02:17 - Source: CNN
Portland suspect in court: Free speech or die

Story highlights

From a 2002 robbery to rants in court, Christian's own words reveal him

Police are searching for evidence of the "suspect's extremist ideology"

CNN —  

He once got shot in the head – and lived.

The bullet flew from the gun of the officer who stopped Jeremy Joseph Christian as he fled on bike from an armed robbery and kidnapping. Christian, armed with a .38-caliber revolver, had demanded a convenience store clerk handcuff himself to a pole, then stole cash, cigarettes and other items, the clerk told police.

Christian did it, court records show, because the clerk didn’t “sell any winning lottery tickets.”

Now, 15 years later, Christian’s own words again have come back to implicate him – this time in a deadly incident that has rocked Portland, Oregon, in what investigators say may be a hate crime.

Christian, 35, was in court Wednesday in connection with his indictment on charges stemming from the fatal stabbing last month of two men who defended a 16-year-old and her Muslim friend on a commuter train. Another Good Samaritan was wounded.

That day – and on other occasions before and since then – Christian’s rants, often political in nature, have drawn the attention of strangers, even as his life otherwise has unfolded in the shadows and behind bars.

Police now are investigating “the information publicly available about the suspect’s extremist ideology,” they said. Christian faces two counts of aggravated murder, attempted murder, two counts of second-degree intimidation, being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon and other charges, police say.

Dropout lands in prison

Standing at least 6 feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, Christian identified himself in court last week as a transient who “does not know the last time he had a permanent address,” court documents show. He had no income before the May 26 stabbings, he told police.

A self-described “nihilist,” Christian dropped out of high school as a freshman and later earned a high school equivalency certificate and attended Portland Community College for a year, he told police.

He’s known to have lived with friends and briefly stayed at his parents’ home in Portland around 2002, during a four-year stint working at a local pizza restaurant, a police report shows. Christian’s mother told police at that time that her son had a marijuana problem, and police staff noted that he might need help for depression.

That same year, Christian was charged in the convenience store holdup. He served 7 1/2 years in prison, then was convicted in 2011 on a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, court documents show; it’s not clear whether he served time for that crime.

Under federal supervision, Christian in 2012 attended a Lifeworks treatment program for marijuana use, documents show.

After that, his paper trail vanishes. Then in April, just weeks before the stabbings, Christian caused a stir at a rally for free speech in Portland.

’Get out of this country’

At the event, he shouted at people and at least once uttered the N-word, videos from reporter Doug Brown of The Portland Mercury weekly newspaper show.

“I’m a nihilist,” he says while draped in a Revolutionary War-era flag, the footage shows. “This is my safe place.”

On the MAX light-rail train on May 26, Christian yelled racial and religious epithets, police documents show. Destinee Mangum, 16, said he confronted her and her friend, who was wearing a hijab, with hateful remarks.

“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” Mangum told CNN affiliate KPTV. “He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should just kill ourselves.”

Just after his arrest, as he sat in the backseat of a squad car, Christian continued to bluster, documents show.

“I just stabbed a bunch of (expletive) in their neck. … I can die in prison a happy man,” he was recorded by police video saying, according to an affidavit. “Think I stab (expletives) in the neck for fun? Oh, yeah, you’re right I do. I’m a patriot.”

Some passengers on the train had resisted him, he said, adding, “That’s what liberalism gets you.”

The previous day, he was caught on video – again on a train – making racist comments.

During his first court appearance on May 30, Christian, flanked by two guards, again ranted, this time about the First Amendment.

“Death to the enemies of America. Leave this country if you hate our freedom,” he said. “Get out if you don’t like free speech. You call it terrorism; I call it patriotism. You hear me? Die.”

CNN’s Dave Alsup, Carma Hassan, Samira Said, Paul Vercammen, Dakin Andone, Michelle Krupa and Madison Park contributed to this report.