Three men who came out to support white nationalist Richard Spencer’s Thursday speech at the University of Florida were arrested on charges of attempted murder after one of them allegedly fired at protesters, according to arrest reports from the Gainesville Police Department.
Texas residents Colton Fears, William Fears and Tyler Tenbrink all were charged with attempted homicide and were being held in the Alachua County jail. Tenbrink received an additional second-degree felony charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
After departing Spencer’s event Thursday, where they had spoken to local press about their willingness to “push back” on those who oppose their message, the three men pulled their car up to a bus stop where a small group of protesters was waiting, according to the arrest reports. The report states they began shouting “Hail Hitler” and yelling at the seated protesters, one of whom hit the vehicle’s rear window with a baton.
The car sped ahead a few feet and came to an abrupt stop, at which point Tenbrink emerged with a handgun, according to the report. William and Colton Fears allegedly yelled, “I’m going to fucking kill you” and “shoot them.”
Tenbrink proceeded to do so, firing one shot at the victim that missed and hit a building in the background, according to the report. The men were apprehended by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office shortly after fleeing the scene. The report states Tenbrink admitted that he had fired the gun.
The Fears brothers were being held on $1 million bond, while Tenbrink was being held on $3 million bond.
At least two of the men have ties to extremist groups, according to Gainesville police. Tenbrink and William Fears also have attended previous white nationalist events, including the chaotic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed and many others were injured when white nationalist James Fields plowed his car into them.
Earlier Thursday, William Fears, who brawled with counter-protesters at Charlottesville, suggested to the Gainesville Sun that Fields’ actions were justified.
“It’s always been socially acceptable to punch a Nazi, to attack people if they have right-wing political leanings,” Fears told the newspaper. “Us coming in and saying we’re taking over your town, we’re starting to push back, we’re starting to want to intimidate back. We want to show our teeth a little bit because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly. We don’t want violence; we don’t want harm. But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”
Fears was arrested in 2009 for abducting an 18-year-old University of Texas student at knifepoint and wounding her repeatedly. He was charged with aggravated kidnapping and possession of a controlled substance.
He told the Washington Post earlier this year that the first white nationalist event he attended was a speech Spencer held last December at Texas A&M University, where he said he met people who looked and thought the same way he did. His Twitter account is full of posts disparaging Jews, Muslims,and black people.
Asked about the arrests of three of his supporters, Spencer told TPM he was “traveling” and hadn’t “heard of the story of the arrest.” After TPM provided a link to a story about the incident, he said he had “never heard of these men” and wouldn’t “comment on an ongoing investigation.”
“When I organize events, a chief priority is safety,” Spencer said, later adding, “I encourage all supporters to avoid violence and escalation.”
The University of Florida shelled out $500,000 in security costs to prepare for Spencer’s speech and Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. The event itself proceeded peacefully, absent a few minor scuffles between white nationalists and the hundreds of protesters who came out to denounce their message. Inside the Philips Center auditorium, Spencer was shouted down for much of his speech by students chanting, “Fuck you, Spencer!” and “Nazis are not welcome here!”
Spencer told TPM that their response was “frustrating” but insisted the event was ultimately a “victory” because he “persevered against protesters who acted like children having temper tantrums.”
The white nationalist often claims he is not a Nazi and does not advocate for violence. A video of him making a Nazi salute at a Dallas karaoke bar surfaced earlier this month.
Read the full police reports below: