’m renewing my call for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to use their full powers to combat these attacks and their root causes,” he said.