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White Supremacist Accused In Portland, Ore., Train Killings Set To Be Arraigned


The Portland, Ore., man accused of killing two men after they stood up to him as he shouted anti-Muslim hate speech will be arraigned today. He stabbed the men as they came to the defense of two young women, one of them evidently Muslim, wearing a hijab. A third man who also tried to protect the women was injured. This all took place on a light rail train.

Reporter Amelia Templeton is covering the arraignment and joins us to talk about the case. What charges is the state planning to file against the suspect, Jeremy Christian, today?

AMELIA TEMPLETON, BYLINE: Two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, felon in possession of a weapon and then also intimidation. And that is Oregon's version of essentially a bias crime charge for somebody who threatens to harm someone on the basis of their race or religion. And we've been told that there could be additional charges in the coming days. The FBI special agent here says it's too early to determine yet if domestic terrorism or some kind of a federal hate crime charge might be applicable.

SIEGEL: What do we know about the suspect in this case, about Christian?

TEMPLETON: Well, all of this stems from an incident Friday when the suspect boarded a MAX train and then, according to witnesses, began to direct a biased rant against two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab, and then proceeded to stab the men who tried to intervene.

Christian had a criminal record. He had been convicted previously for robbing a convenience store and a kidnapping charge and had served time for that. And in recent weeks and months, he had showed up at a protest in town and given the Nazi salute, said a number of bigoted things and had also reportedly thrown a bottle at an African-American woman at another public transit stop earlier that week.

SIEGEL: And what can you tell us about the victims in this crime?

TEMPLETON: There were three victims. Rick Best was an Army veteran. He'd served for 23 years and then retired from the Army and had gone to work for the city of Portland. He has four surviving children. Taliesin Namkai-Meche was 23 years old, a recent college graduate. And reportedly his last words according to one witness were, tell everybody on this train that I love them. A third victim survived the attack and has left the hospital but, according to his friends, is facing a long recovery from his injuries.

SIEGEL: Now, white nationalist groups are planning two upcoming rallies in Portland, and Portland's mayor has appealed to the organizers to cancel those events. What's he worried about?

TEMPLETON: I think first just that these rallies not further traumatize Portland's Muslim community. This attack happened at the beginning of Ramadan. People are already feeling vulnerable. But additionally, Portland over the last several months has been the scene of a lot of increasingly tense confrontations between protesters protesting Donald Trump's presidential administration, Portland police and counter-protesters, sort of alt-right groups. And I think the mayor is concerned that given what we have seen over the past several months and given the tension surrounding this event, that something could really blow up and that we could see further violence.

SIEGEL: Amelia Templeton is a reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting. Thanks.

TEMPLETON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.