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Who Radicalized Jeremy Christian? Alt-Right Extremists Rush to Distance Themselves From MAX Slaying Suspect

Two brutal murders on the MAX raise questions about what led to the actions of a man who allied himself with right-wing groups.

Even among right-wing protesters who aimed to upset people, Jeremy Joseph Christian was disturbing.

He arrived at an April 29 "free speech" march in Southeast Portland wearing a Revolutionary War flag as a cape. He carried a baseball bat. He threw Nazi salutes and shouted racial slurs in a Burger King parking lot. Twice, left-wing demonstrators grew so infuriated with his antics that Portland police officers formed a barrier to shield him.

The "alt-right" marchers even debated what to do about him. Some of them, leather-clad bikers, told him to shut up and tried to kick him out of the rally. Others seemed fine with him expressing himself: Unpopular speech was the point of the event.

On May 26, nearly a month later, Christian's hateful words allegedly turned into action.

He stands accused of murdering two men and wounding another who intervened as he harassed two teenage girls with an anti-Muslim screed on a Portland MAX train. Multiple witness accounts say he cut the throats of three men who confronted him.

Mayor Ted Wheeler has since asked for federal assistance to keep right-wing agitators from holding events scheduled in Portland. The leaders of local and national extremist groups known as the "alt-right" spent the weekend frantically trying to distance themselves from Christian, even as they refused to cancel a June 4 rally set for Terry Schrunk Plaza downtown.

Related: Mayor Ted Wheeler asks feds to help him block alt-right "free speech" rallies from Portland in wake of killings.

Wheeler says Portland is still too raw and angry to fully process the events of last week. But it's already clear that in the days to come, this city will want answers to some uncomfortable questions about Christian.

What turned a low-level stickup man into a monster? Should his actions reflect on the people who marched alongside him? What responsibility do they bear for the way Christian developed his hateful behavior?

At a May 27 memorial for the men killed in the MAX stabbing, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) described Christian's alleged actions as the logical end point of vicious rhetoric on the far right. "A message of hate leads to violence," he said, "and violence leads to tragedy."

Related: The accused MAX killer is a white supremacist. I know because I interviewed him last month.

Christian, 35, who previously lived with his parents in the Piedmont neighborhood of North Portland, spent most of his adult life either behind bars or under post-conviction supervision, the result of state felony convictions for robbing a convenience store in 2002 and a federal gun conviction in 2011. He was released from federal custody May 14, 2014. He told booking authorities May 27 he's now homeless and without any income.

His parents and four siblings could not be reached for comment. Several people who knew him described him as disturbed, but he told booking authorities he'd never been diagnosed with a mental health issue.

His Facebook page was full of racist rants, and a simple introduction. "I'm an ex-con," he wrote. "I like comix, cannabis and metal—in any combination."

His forearm was covered in Nordic rune tattoos, and the "Misanthropic Nihilist" philosophy he outlined online suggests he was among those radical white supremacists who call themselves "Odinists"—they celebrate pagan Norse gods as part of their race hatred.

Christian's social-media posts also make clear he saw himself as the street-level enforcer for a neo-Nazi movement larger than himself.

"Brown shirts are rank and file," he wrote on Facebook on Jan. 23. "Nihilist Criminals like me facilitate and run the show if we are talking about recreating the third Reich. You need unhindered and unhinged thugs for dirty work. A Good thing we have the largest collection of them in the entire world!!!"

An affidavit of probable cause says that minutes after he was arrested for the May 26 killings, Christian was recorded in a squad car describing his standoff with one of the men who confronted him.

"I told him, 'You ain't gonna heal, punk,'" Christian allegedly said. "And he still wants to put his hands on me. Stupid motherfucker. That's what liberalism gets you.

"I hope they all die," Christian continued. "I'm gonna say that on the stand. I'm a patriot, and I hope everyone I stabbed died."

Related: Read what the probable-cause affidavit alleges about Christian's recorded confession.

The question of whether Christian was a product of political fringe groups, or merely a disturbed man who was attracted to extremist rhetoric, is more than a matter of assessing blame. It may determine how much leeway such movements are given in future.

Christian distinguished himself among the disparate attendees of events organized by the alt-right, a collection of online agitators, militia groups and white supremacists who for months have engaged in street confrontations with antifascist groups, or antifa.

Joey Gibson, a Vancouver, Wash., organizer of the April 29 Portland march and other alt-right events, has since May 26 repeatedly attempted to distance his movement from Christian.

"Jeremy Christian has nothing to do with us," Gibson tells WW. "He showed up [to our march] with violent intentions. We asked him to leave several times. We did what we could. You can't make too much sense of a lot of things he said."

Related: Masked leftists are brawling with white supremacists in the streets of Portland. Homeland Security is watching.

On May 29, Mayor Wheeler announced he would try to block further activity by those groups, asking the federal government to revoke permits for the June 4 "free speech" rally Gibson wants to hold in Terry Schrunk Plaza.

"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 said in a statement. "I am calling on every elected leader in Oregon, every legal agency, every level of law enforcement to stand with me in preventing another tragedy."

Civil liberties groups blasted Wheeler's actions as a violation of the First Amendment. Other activists celebrated a crackdown on a right-wing movement they described as racists emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump.

Gibson says despite Wheeler's concerns, his associates still plan to gather in Portland on June 4.

"Unfortunately, there's going to be hundreds of people in that park, no matter what," he tells WW. "There's going to be a huge police presence. Violence will not be tolerated on either side. Do our march. Go home."

Randy Blazak, chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime, says the city should err on the side of allowing people to gather, including extremists.

"It's better to see them in the daylight than suppress them into the shadows," Blazak says. "I'd rather them march in the streets so we can take their pictures, and when they get on the bus with us, we know who they are."