A Muslim woman, who preferred not to give her name, prays on May 29, 2017, at a makeshift memorial in Portland, Ore., for two men who were killed on a commuter train while trying to stop another man from harassing two young women who appeared to be Muslim. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Terray Sylvester

Don't blame Trump for Portland killings

(RNS) When I heard about the murderous rampage of a known white supremacist shouting anti-Muslim slurs, I couldn’t believe my ears.


It must be another city in some far-flung European country that had enough of immigrants. When I got to my social media feed, sure enough, it was Portland, Ore., the liberal bastion of peace-loving hippies.

That very line of thinking is at the crux of our nation’s dilemma dealing with race.

The man accused in the attack, Jeremy Joseph Christian, was all over the political spectrum, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, even identifying himself as a Bernie Sanders supporter at one point. He was definitely a white nationalist and a well-documented racist by his own admission.

Racism knows no politics, and white supremacy is not a disease of a particular political party or ethnicity. Even people in my own Muslim American community have benefited from white privilege, white supremacy and racism for personal gain.

Oregon, where whites make up 72 percent of Portland's population and where voters preferred Bernie Sanders in the primary and Hillary Clinton in the general election, is just as fertile a breeding ground for white supremacy as the reddest states in the Union.

To be fair, in interviews with Portland residents over the weekend, many reiterated the city’s inclusiveness, insisting the murderous rampage is not normal. Case in point: The three amazing heroes who came to the defense of the two women on the train were righteous defenders of justice willing to risk their lives.

“To see people willing to put their lives on the line to defend us was extremely powerful and moving,” said Mohamed Alyajouri, a spokesman for the Muslim Educational Trust, a Portland-area Muslim Community Center.

Alyajouri described how Ramadan began just one day after the attack and a community iftar was planned to break the daylong fast. Planners expected 200 to 300 people, but 600 neighbors showed up, most of them not Muslim. After President Trump's first executive order calling for a temporary travel ban from seven Muslim-majority nations in January, more than 1,200 people came to the center to show support. The examples are plentiful.

The compulsion to characterize the Portland slayings as resulting from Trump’s election is faulty and irresponsible.

Both the church shooting massacre in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and the killing of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., the same year happened on President Obama’s watch.

The underpinnings and policies of the current administration, however, have done two things: given white supremacists a sense of legitimacy and mobilized people as a force for good.

Oregon’s history has made many parts of the state, including Portland, places where people of color do not feel truly welcome. Plenty of people trying to take on racial justice issues have grappled with staying in Oregon because the task at hand is so daunting, according to Zakir Khan, a member of the CAIR Oregon Ad Hoc Committee.

Khan said city officials have handled race issues with a perceived lack of transparency. Mayor Ted Wheeler even chose to leave a vigil for the stabbing victims, for example, rather than become a distraction, when he came under fire from the attendees.

This is a pivotal time for the people of the United States to decide what we want our legacy to be: an agent for white supremacists, or a country that confronts its racist history? There’s no way to whitewash this dilemma.

(Alia Salem, a Public Voices Fellow, is former executive director of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations)


  1. The Republicans blamed Obama for everything and were out to get him. Now the Democrats are out to get Trump.

    If not Trump, what brought the white supremacists and bigots boldly out in the open?

  2. Same thing as what brought out the killer burn-it-down black BLM forces during Obama’s reign. Let’s blame him too.

    People need to understand that the propensity for race-based murder and attempted murder is the same for all. Racists are out there on all sides, just waiting for you.

    At the beginning of Ferguson Riots, a lone white woman just trying to walk home, was shot by 3 or 4 black racist guys in a drive by. This was nowhere near the riot and police zones.

    She survived, but because she survived, and was white, and also because it didn’t fit the “Ferguson-As-The-New-Selma” liberal media gig, there was scant national coverage and Obama saw NO need to say **anything** against the evil deed.

  3. No, we can’t blame Trump for the Portand murders. But let’s not miss what Trump’s budget proposes.

    1. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice — which has long investigated hate crimes, voter suppression, and other forms of discrimination — would lose at least 121 positions.

    2. The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program — in charge of policing against discrimination by companies with federal contracts – would be eliminated altogether. That’s 600 positions. (Just last September, the office reached a $1.7 million settlement with tech giant Palantir for discriminatory hiring practices.)

    3. The Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice program — which combats higher-rates of pollution in communities of color — would be eliminated.

    4. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights — charged with investigating discrimination in America’s schools – would be drastically cut. The Trump administration itself has admitted these cuts will hamper its ability to conduct investigations.

    (Summary provided by Robert Reich)

  4. As I recall, the media was careful to differentiate between rioting and protests in Ferguson. Regrettably, people riot and cause damage to property and people. Like many pre-BLM riots involving blacks, the trigger for rioting was shooting of a black person. Apparently for young white males, it often is the their team’s loss at some kind of sporting event. And then there is G7 riots.

    BTW I really tried to find the incident you mentioned. I assumed I could Google for it as almost every event is recorded somewhere.

    Things you might have missed Obama saying “There is no excuse for the violence”, or defending the decision to not prosecute Wilson. However, it is true that all sorts of hate groups grew under Obama’s presidency from black separatists to the Klan and Patriot groups.

  5. No question, despite Portland’s recent history, Oregon has largely been hostile to people of color since its admission into the union and before. My father was a dark skinned Portuguese-American who came to Oregon in the late thirties. An avid fisherman, he hoped to become a commercial fisherman on the Columbia River but was rebuffed by the more purely white who pelted him with rotten fruit and vegetables; thankfully nothing worse. Happily today, even as the state remains largely white, things are improving on the inclusiveness front.

  6. Nobody has “brought the white supremacists and bigots boldly out in the open.” They’ve been there all along. You just noticed.

  7. This country has the wealth and income to pay for universal medical care, protect the environment, and sufficient enforcement of civil rights legislation. The real deficit is the morally weak congress members or legislators. We have a huge debt because of our obsession with military spending and the refusal of congress or legislatures to tax those with great wealth or large incomes.

  8. For those who decide to wear clothing outside the mainstream of the society they live in, they are waiving a red flag to some people. This applies to several religious traditions. While Americans have an ideal of total religious freedom, some religions are now equated with attacking our culture

    When I traveled abroad, I try to fit in by wearing respectful and appropriate clothing by local standards. When immigrating to a country outside of your own culture, think seriously about adapting to local standards. This will not stop all bigots by any means, but it may help bridge the gap. Unlike an accent or skin color, this is something an individual has some choice over. Western clothing can be modest without raising the anger of others.

  9. I do blame Trump in part for the Portland killings. In July, 2015, he blatantly took the side of white supremacists and other racists. Journalists covering these groups reported that they were now energized, believing that with Trump they had ceased to be marginalized and where now part of the mainstream. Since then, and especially since Trump was elected, they have been becoming more vocal and more violent, toward Muslims, Jews, Hispanics and African-Americans. They are Trump’s brownshirts, those he can call on at his racist rallies to throw out the black man or protester. They are the ones who have taken to the news blogs to promote white supremacy. They are the ones now openly recruiting on college campuses.

    And has Trump said a single word against the Portland killer ? Of course not. That is his base. While someone on his staff used the POTUS twitter account to express regrets, Trump has NOT used his personal account to condemn the white supremacists.

  10. Yes, there was a time when the code word was “swarthy”, a signal to exclude anyone from the southern half of Europe. America, despite the blindness of the Supreme Court, is still a very racist society.

  11. This guy is mentally ill as are many drawn to such ideologies. The question is how do we find and treat these people before they act out like this in a society based on freedom of choice and belief?

  12. Yes 45 has blood on his hands. The author apparently does not understand the psychology of how the leader of an organization sets the climate & culture. Anyone who is a “leader” and vomits hate, etc encourages their underlings/followers to act upon said hate. Just as Limbaugh and the author of the Turner Diaries spewed hate Tim McVeigh followed up by bombing the federal building in OKC. BTW, I lived there at the time. The same for the “Christian” Identity member who bombed women’s clinics and the Atlanta Olympics. Ditto for the terrorist who attacked two young Muslim women in Portland murdering two men who came to their aid.

    Hate speech inspires terrorism and it well past due that we acknowledge this reality.

  13. Its more than a mental illness as most of them can be controlled or mitigated via medication and/or therapy. He apparently has an extremely warped sense of morals which was most likely taught to him at an early age.

    BTW, as one who has PTSD I object to being lumped in with haters like him. Probably the only recourse is to remove him from civilized society.

  14. The War Budget of the US is greater than the war budgets of the next 20 countries. We could cut the war budget in half and still be #1. Ike warned us of the Military Industrial Complex but we utterly failed to pay attention.

    BTW, does a tradesman/woman buy a tool just to lay around gathering dust? I think not. A country does not build a powerful military just to have around. Just like ancient Rome the US puts its military to use, many/most times for ill.

  15. Well, I don’t think this has ever had the chance to be treated medically. Someone who is so angry all the time is mentally ill which probably was aggravated by the way they were treated.

    As far as deciding how he should be treated I’m always going to error on the side of love and compassion, for against these things there is no law. Being too judgmental – well we were all warned about that.

  16. Duelling errors:
    The Republicans blamed Obama for everything and were out to get him. The Democrats blame Trump for everything and are out to get him.

    “If not Trump, what brought the white supremacists and bigots boldly out in the open?”
    This guy in Portland was waaay out in the open (and “boldly”so) long before Trump even came into office. Does that mean we can blame Obama for his rather stunning personal dysfunction? Get real.

  17. “Swarthy” is a legitimate descriptive term apart from usage in a racist context, but I get your point. I think racism, along with other social and cultural ills, will always be with us. Here and elsewhere. My obligation is to negate and resist it.

  18. I am unclear whether you are talking about Trump or the Portland killer.

  19. Yeah, the sociopathic narcissist with early dementia is another story.

  20. He did say the murders were “unacceptable”, which is a very curious choice of words indeed.

  21. There a plenty of ameican Born Muslim women who wear a head scarf. So, you are saying g they should just blend in?

    Funny, I was attacked twice for being a gay man walking in my own neighborhood, doing nothing but walking. I probably choked not have dared to do that,

  22. I need to respectfully disagree with your statement: “Someone who is so angry all the time is mentally ill which probably was aggravated by the way they were treated.”

    Having taught for 10 years in a high school vocational-technical education program I’ve seen a number of offspring who had an extremely warped sense of morals. I also saw the same while teaching in higher education for 20 years. They are not mentally ill, but have a sense of right & wrong which includes racism and other forms of bigotry. If these beliefs were defined as a mental illness 45 would never been elected.

  23. Again, I will error on the side of love and compassion, there is no down side to that now or in the hear after.

  24. I guess that includes the Amish and Mennonites.

  25. There is nothing in their religion that requires all that extra clothing just be modest in dress. The women and their parents should have been sensitive to the issues that in your face religion on the streets brings up in America.

  26. Unlike the military industrial complex; corporate agriculture; big oil; the pharmaceutical industry; the lobbyist that own congress members, legislators, senators or political hacks; the oligarchies, and many of the 1%, I do not think of the government as my daddy. Entitlements are what we have earned by paying taxes or working for the government. The budget, tax structure, and many regulations have been twisted to help too many corporate interests with little benefit to the average citizen.

  27. I’m posting this from Common Defense as it cannot be said more eloquently:

    Just before Memorial Day, when we honor those who have fallen in
    service to our country, two military veterans were murdered by white
    supremacist terrorists.

    Richard Collins was attacked and stabbed to death at Bowie State
    university. A few days later in Portland, Oregon, Army veteran Ricky
    Best was killed on a train while standing up for a pair of Muslim girls
    being harassed by a violent Neo-Nazi racist.

    Trump was apparently too busy to deliver a full-throated condemnation
    against the two atrocious acts of violence. Now he’s cutting funding for
    groups working against extremism, racist violence, and hate here in the
    United States.1

    Well I have a few things to say to Mr. Trump: I didn’t
    swear an oath to protect my country just to look the other way when
    neo-nazis murder members of my community. I didn’t swear an oath to
    defend the Constitutional rights of all Americans, just to stand by
    while this illegitimate administration encourages violence and fans the
    flames of discrimination and xenophobia. That’s why I’m asking
    all of you — our supporters — to join me in honoring the legacy of
    veterans who laid down their lives standing up to hate.

    We must take a stand and honor these Americans. Add your name today demand that Congress forces Trump to reinstate funding for anti-hate advocacy.

    When we are attacked, our leaders are supposed stand in solidarity with
    the victims — not ignore the travesty and refuse to comment. When we
    are attacked, our leaders should work to stop it from happening again —
    not strip funding from the very groups that work to prevent racist
    radicalization by right-wing extremists.

    I’ll put it bluntly: Donald Trump is not a leader. He has repeatedly trampled the values and principles we hold most dear, and I refuse to sit idly as he does it. That’s why I’m asking you:

    Add your name and together, we can pressure Congress into undoing Trump’s
    disastrous mistakes. White supremacy and Neo Nazi terrorism have no
    place in this country, and we can’t let Trump get away with supporting

    With hate being weaponized against us by Trump, and our government
    failing to act, it falls on us to speak out and fight to defeat the
    rampant bigotry and White Supremacy that has plagued our country — not
    just in the oval office, but in Portland Oregon and at Bowie State
    University, too.

    In solidarity,

    Alexander McCoy

    U.S. Marine Corps veteran

    Common Defense

  28. I looked over the article referenced, and apart from a few quibbles over points of emphasis it seemed a reasonably articulated piece.

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