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Portland Murder Suspect Appears Unlinked to Northwest's Racist Groups

The Northwest has a rich history of organized white racism dating back more than three decades, but Jeremy Christian doesn't appear to be connected to it.
Image: Screen grab of Portland murder suspect Jeremy Christian at a \"free speech rally\" in Portland, Oregon, on April 29, 2017.
Jeremy Joseph Christian at a 'free speech' rally in Portland, Oregon, on April 29.Sanchez, Rebecca (206453029) / Oregon Liberty Activists

The Northwest has a rich history of organized white racism dating more than three decades, but the man accused of an anti-Muslim outburst that led to the killing of two passengers on an Oregon train last week doesn't appear connected to the groups that have made the region their home.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, told NBC News on Sunday that the suspect, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, seemed closer in profile to the people involved in the slew of racist or allegedly racist incidents apparently triggered by the campaign and election of President Donald Trump.

"A lot of people popped out of the woodwork to involve themselves in bias incidents," she said. "They got set off by the rhetoric."

Related: Southern Poverty Law Center Reports 'Outbreak of Hate' After Election

Christian was being held Sunday in the Multnomah County Detention Center on two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted murder, jail records say.

But the special agent in charge of the FBI's division in Portland, where the crime occurred aboard a MAX train on Friday afternoon, said it was too early to tell whether the killings were acts of domestic terrorism or federal hate crimes.

Beirich said the SPLC was still combing through Christian's list of Facebook friends to determine whom he was connected to.

People listed in phone records as Christian's relatives didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Image: Jeremy Joseph Christian
Jeremy Joseph Christian at a 'free speech' rally in Portland, Oregon, on April 29.Oregon Liberty Activists

A Facebook profile that appears to belong to Christian praised Timothy McVeigh, whose 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people and was inspired by a white nationalist novel.

Christian also apparently complained that the American Nazi Party should be able to participate in Oregon's Adopt-a-Highway program and that the United States should be "Balkanize[d]." Referring to an independence movement in the Northwest, he wrote: "Cascadia" should be a "White homeland for whites only."

Beirich said the last idea has long been the goal among an assortment of white racists drawn to places like Oregon, Washington State and Idaho.

"If you wanted to escape the 'multicultural cesspool' of California, you could go there," she said. "People viewed it as an Aryan homeland."

That homeland had a name, she said: the Northwest Imperative, or the Northwest Protocol.

"I should add that the locals didn't appreciate it," she said.

In Oregon, a radio network broadcasts the show of a well-known white nationalist, Don Black. In the 1980s, a group called The Order robbed armored cars to help fund the Aryan movement, and in Idaho, the onetime leader of the Aryan Nations held annual gatherings at his compound to help foment that movement, she said.

There have been other high-profile incidents in the region, such as the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, or a 1984 shootout with the FBI on Whidbey Island, Washington, in which The Order's leader at the time, Robert Jay Mathews, burned to death. (Two of the group's members were also convicted in the 1984 slaying of a Denver radio host, Alan Berg.)

There have been lesser-known crimes, too, like the beating death of an Ethiopian immigrant by members of the White Aryan Resistance in Portland in the late 1980s or the 2003 beating death of a homeless man in Tacoma, Washington, by three skinheads.

As the Northwest has become more diverse, Beirich said, she's seen a movement east, toward the farther-flung corners of Idaho or North Dakota.

But the idea is the same, she said: to create a whites-only utopia. Or, as one person in Montana describes it, she said, "little Europe."