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Portland mayor aims to nix free-speech rally, fears ‘hatred’

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speak at a news conference after a man fatally stabbed two men Friday on a light-rail train when they tried to stop him from yelling anti-Muslim slurs at two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, in Portland, Ore., Saturday, May 27, 2017. Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, was booked on suspicion of aggravated murder and attempted murder in the attack and will make a first court appearance Tuesday. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

By MARTHA BELLISLE | AP

The mayor of Portland, Oregon, on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a “Trump Free Speech Rally” and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he hopes the victims will inspire “changes in the political dialogue in this country.”

It comes amid a wider debate in the U.S. about the First Amendment, often in liberal cities like Portland and Berkeley, California, and on college campuses, where violent protests between far-right and far-left protesters have derailed appearances by contentious figures.

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, and Ricky John Best, 53, were killed Friday as they tried to stop Jeremy Joseph Christian from harassing the women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, authorities say. Another who stepped in was seriously injured.

Christian’s social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence. He is accused of aggravated murder, intimidation — the state equivalent of a hate crime — and being a felon in possession of a weapon and is scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

The federal government has issued a permit for the free-speech rally Saturday and has yet to give a permit for an event June 10. The mayor says his main concern was participants “coming to peddle a message of hatred,” saying hate speech is not protected by the Constitution.

A Facebook page for the event says there would be speakers and live music in “one of the most liberal areas on the West Coast.” It says it will feature Kyle Chapman, who describes himself as an American nationalist and ardent supporter of President Donald Trump.

Chapman was arrested at a March 4 protest in Berkeley, the birthplace of the U.S. free speech movement in the 1960s that has become a flashpoint for the extreme left and right since Trump’s election.

The University of California, Berkeley, has been criticized for canceling an appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter in April and another by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in February. It canceled Coulter’s speech amid threats of violence, fearing a repeat of rioting ahead of the Yiannopoulos event.

Trump has condemned the stabbing, writing Monday on Twitter: “The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”

Wheeler said he appreciated Trump’s words but stressed the need for action.

“I hope we rise to the memory of these two gentlemen who lost their lives,” the mayor told reporters. “Let’s do them honor by standing with them and carrying on their legacy of standing up to hate and bigotry and violence.”

The mother of one of the targets of the rant said she was overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness for the strangers who died defending her daughter, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum.

Mangum told news station KPTV that…

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Bellisle reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Joselyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed.

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