PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The man accused of stabbing three people who confronted him for a racist tirade on a commuter train cried, “not guilty” in court Wednesday, claiming self-defense against the surviving victim.
Jeremy Christian faces 15 counts, including two counts of aggravated murder.
Witnesses and police say Christian stabbed three men who confronted him on a rush-hour commuter train on May 26 after he harassed two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab.
Christian made a morning court appearance at the Multnomah County Justice Center in an arraignment that lasted about two minutes. He signed a form to plead not guilty.
The accused murderer said nothing while his public defenders spoke to Judge Leslie G. Bottomly, but he broke his silence as he was being led out of the courtroom.
“Not guilty,” he yelled, “of anything but defending myself against violent aggression by Micah Fletcher!”
Fletcher, a 21-year-old college student, is the surviving victim of the attack. Sitting in the courtroom with his family, he did not visibly react to the outburst.
Sheriff’s deputies escorted Fletcher out of the courtroom. He declined to speak to reporters.
Christian’s next appearance will be before Judge Cheryl A. Albrecht on July 18.
Wednesday’s outburst was relatively toned-down compared to Christian’s first court appearance last week.
“Free speech or die, Portland!” he yelled. “You’ve got no safe place. This is America. Get out if you don’t like free speech.”
The attack has shaken Portland, often seen as a hotbed of progressive politics and ideals.
Christian’s court appearance came amidst lingering tension from dueling protests in the city last Sunday, between an “alt-right” demonstration by the group Patriot Prayer that was planned since before the murders and a much larger group of anti-fascist leftist protesters. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray against the counter-protesters, allegedly in response to projectiles being thrown at them.
Prior to the protest, Mayor Ted Wheeler had called on the federal government to revoke the group’s permit, saying at a press conference “hate speech is not protected under the U.S. Constitution.”
“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 wrote in a Facebook post.
Many are touting the men Christian stabbed as martyrs who lost their lives while standing up to racism.
The Oregon ACLU criticized the mayor’s statement, defending political groups’ right to protest.
Fletcher has been particularly vocal after the attack about speaking up for marginalized groups.
“We must stand hand-in-hand with one another and find a way to start ending the anger and the hatred and to not allow anger and hatred to flood our city streets with violence and with the destruction that can come with it,” Fletcher told news station KPTV, a local Fox affiliate.
Since the attack, attention has turned to Christian’s Facebook page, which reveals a number of often-contradictory white supremacist and other extremist opinions. He sometimes characterized himself as a “nihilist.”
He was also present at a “March for Free Speech” rally in April where he acted aggressively while carrying a baseball bat and draped in an American flag.
One man in the courtroom Wednesday wore a homemade T-shirt reading “Trump is a Nazi” in black marker, and a patch with a swastika circled and crossed out.
“Too bad we don’t have the death penalty,” the man, who declined to speak to reporters, muttered outside the courtroom.
Capital punishment is legal in Oregon, but former Governor John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions in 2011.