Portland police are investigating a fight outside City Hall on Monday involving former City Council candidate Richard Ward and a counterprotester opposed to Ward’s “It’s OK to be white” banner.

Richard Ward Submitted photo.

Ward has been displaying the banner in the city this month, drawing growing attention from counterprotesters and city leaders.

He said he and two friends were holding the banner around 12:30 p.m. Monday when a person wearing a hooded sweatshirt and mask came up with an “Antifa flag” and stood in front of them.

When they tried to move, he said, the person grabbed the banner and tried to tear it down. Ward said the person then “socked me in the face,” so he pepper-sprayed them.

They repeated the interaction, with the counterprotester trying to hit Ward again as he went to get his backpack, and Ward said he sprayed them a second time.

A spokesperson for the Portland Police Department said the incident is being investigated and details of what took place could not be released. No arrests have been made. 


The case is the latest controversy to arise over the banner, which sparked backlash this month after a photo of it was shared on social media and a city councilor said she was threatened for speaking out against it.

On Friday, several dozen counterprotesters showed up in Congress Square to block the banner and present alternate signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate has no home here.”

Jacqui Deveneau of Portland speaks to Nick Blanchard as demonstrators gathered on Congress Street last week. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Ward said he was familiar with the person who he said attacked him but did not know their name. Attempts to identify them Tuesday to talk about the incident were unsuccessful.

He also said he has body camera footage, but declined to release it to the Press Herald and said he also has not released the footage to police, though he said he did report the incident to officers after it happened.

Ward has said he holds the banner as a way of “taking a stand against people making nasty remarks towards white people and anti-white sentiment.”

“I’m not saying it’s better to be white,” Ward said Tuesday. “I’m just saying people have the right to be white and not be treated unfairly for it.”


The Anti-Defamation League includes “It’s okay to be white” in its hate symbols database as a phrase popularized in 2017 through a trolling campaign by members of the online forum 4chan that has been promoted by white supremacists.

“Statements like this are harmful because they totally deny the fact of systemic racism,” said Rebecca Nisetich, co-creator of The Anti-Racism Institute at the University of Southern Maine, in an email. “It’s always been OK to be white. White people have benefited from built-in racism for centuries.”

Nisetich said that when her grandparents immigrated to the U.S., they were discriminated against for being Jewish and Eastern European, but being white allowed them to benefit from government policies that allowed them to take out loans and purchase a home.

Her grandfather was also able to serve in the U.S. Navy and could access the G.I. Bill.

“Both of those life-changing programs were systemically denied to Black Americans,” Nisetich said. “Those are just two examples … there are hundreds, and each has a multigenerational affect on individuals and families.”

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