PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The man accused of racially motivated killings on an Oregon commuter train didn’t enter a plea at his first court appearance. Instead, he yelled while bailiffs stood passively by his side. “Death to the enemies of America!” he shouted, as spectators’ enraged chants of “Murderer!” reverberated through the cavernous marble courthouse.
Observers on a packed commuter train during rush hour on Friday said Jeremy Christian was ranting at two teenage girls, one of whom wore a hijab.
A trio of men stepped in and tried to calm him down. Instead, prosecutors say Christian slashed the throats of all three.
Two of the men, 53-year-old Rick Best and Taliesin Namkai-Mech, 23, died of their injuries. The third man, Micah Fletcher, 21, survived.
Christian was arraigned on Tuesday on charges of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and felony possession of a restricted weapon. Court records show that he has prior convictions for robbery, kidnapping and theft.
Fletcher, the survivor, attended Christian’s arraignment hearing. But with the courtroom full, many couldn’t make it inside.
One man in the hallway was distraught about being shut out of the courtroom. He told friends that he had been at Fletcher’s side when Fletcher left for the courthouse with a security detail.
“He begged me to be at his side for the hearing,” the man said. “He was totally freaked out.”
A man dressed in all black with rainbow-dyed blond hair approached the courtroom. Fletcher’s supporters eyed him.
“They’ll probably let you in, if you have court,” someone told him. “Do you have court right now?”
“No, but my friend does,” he said.
“Who’s your friend?” someone else asked him.
The crowd erupted with anger, shouting that he was a Nazi and a fascist. A brawl seemed likely, until court deputies stepped in to escort the man out.
They paused at the top of the staircase, while he threaded his long red shoelaces through the eyes of his tall black boots – a white supremacist symbol. A crowd of several dozen gathered around him.
“You dress like a fascist, man,” one person said.
“I’ve fought and bled for my race,” Christian’s friend responded. “But I know I’m a good person. I have no problem with any of you. I’m a mellow dude. I wasn’t wearing these boots to make a statement. It’s fucking wet out.”
When the man was gone, the crowd turned to someone’s cellphone, where the hearing was streaming on Facebook Live. Christian entered the courtroom, head thrown back, long hair spread over his shoulders and a defiant stare on his face. His court-appointed lawyer began to introduce his case when Christian started yelling.
“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.”
Bailiffs flanked Christian silently as his lawyer continued to speak.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Bushong told Christian his next hearing was scheduled for June 7.
Moments later, Christian was yelling again.
“Death to the enemies of America!” he yelled. “You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism. Die.”
The roar of the crowd’s furious response in the hallway was audible in the courtroom.
Teressa Raiford, founder of the activist group Don’t Shoot Portland, stood in the hallway after the hearing ended. Referencing past killings of unarmed black people by Portland police, Raiford said she was outraged by the suspected hate crime, but not surprised.
“This is white supremacy in its fullest, rawest form,” Raiford said. “It’s disgusting, but if you know anything about our local justice system, this is the expected result of a very lenient and biased system of justice. This is Portland. They have allowed the next generation to receive an inheritance of death.”