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A year for Fears: Texas man gets a year for role in 2017 torch-wielding mob at UVa

A frequently convicted White supremacist who once dared adversaries to shoot him and launch a race war has pleaded guilty to a charge stemming from his participation in the torch-wielding mob that marched across University of Virginia Grounds in 2017.

William Henry Fears IV of Pasadena, Texas, made his plea Tuesday in Albemarle County Circuit Court, where he received a one-year term, the longest of any of the men who have been charged for their involvement in the 2017 episode.

“I made the decision to plea as a matter of convenience,” Fears told Judge Cheryl Higgins.

“The court is going to find that you are entering an Alford plea,” responded Higgins, noting the type of guilty plea in which guilt is not explicitly admitted.

Fears was among the crowd of White supremacists that marched across UVa Grounds on Aug. 11, 2017, shouting “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil.” At the end of their march, prosecutor Lawton Tufts noted that the mob surrounded a smaller group of counterprotesters, many of them students, at the base of the statue of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson outside UVa’s iconic Rotunda.

“The defendant was near the front of this group,” said Tufts.

The court has already meted out six-month sentences to two other members of the mob who offered prior guilty pleas. Tufts told the judge that Fears presented an unusually active approach to the counterprotesters standing around the statue of Jefferson.

“His actions in 2017 were differentiated from other defendants,” said Tufts. “That included him using a torch to hit an individual.”

Video posted by the left-wing media service Unicorn Riot shows Fears swinging his torch at a counterprotester while shouting, “Die, commie.”

Lawyers for some other defendants arrested long after these events have spoken critically of the prosecution, calling it political. Others have noted that their clients have been plucked from families and jobs more than six years after the events. But not Fears.

At the time of his Albemarle County indictment, he was plucked from a Texas jail cell where he was serving a five-year sentence for strangling a girlfriend. Fears has a prior Texas felony conviction for aggravated kidnapping as well as misdemeanor convictions for drunk driving and conspiracy to commit criminal trespass and conspiracy to receive stolen property.

Tuesday’s hearing had been slated to consider a motion to oust his attorney, and the judge asked Fears about that.

“I want to withdraw that motion,” he replied.

He then said he wished to also withdraw the motions he filed urging the ouster of the judge and prosecutor on the case.

“I do have some concerns about the whole system of public defense,” Fears said as he sat beside his court-appointed lawyer, Bryan Jones.

Fears complained that lawyers seem “overburdened,” and then the judge asked if he were satisfied with the representation he has received.

“We’re good,” he said.

Late last year, in a friend’s now-deleted social media post, Fears vowed to protest the prosecution by engaging in a hunger strike at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

“The protest is in solidarity with all who are being oppressed by the weaponized justice system as well as a continued protest against the desecration of my dead forefathers,” he allegedly wrote. “My political imprisonment from this time forward will be met with absolute resistance.”

It was a less peaceful resistance that Fears urged at Unite the Right, a rally planned in Charlottesville the day after the march across Grounds. Aug. 12, 2017, will live in infamy after an avowed neo-Nazi drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring several others. More than an hour before that, amid the chaos that had broken out, Fears grew frustrated that counterprotesters kept grabbing at the flag he was carrying, the standard of a White nationalist organization.

“Shoot me,” Fears shouted at them. “Fire the first shot of the race war, baby.”

Appearing in court Tuesday, Fears appeared healthy in body, but it’s a body that is headed for more jail time. The full sentence that Higgins pronounced is a five-year term with four years suspended and a demand for five years of good behavior.

The prosecutor revealed that when that sentence ends, the state of Pennsylvania may detain Fears, as he allegedly failed to appear for sentencing on a 2007 conviction for a felonious transfer of firearms.

Albemarle County is pursuing charges against roughy a dozen other men who participated in the 2017 march, charging them with burning an object on public or trespassed land with the intent to racially intimidate, what’s often called Virginia’s “cross-burning statute” which was designed to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan in the Jim Crow era.

Fears’ brother Colton Fears previously pleaded guilty in a related case but won’t learn his sentence until August. The first defendant to let a jury weigh his claim of protected speech, Jacob Joseph Dix of Clarksville, Ohio, goes to trial on June 4.


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