GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Three supporters of white nationalist Richard Spencer were arrested Thursday after a confrontation with anti-Spencer protesters that ended with a shot being fired, Gainesville police said.
The three men are from Texas and were in Gainesville for Spencer's speech at the University of Florida, which drew national attention and security from more than a thousand law enforcement officers.
According to police, Tyler Tenbrink, 28, fired the shot, after he and two brothers in a silver Jeep shouted obscenities, threats and chants about Hitler at about eight protesters, who were at a bus stop at SW Archer Road and 34th Street.
No one was injured by the gunfire, but Gainesville Police Department spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said that might have been by mere inches.
“Someone shooting into a crowd definitely has the intent of hurting or killing somebody in that crowd,” Tobias said.
All three men have been charged with attempted homicide, and Tenbrink, of Richmond, Texas, has also been charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
According to police, just before 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Tenbrink and brothers William Fears, 30, and Colton Fears, 28, stopped their Jeep to argue with a group of protesters on SW Archer Road and one of the passengers yelled “Hail Hitler” and other chants.
The protesters, whose names aren't being released to protect their safety, argued back and one of them hit the rear window of the Jeep with a baton, according to the arrest report.
The Jeep then pulled about 10 feet away, stopped again and Tenbrink got out and pulled a handgun on the protesters as the Fears brothers, who are both from Pasadena, Texas, egged him on, police said.
According to the arrest report, they shouted “I'm going to f****** kill you,” “kill them” and “shoot them,” before Tenbrink fired the shot, which hit the exterior brick wall of a nearby RadioShack building.
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.
“I am simply amazed that someone who had just been shot at was brave enough and calm enough to get that information to law enforcement immediately,” Tobias said. “That key piece of information was just what the law enforcement agencies that were working yesterday needed to bring these folks into custody quickly.”
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 found in the Jeep, Tobias said.
3 men share opinions during protest
The three men have connections to extremist groups or ideals, according to Gainesville police.
“Yesterday, people from outside of our community came to create violence and disruption, they came to bring hate to our city, yet the people of Gainesville showed them exactly what our town is all about," Tobias said.
News4Jax sister station WKMG 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.
“You have child pornography and all these twisted sexual conventions that are allowed to go on for sexual fetishes, but yet if a man says whites have a right to exist, they have to declare a state of emergency,” William Fears said. “I want to be part of this, because it's unprecedented. It's a huge part of history.”
Colton Fears expressed a similar sentiment about the state of emergency.
“A hurricane is considered a state of emergency, right? Is that man as dangerous as a hurricane?” Colton Fears asked of Spencer. “I think that is very, very stupid. Ahead of the event, too, before it even happened? That's crazy. That shows you right there that they're not for free speech.”
When he was asked about many of the protesters for Spencer's speech being white, Tenbrink didn't pull any punches with his response.
“They're ashamed of being themselves,” he said. “How more of a despicable creature could you be than someone who is ashamed and feels sorry for the color of their skin? I never owned slaves. Nobody here ever picked cotton. End of story.”
The three men remain in the Alachua County Jail. The Fears brothers are each being held on $1 million bond and Tenbrink is under a $3 million bond.
Tenbrink has a history of burglary, drug and theft charges and several domestic violence convictions.
Tenbrink pleaded guilty in 2014 to punching his girlfriend in the face, pleaded guilty in 2011 to choking an ex-girlfriend, who was the mother of his infant son, and pleaded no contest in 2009 to a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge. He was sentenced to three years in prison for the 2014 charge.
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