GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Three supporters of white nationalist Richard Spencer were arrested Thursday after Gainesville police said one of the men fired a shot at a group of protesters on the University of Florida campus.
William Henry Fears, 30; Golton Gene Fears, 28; and Tyler Tenbrink, 29; all of Texas, were arrested on charges of attempted homicide. Tenbrink is also charged with possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. The three men were booked into the Alachua County Jail. The Fears brothers bail is set at $1 million each and Tenbrink's is $3 million.
"Yesterday people from outside of our community came to bring hate," Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias said during a news conference Friday. "The people of Gainesville showed them what our community is all about."
News 6 reporter Nadeen Yanes interviewed William Fears on Thursday hours before Spencer took the Phillips Center stage. Fears said he also attended the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, which turned deadly when a woman was hit and killed.
William Fears slammed Gov. Rick Scott for declaring a state of emergency to give Alachua County access to more resources ahead of the controversial event at UF.
William Fears said child predators are allowed to have their “twisted sexual conventions,” but “if a man says whites have right to exist they have to declare a state of emergency.”
His brother, Colton Fears, told News 6 partner WJXT that he also came to Gainesville because of the state of emergency.
“Is that man as dangerous as a hurricane?” Colton Fears said of Spencer, who helped plan the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
“I think that is very, very stupid that the government, what is it the governor that issued that? Yeah, that’s pretty dumb," Colton Fears said. "Ahead of the event too. Before it even happened. That’s pretty crazy. I mean, that shows you right there that they are not for free speech.”
Gainesville police were called to the area of 34th Street and SW Archer Road just before 5:30 p.m. after reports that someone had fired a gun.
Police said two groups -- one on foot and one in a vehicle -- got into an argument in the parking lot of the CVS at the intersection. They said it was related to the white nationalist who spoke on campus Thursday.
The suspects shouted racial slurs and were doing Nazi salutes, police said.
Investigators said the group of 6 to 8 protesters on foot left the parking lot, walked east on Archer Road and stopped at a bus stop.
The other group, in a silver Jeep, reportedly pulled up to the group at the bus stop and Tenbrink got out and fired a single shot, before getting back in the Jeep that then sped off, police said.
According to the arrest report, the Fears brothers shouted “I'm going to f****** kill you,” “kill them” and “shoot them,” before Tenbrink fired the shot, which missed and hit a nearby building.
Tobias said the Fears brothers were encouraging Tenbrink to shoot at the group.
Police said that as the Jeep sped off, one of the protesters was able to get the license plate and reported it to investigators, who relayed it to law enforcement in the area. An off-duty deputy with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office spotted the Jeep with the matching Texas tag around 9 p.m. on I-75 about 20 miles north of Gainesville.
Units from the Alachua Police Department, the High Springs Police Department and the Florida Highway Patrol conducted a high-risk felony stop on the Jeep at the 405 Mile Marker of I-75 North and took the three men into custody, police said. Two handguns were recovered from the Jeep.
Tobias said the same victim that had the wherewithal to write down the licenses plate number was brought to the traffic stop scene on I-75 and positively identified all three suspects. A fourth person was in the jeep, but was not present when the shooting occurred, police said.
“I am amazed that immediately after being shot at, a victim had the forethought to get the vehicle’s license number,” Tobias said. “That key piece of information allowed officials from every level of multiple agencies to quickly identify and arrest these persons. This was an amazing team effort by everyone involved.”
WJXT spoke to the accused shooter, Tenbrink, before Spencer’s event.
“They’re ashamed of being themselves. How more of a despicable creature could you be than someone who is ashamed and feels sorry for the color of their skin?” Tenbrink said. “I never owned slaves. Nobody here ever picked cotton. End of story.”
The three shooting suspects bring the total of people arrested up to five related to the event on campus.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell praised all the state and local law enforcement who responded to help protect Gainesville. More than 20 sheriff's offices contributed to security for the event, Darnell said.
"We had complete unknowns about the number of people coming to the area and what their intent would be," Darnell said. "The message was sent that Florida is a hard state and not to bring your issues, whatever they might be, of harm. We will not allow people to intentionally hurt others."
She said Scott's executive order allowed the county the resources necessary to make the arrests happen.
"This occurred and started with information from our citizens who stood up and spoke out against hate yesterday," Alachua County Sheriff's Office commission chair Ken Cornell said. "Unity and togetherness was the winner yesterday."
Hundreds of officers and troopers stood outside the UF Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to prevent violent clashes on Thursday.The school estimated it spent $600,000 on security.
Anti-Spencer protesters shouted, "Not in our town! Not in our state! We don't want your Nazi hate!"
UF cited the Charlottesville violence in rejecting an initial request from Spencer to speak at the university, but later relented on free speech grounds.
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