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Spencer Rendahl: Patriotism In Portland

This past weekend we celebrated Memorial Day to honor fallen servicemen and women. I myself am daughter of a decorated Vietnam veteran, and while I don’t attend parades, I do pause and reflect on the price our service members pay to preserve our freedoms. The deaths of two Portland, Oregon, men last Friday, have reminded me that everyday citizens also make patriotic sacrifices.

Jeremy Joseph Christian was riding a Portland commuter train when he began screaming anti-Muslim rhetoric at two women – one wearing a hijab - after they boarded. A witness later said Christian called Muslims “criminals” and yelled “get off the bus and out of this country because you don’t pay taxes here.”

When three men on the train intervened, trying to calm Christian down, he responded by slashing at them with a knife. One of the men, Rick Best, an army veteran who’d served in Iraq and Afganistan and father of four, died on the train. Another, Talesin Namkai Meche, a recent college graduate, died at a nearby Portland hospital. The third, Micha David-Cole Fletcher, a university student, had surgery for his stab wounds and is expected to recover. Christian fled the train but was later arrested. He faces two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder and an intimidation and weapons charge.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks extremist groups and individuals. They reviewed Christian’s Facebook page, and report that he advocated removing Mosques and promoted Whites-only regions of the Northwest. He’d also been reportedly videotaped at a conservative rally yelling slurs against Jews, Muslims, and what he called “fake Christians.”

Sixteen-year-old Destinee Magnum, one of the women that Christian ranted against on the train, later thanked the families of the men who protected her. Noting that she herself is not Muslim, she said “they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we look.”

Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to Congress, praised the three men as representing “the best qualities of American heroes.”

I agree.

Everyday citizens can’t control divisive political rhetoric or stop hate speech on blogs and at rallies. But we can speak out and stand up for others. Maybe if enough of us are inspired by the patriotic actions of the three Portland men, fewer such extreme heroic sacrifices will be necessary.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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