PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The suspect charged with fatally stabbing two Portland men who tried to stop his anti-Muslim tirade against two teenage girls built a life around hate speech and his right to use it.
Jeremy Joseph Christian, who has spent much of his adulthood behind bars, littered social media with erratic and menacing posts about his hatred of just about everything and everyone. He made death threats against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and ranted when Facebook deleted an anti-Semitic update.
“There is no feeling like being muzzled. Cut out your tongue,” he wrote in one post.
After years of spewing anger, prosecutors say, Christian acted on his fury last week aboard a light-rail train. He’s accused of screaming anti-Muslim insults at the girls, ages 16 and 17, and then slitting the throats of three men who came to their defense. Two of the men died, and a third was seriously wounded.
Christian continued screaming about free speech in the back of a patrol car, according to court documents. “Get stabbed in your neck if you hate free speech,” he is quoted as saying. “I can die in prison a happy man.”
The 35-year-old has not yet entered a plea, and neither his court-appointed defense attorney nor relatives or acquaintances returned messages from The Associated Press. In a statement, his family apologized and expressed horror at the May 26 killings.
A review of court documents and social media postings paint a picture of a young man who hardened as he spent years in prison. The violence and anger he marshaled against prison guards morphed into a disciplined rage at the world upon his release as he struggled to find a job and a purpose.
After years of disciplinary infractions and self-imposed hunger strikes, Christian suddenly found himself selling comic books on the street, where he was once mistaken for a homeless person. He grew increasingly angry that people he met didn’t want to talk about his views.
“In my Portland you can have a serious conversation about Politics Spirituality or Philosophy without being interrupted and informed you aren’t being PC,” he wrote shortly after being released from his most recent stint in federal prison. “Where I come from PC people are in Protective Custody where they belong so they don’t get killed.”
Christian grew up with several older brothers in a modest home in north Portland, obtained his GED and attended some community college. He was a prolific writer both in and out of prison, and he penned a poem at age 18 titled “Prayers for Death.”
His first encounter with the legal system came two years later when he was arrested on felony charges for robbing a corner market.
At the time, he was confused and scared and seemed like a softer person, his former defense attorney, Matt Kaplan, said in a phone interview. He thought his client might be suicidal.
“This is really sad because he didn’t have any of this Nazi, alt-right mentality or anything,” Kaplan said, describing Christian as “a good kid from a good neighborhood. His parents were nice, and I had so much hope that he would not turn out this way.”
Christian had ridden his bike to the convenience store near his parents’ home, donned a black ski mask and pulled a handgun on the market’s owner. The owner recognized him as a neighborhood kid and at first thought it was a joke, according to an article in The Oregonian at the time.
He took about $1,000 in cash and cigarettes, then handcuffed the owner’s wrists to a pole before taking off. A police officer spotted Christian on his bike, gave chase and shot at him three times, hitting him once just under the right eye.
After getting out of the hospital, Christian eventually pleaded guilty to robbery and kidnapping and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
During his incarceration, Christian spent time in five Oregon prisons and, according to his own Facebook posts, was frequently in trouble for disciplinary infractions.
On one occasion, he lost 30 pounds in two weeks while on a hunger strike and refused to move to the medical ward. He talked back during roll call so he could get written up and insulted the staff during disciplinary hearings, he wrote.
Just two months after his release in September 2010, Christian was in trouble again – this time with the federal government.
He eventually pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a stolen revolver, was sentenced to time served and placed under supervision. While under supervision, and free for the first time in his adult life, Christian struggled to get his feet under him.
In 2013, he messaged with a former prison friend and expressed despair that he couldn’t find a job. He was going to tattoo “unemployable sociopath” on his forehead, he said, or flee to Brazil. The friend encouraged him to get a job as a dishwasher instead and find a girlfriend who could help him stay straight.
“Crazy talk. I’d be giving up my freedom either way,” Christian wrote back. “Reading books in a single cell is just as pleasurable.”
A few months later, he was arrested on a post-prison supervision violation and sentenced to federal prison, then released for good in May 2014. After spending so much time in prison defining himself through resistance and anger, Christian found himself with no one to fight.
He did more fasting and, bizarrely, took up a crusade against circumcision. He joined a Facebook group for his middle school and reached out to old friends. Christian planned a barbecue with them at a local park but was rejected after he posted offensive comments on a group message board and insisted it was free speech.
“Jeremy dude you are ruining this whole experience for everyone,” one childhood friend wrote.
In April, he was videotaped at a pro-Trump rally with a baseball bat making the Nazi salute while wearing a metal chain and the American flag around his neck. Police confiscated the bat and hovered nearby as counter-protesters surrounded Christian and pushed him away.
Two weeks later, Christian posted a video of the rally. In the background, a woman can be heard calling him “the dude who wrote all that crazy, ranting weird stuff.”
Christian seems to approve: “That’s me, the Lizard King,” he wrote. “Nobody likes me.”
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