Amidst a statewide emergency issued over his appearance at University of Florida, White nationalist leader Richard Spencer told the audience at his speech last Thursday (October 19) that he bore no responsibility for the day’s Unite the Right rally that devolved into lethal violence. Mere hours later, the Gainesville Police Department arrested three of his supporters for trying to shoot protesters.
The department announced on Friday (October 20) that its officers arrested Tyler Tenbrink and brothers William and Colton Fears late Thursday night. The men face felony attempted homicide charges. The announcement explains the violent confrontation:
Shortly before 5:30pm, it was reported that a silver Jeep stopped to argue with a group of protesters and began threatening, offering Nazi salutes and shouting chants about Hitler to the group that was near the bus stop. During the altercation, Tenbrink produced a handgun while the Fears brothers encouraged him to shoot at the victims. Tenbrink fired a single shot at the group which thankfully missed the group and struck a nearby building. The suspects then fled in a silver Jeep.
An off-duty Alachua County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrested the three Houston-area residents almost three-and-a-half hours later. Tenbrink, who the Houston Press says was previously convicted of an unnamed felony, faces an additional charge for unlawful weapon possession by a convicted felon. The Press adds that William Fears has a felony conviction for a 2010 aggravated kidnapping and currently faces another felony charge for allegedly choking his girlfriend.
Various advocacy groups and media outlets say that at least two of the three men publicly identify as White supremacists. ThinkProgress reports that the Anti-Defamation League identify Tenbrink and William Fears as members of a Texas-based White Lives Matter group. Both men participated in the actions in Charlottesville last August, and Fears told The Washington Post afterwards that he developed his beliefs while incarcerated: "I don’t think any race experiences racism in the modern world the way that White people do in a jail."
Fears spoke to The Gainesville Sun and other media outlets at the Florida rally in the hours before the shooting. "We don’t want violence, we don’t want harm," he told The Sun. "But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”
“I came here to support Spencer because after Charlottesville, the radical left threatened my family and children because I was seen and photographed in Charlottesville,” Tenbrink told The Washington Post. Tampa Bay Times reporter Kathryn Varn tweeted video showing Tenbrink hopping a fence to avoid protesters who surrounded him.
Colton Fears, while not as public as his brother or Tenbrink, was shown marching alongside his brother in photographs published by Getty. ThinkProgress links to a now-deleted Twitter feed, belonging to "Colton fears," in which tweets support neo-Confederate and White supremacist activists in Charlottesville.
"If it actually happened as it is described in the news, then it is an absolutely terrible incident and it can’t be defended," said Spencer in a statement to The Post about the shooting. "But I think we should all remember that it is a developing story.”
The Post reports that Spencer argued back-and-forth with opponents, who repeatedly interrupted and asked confrontational questions during his speech at the University of Florida. Anti-Spencer protesters outnumbered his supporters both inside the speech’s host building and outside, where they gathered to admonish his ideology and actions. Spencer, who is the is the executive director of the White nationalist National Policy Institute, advocates a White ethno-state.
The Associated Press/ABC News reported yesterday that one of Spencer’s speaking engagement organizers sued The Ohio State University after school officials rejected his request to speak there.