Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Mentally Ill?" or "Christian Terrorist"?

Article in Willamette Week. Jeff Christian is wearing the flag.

Jeffery Joseph Christian kills two men on Tre-Met train.   Who gets the blame?

Trump?  Christians?  Racists?  The mentally ill?  The transit district?  The teenager wearing a scarf?

Murder on Tri-Met.   A man began shouting anti-Muslim comments against two girls in their mid-teens, one of whom was returning from worship services and was wearing a head scarf.   Several men on the train intervened.   They were stabbed.  Two were killed and one was hospitalized and is expected to live.

The murderer had taken the name Jeffery Joseph Christian.  He wanted to make a point of his religion.  He has attended white supremacist gatherings.  His rants to the girls were understood by others on the bus to have been racist, white supremacist, anti-Muslim hate speech.

There are a variety of issues involved.

   1. The good-hearted heroism of the three good Samaritans, who were stabbed trying to defend young women being harassed on a train.

   2. The inherent risks of mass transit.  Mass transit is controversial in Portland.  City fathers have been pushing it through infrastructure priorities against the will of a great many people who think it unrealistic and socialistic.  People like their cars, and Portland is not New York City or Boston; Portland's growth was built around cars, not subways or light rail lines.  Portland has been nudging people into mass transit rather than cars with zoning and infrastructure decisions.  This is a setback.

  3.  Media coverage.   Oregon newspapers and television treat this as a top story, with the anti-Muslim animus being front and center. Fox News, Breitbart, and Drudge ignore the story.   It is nowhere to be seen.   They don't see this as a terror story.   If it were it would be linked to killings in Orlando and San Bernardino and Paris and the Boston Marathon.   

   4. Framing the debate: Mentally Ill or Christian Terrorist.  Murders by racist Christians like Timothy McVey in Oklahoma City and Dylann Roof in Charleston and now Jeffrey Christian in Portland are framed as mental health and competency issues, a deluded person does some evil act.  Jeffrey Christian is understood to be representative of something:  representative of crazy people--not representative of white people, Christians, or people who voted for Trump.

   5. Backlash against liberals and Democrats.   Murders by self-described Christians simply do not fit a narrative of anti-American terror.  Fox and Breitbart can ignore it but some citizens openly announce their resentment that there is any equivalency between terrorist acts by Muslims and Christians.    They distinguish between Jeffrey Christian and the Orlando or San Bernardino shooters.  Jeffrey Christian is not "one of them" or a representative of "their team" or indeed anyone's team.   He is a one-off.

The TriMet driver is an example of people feeling that backlash.  They understand Islamic terror incidents to be guided by a broader guerrilla war of organized opposition to Western culture.  The actions of Christian racists are affirmations--misguided, but still affirmations-- of Western culture, and only similar to Islamic terror in the tactic of terror and murder.  They understand that the notion of "war on terror" is incorrect. Muslims are making war on Americans.  Murder by Muslims and murder by Christians are both wrong, but the dangers are very different because they differ in intent and goal.   There will always be random crazy people who murder--people like Jeffrey Christian--but Muslims who kill are like an infectious disease.  There is a danger of contagion.

Pushback in Facebook

The driver of the bus wrote a Facebook post which condemns Democrats for making the equivalency she considers false.  Jeffrey Christian was evil and mentally ill.  Islamic murderers are soldiers fighting America.   Don't confuse the two, and don't blame Trump, she writes.


  1. Again extremely pertinent observations.

    I posit that Regressive attitudes are symptomatic of mental illness, and that our society is experiencing an epidemic. At the extremes racism is irrational fear that triggers the "flight or fight" response and the aggressive behaviors we see are the result of these paranoias given free rein. Mental illness distorts reality in that those that suffer from it don't know they are ill, see threats where none exist, and most importantly are very susceptible to suggestions that reinforce their fears.

    I realize it's a stretch to characterize a political point of view as a health crises, but given the symptoms the connection seems worthy of consideration.

  2. I am mortified by the response of the bus driver, making the assumption that these.were immigrants or illegal women. Many of these outbursts have been pointed at legitimate citizens of this country. That she blames the liberals is ghastly! I understand the comment of the reader, Rick, but treating this as a mental illness would get the perpetrator a light sentence, and I don't want this man back on the street!. I am also mortified that Trump has allegedly changed the watch lists to include only Islmamic terrorists, so that only conscientious local police departments would be keeping an eye on these white supremacists.


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