A right-wing activist who caused controversy across southern Maine by holding up a sign that says “It’s Okay to Be White” was assaulted on Monday in front of Portland City Hall while demonstrating with his sign.
The attack comes just days after members of the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) called for the use of violence against him during an online video forum.
The activist, Richard Ward, formerly ran for city council in Portland, and his sign has set off a firestorm of counter protests, complaints to the City Council, and now violent retaliation.
“I was out in front of city hall with my banner, then this Antifa person showed up, and tried to put a sign in front of ours,” said Ward. He said the attempt to interfere with his demonstration led to a brief scuffle, then the person punched him in the head several times.
At that point, Ward used pepper spray to defend himself, which caused the assailant to flee. The assailant has yet to be identified.
Videos posted to Twitter by an anonymous user over the weekend show unidentified members of Maine’s budding socialist movement discussing the merits of using violence against Ward and other activists.
“The most effective tactic we’ve had in the United States for making Nazi’s uncomfortable in the streets, is punching them in the face,” a masked participant who goes by the name “Z” said in the DSA Zoom forum.
Other comments made by “Z” appeared to encourage DSA members to consider using violence as a legitimate political tool.
Those comments came just days before a masked left-wing attacker did precisely that.
Ward immediately contacted the police to inform them what had happened, and several other demonstrators who were with him provided witness statements. Ward said the Portland cops told him the information they provided was enough to charge the assailant with battery, but the identity of the attacker is not known at this point.
Ward denied the characterization of his activism advanced by many on the left, including the anonymous DSA members.
“I just thought it was crazy. The whole calling me a Nazi thing doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “A lot of my family is not white. A third of my family is black or asian. So I just find it crazy.”
Footage from the DSA forum where members discussed the merits of using violence against Ward was captured by an anonymous activist who describes himself or herself as part of Anti-Communist Action. The Maine Wire has not been able to independently authenticate the video, but DSA sources on Twitter appear to have acknowledged it as authentic.
In another clip posted by the same anonymous Twitter user, “Z” encourages her fellow community activists not to rule out the use of violent “direct action” as a tool to achieve their goals.
In another clip, “Z” brags about wielding influence over reporters at the Portland Press Herald, influence she says she’s used to shape coverage of local issues in the newspaper.
While the “It’s Okay to Be White” slogan may sound innocuous, left-wing activists believe it is a dog-whistle — i.e. a coded message — for white supremacy.
An anonymous source who also goes by the nom de guerre “Z” was quoted by the Press Herald in coverage of Ward’s earlier clashes with left-wing demonstrators.
“It’s not OK for these people to use really dog-whistle rhetoric to try and trick normal people who do believe in equality,” the paper quoted “Z” as saying.
“They’re using old white supremacist nonsense to try and muddy the water,” Z said. “This is the whitest state in America. Being white has always been OK. We’re trying to make the people of color and people who don’t have equal rights also feel like they matter and it’s OK to be them.”
The Maine Wire has asked Portland Mayor Kate Snyder for comment on the attack, and if she responds to our email we will update this story.
UPDATE: The anonymous Twitter user who uploaded the videos of the DSA meeting uploaded a new video Wednesday morning. The video appears to show a scuffle between an Antifa protester and Ward, though it’s hard to make out exactly what happened in the video.