U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday condemned as “unacceptable” the stabbing deaths of two men who defended two young women being targeted by a suspected white supremacist on a train in Oregon.
“The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them,” Trump said on Twitter.
Rick John Best, 53, an army veteran, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, a recent college graduate, died after having their throats cut on the crowded train. They had come to the defense of two teenage girls, one of them a Muslim wearing a headscarf and the other an African-American.
A third man, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was wounded and hospitalized.
The attacker, identified as 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, had been hurling abuse at the teenagers when the men intervened. The Portland Mercury newspaper said Christian—who has been charged on two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder—was a known white supremacist and rightwing extremist.
Trump’s message, sent just before he attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the Arlington military cemetery near Washington, came amid rising pressure on the president to condemn the slayings of the two men, dubbed “heroes” by local media and law enforcement in Portland.
Dan Rather, the former TV news anchor, said in an open letter to the president on Facebook on Sunday that the men “were brave Americans who died at the hands of someone who, when all the facts are collected, we may have every right to call a terrorist. Their names were Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best. One was a recent college graduate. The other was an army veteran and father of four. I wish we would hear you say these names, or even just tweet them.” It has been shared more than 150,000 times. “This story may not neatly fit into a narrative you pushed on the campaign trail and that has followed you into the White House,” Rather said in his post. “They were not killed by an undocumented immigrant or a ‘radical Islamic terrorist.’ They were killed in an act of civic love, facing down a man allegedly spewing hate speech directed at two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab,” wrote Rather.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, has noted a sharp rise in the number of both anti-Muslim groups and bias incidents in the past year. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate who lost to Trump in last year’s election, on Sunday condemned the Portland train attack on her own Twitter account. “Heartbreaking. No one should have to endure this racist abuse. No one should have to give their life to stop it.”
One of the young women who was targeted in the verbal assault by Christian thanked the two men who lost their lives helping her. “I just want to say thank you to the people who put their life on the line for me,” Destinee Mangum, 16, told KPTV television station. “Because they didn’t even know me and they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we look.” She said Christian “told us to go back to Saudi Arabia and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country… He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should just kill ourselves.”