While Randy Furniss strolled with his hands inside his pockets Thursday during Richard Spencer’s speech at UF, a group of protesters attacked him.
Furniss’ appearance prompted the swarm of people. He wore a white shirt with four black swastikas and beige shorts that showcased a swastika tattoo on his lower leg.
“I wanted to see what Spencer had to say,” said Furniss, who said he identifies as a former racist.
The 31-year-old said he attended the white supremacist’s speech out of curiosity and wore the shirt with swastikas, which he got when he was a teenager, because he wanted to ensure he got an event ticket.
When Julius Long, a black man who attended the event to understand Spencer’s followers’ point of view, saw some of the 2,500 protesters chasing Furniss, he jumped in.
“I didn’t see racism from him, but I did see a lot of racism from people who had ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirts on and ‘Love Conquers All’ signs,” said Long, a rapper and promoter from Gainesville.
As Long, 29, watched the police hold Furniss forcefully to the ground, he said he recalled how many times he had found himself in Furniss’ position.
So he offered Furniss a ride to his car and an open mind.
Long and Furniss ate chicken and waffles together at Celebrity’s Soul Food. Long drove Furniss to the Gainesville Police Department to file a report for his assault.
Long said social discourse is essential for people of all races and cultures to understand each other, especially for white people to understand what it’s like to be black.
“If I don’t explain it, how will they ever be able to look at it?” Long said.
Furniss, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood, said he started being a racist at about age 15.
“I used to hate everybody — everybody who wasn’t white,” said Furniss. “And honestly, I don’t know why.”
Furniss, who lives in Umatilla, Florida, with his wife and two daughters, said he refused to go to Walmart before because too many people of other races went.
But when Furniss was about 23, he shot a friend who he thought owed him money and, a year later, shot himself in the abdomen because he hated his life, he said.
“I’m trying to not be racist anymore, but it doesn’t happen overnight,” Furniss said.
Furniss has to remove his two top teeth after being punched in the face at the protest. He was also fired from his job after his boss found out about the incident, he said.
But Furniss said he doesn’t regret leaving his house Thursday.
“That shirt started a friendship,” he said. “It was meant to be."