Three supporters of white supremacist Richard Spencer were arrested for attempted murder after allegedly firing upon protesters outside of his speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday.
Tyler Tenbrink, 28, of Richmond, Texas, William Fears, 30, of Pasadena, Texas, and Colton Fears, 28, of Pasadena, Texas, were taken into custody about 20 miles north of Gainesville, according to Gainesville Police. “At least two of the three have shown connections to extremist groups,” police said in a press release.
“Shortly before 5:30 pm, 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,” police said.
One of the victims got the plate number, and the Jeep was spotted by an off-duty deputy shortly before 9 p.m. The suspects were pulled over in a multi-agency felony stop on Interstate 75 North.
“I am amazed that immediately after being shot at, a victim had the forethought to get the vehicle’s license number” Gainesville Police spokesman Officer Ben 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.”
Two guns were found in their vehicle. Tenbrink was being held on $3 million bond and the Fears brothers were held on $1 million bond.
Tenbrink spoke with the Gainesville Sun before the shooting and told the local newspaper he’d driven out from Texas to hear Spencer. “This is a mess. I’m disappointed in the course of things,” he said. “It appears that the only answer left is violence, and nobody wants that.”
William Fears told the Sun that he thought James Fields, charged with running over protesters in Charlottesville, Va., and killing one, was justified. “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,” Fears said. “But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”
After Spencer finished speaking — protesters claimed many of the tickets and then left the venue, leaving a largely empty auditorium — and about 2,500 demonstrators cleared the area of the speech hall by 4:30 p.m., university police declared it to be a “mostly peaceful day.” Sean Brijmohan, 28, of Orlando, Fla., was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm on school property; the Alachua County Sheriff said he was armed security hired by a media outlet but violated campus gun rules. David Notte, 34, of Gainesville, Fla., was arrested and charged with resisting an officer without violence.
The protesters targeted by the trio charged with attempted murder reportedly were not demonstrating at the time but were walking away with their signs.
“Despite our worst fears of violence, the University of Florida and the Gainesville community showed the world that love wins,” said University of Florida President Kent Fuchs. “We’re exceptionally grateful to our law enforcement partners and Governor Scott for providing the resources necessary to ensure the safety of our campus and community.”
Before the speech, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Alachua County “to ensure that public safety and security will be safeguarded and critical infrastructure and public and private property will be protected.”
Scott noted that “prior speaking engagements involving Mr. Spencer at universities in Alabama, California, Texas, and Virginia have sparked protests and counter-protests resulting in episodes of violence, civil unrest, and multiple arrests.”