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Portland Man Believed In Hate

The Portland killings last Friday were an occasion of disgusting villainy and true valor. The two men who gave their lives trying to protect the Muslim girls from abuse and worse at the hands of a knife-wielding racist maniac are heroes, no doubt about it. Read this gripping account of what happened on the train that day, including the words one of the heroes said to the other passengers as he was carried off the train, dying.

Though he was screaming racist epithets at the two Muslim girls, it appears that Jeremy Christian, the alleged killer, is not so much ideologically motivated as driven by chaotic rage. Check out this Buzzfeed dossier on his public record. He has a long criminal record and did a stint in prison, where he established a record of assaults. He has championed right-wing fanaticism with a neopagan flavor, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, and racism. But he has also publicly supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, and said that he could not bring himself to vote for Trump. He is also a monster raving loony on the subject of male circumcision.

It sounds like this man had a demon, so to speak, and that demon was hatred. Maybe something different will emerge at trial, but at this point, it looks like there was no coherent ideology behind what he did, just evil and madness. We should take care not to impose our own preferred narrative onto this monster. It sounds like he grabbed whatever crackpot, bigoted ideas he could find through which to channel his rage.

Obviously that does not in any way justify those wicked beliefs, but for the sake of understanding what actually happened here, we should resist appropriating this story to serve a pre-written narrative. At one point, Christian described himself as a “nihilist,” which is to say, a man who believes in nothing. That might have been the truest thing he said about himself.

To be sure, we should not downplay the role ideology may have played in forming Christian. I don’t like it when the media are quick to dismiss the role Islamist ideology may play in forming terrorists. Similarly, if Jeremy Christian was catechized by white supremacy and related ideologies, we need to know that.

The point I’m making is that if we are to understand why young men give themselves over to this kind of all-consuming hatred, we need to grasp its workings. Was Jeremy Christian a basically decent, if troubled, young man who was radicalized by ideology? Or was he a ragemonkey who grabbed whatever he could to give expression to the anger possessing him? Or was it a combination of both?

For all that, there was a coherent set of beliefs and attitudes driving Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, who died trying to stop Christian, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, who was seriously wounded doing the same: love, courage, and self-sacrifice. May their memory be eternal. The only way any of this hate-driven violence and intimidation ever gets contained and rolled back is through the courage of men and women like them. I choose to believe that their story is the more important one to come out of this horror.

UPDATE: Reader Osman Amir writes:

Can’t the same be said about the young men in Europe committing these violent acts in the name of Islam? A lot of them have criminal background in petty crime, drug and alcohol abuse and other nihilistic behaviour, and seem to be releasing their anger and hatred through the ideology of islamic extremism. I doubt any of them were true believers in Islamic theology, eschatology, or deeply convinced by the epistemological arguments made in Islamic scripture or by theologians.

This young man in portland is the mirror image of the men in paris, berlin, london, and manchester. And I would venture further and group them in with the school shooters in their character formation.

All this does not negate the real problem of Islamic Jihadism but should give us food for thought in ascribing “islamic” motives for the heinous acts we see far too often these days.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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