ASBURY PARK — The 22-year-old Scotch Plains man charged with aggravated assault after using pepper spray on an LGBT volunteer says he was defending himself and denies that he is a white supremacist.

“I’m half Chinese and also an ethnic Jew, so I cannot be a white supremacist even if I wanted to be,” Morris May White said in an interview with New Jersey 101.5 a day after his arrest.

Police say White got into a “confrontation” with a woman about 7:29 p.m. on Ocean Avenue and then used pepper spray on her. White was charged with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

White says the woman never placed her hands on him and she was not charged with any crime.

Prosecutors have declined to charge White with a hate crime, saying Monday that the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office "Professional Responsibility and Bias Crimes Unit screened this and found that it did not rise to the level of a bias crime."

Garden State Equality leader Christian Fuscarino said the woman, who identifies as non-binary gender, was among a group of volunteers creating signs for a Stand Against Hate rally planned for the next morning. The Labor Day rally, attended by hundreds of people, was organized in response to the deadly violence sparked by the Unite the Right rally last month in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Witnesses said White self-identified as a white nationalist and said he was wearing a T-shirt with Pepe the Frog, a symbol often used by white supremacists online, as well as a reference to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. They said he instigated the confrontation.

Morris May White is arrested by Asbury Park Police. (Giuseppe M. Grillo via Facebook)

White — who describes himself as “conservative but I’m not a nut job” — said he and his 20-year-old brother had gone to Asbury Park for the purpose of counter-demonstrating because “the stupidity and the ignorance of the left needed to be protested.”

He said they waved “Trump 2020” signs and he decided to speak to a group of four people making signs for the Stand Against Hate rally, which wasn't taking place until the next morning.

White said he and his brother were called Nazis by the group, but “some of them were nice enough to ask us questions and we asked them questions.”

“Eventually, the short woman or man – whatever he or she identifies as — approached me and called me a Nazi and got in my personal space, so I backed up,” he said. “I don’t want to get into a physical confrontation. I felt like I was being threatened.”

White said that at that point he grabbed his can of pepper spray from his pocket and used it on the person he referred to as a "man/woman." He said he then walked away from the scene.

“I didn’t want to get into a fight with any of these people,” he said.

“There’s nothing I like more than wholesome political debate. I know some people don’t feel the same way I do,” he added. “If they had told me to leave. I would have left. They didn’t ask me to leave.”

Giuseppe Grillo, who witnessed the incident, said Monday that White was the aggressor. He said White confronted him and four women outside a gallery where volunteers were creating rally signs. Two of the women were not volunteers, just curators of the art space, he said.

"He kept pushing buttons and insulting these bystanders," Grillo said in message to New Jersey 101.5. "We kept trying to tell him that we weren't debating, that no one is even mentioning Trump, but Mr. White kept persisting. Even his brother who was visibly uncomfortable with Mr. White's words, tone and insults, [told] him to 'stop being an a--hole. They're trying to talk to you.'"

"When he then said 'I hate you. I hate all of you,' the victim made it clear that she wanted to leave, but had to get past Mr. White. Mr. White began insulting her and she told him repeatedly 'I'm not touching you. I'm not touching you. Get out of my face.'

"That's when Mr. White pulled an object out of his pocket and sprayed her in the face" and ran away with this brother, he said. Grillo said he followed them as police were called.

The woman — identified in the Asbury Park Press as 34-year-old Allie Kolarik — said she was sprayed on her eyes, nose and mouth. She told the Press that she tried to engage White in conversation and he sprayed her when she tried to leave.

Grillo said White calling the trans woman a "man/woman" on social media shows that this was a hate crime.

"This was a bunch of people painting signs saying 'Peace and love,' 'Nazis not welcome' and 'no hate in our state' in an art gallery. I'm curious to know what these two were doing driving an hour away to Asbury from Scotch Plains with pepper spray or Mace at the ready."

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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