An Anchorage man with a violent history and apparent neo-Nazi ties is accused of a weekend pepper spray attack on activists in Spenard.
The bearded, black-clad man walked in and fired a large can of acrid orange bear spray at 11 people learning about nonviolent protest at the Anchorage Community House on Saturday. Many in the space next to the Church of Love on Spenard Road initially thought the spray coming at them was part of the training.
Some in Anchorage recognized the man on surveillance cameras right away: Bret Fletcher Maness, a 53-year-old self-described patriarch of Anchorage's heavy metal music scene who has played in numerous bands through the years.
Others knew his darker past as a younger man charged in 1997 with the murder of a black neighbor, a crime of which Maness was acquitted even as the presiding judge called him a racist.
Anchorage police say they arrested Maness without incident in Eagle River late Thursday morning on charges related to the spray attack.
Maness lived in an apartment above Tips Bar, according to a property manager. He was arrested in the parking lot.
Maness was initially taken for questioning at Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Anchorage, an FBI spokeswoman said.
"We were just looking to see if there was a federal nexus," spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier said, meaning something that would give the agency federal jurisdiction in the case.
Feger-Pellessier declined to comment further.
The FBI released Maness into Anchorage police custody, she said. Police took him to Anchorage jail.
Police and FBI agents searched his apartment after police served a warrant on Thursday afternoon. Officers emerged carrying a small box and a large paper bag of evidence.
Police said scores of tips led them to charge Maness in the crime Wednesday. Until his arrest, he was considered possibly armed and dangerous based on Saturday's crime and his criminal history.
Maness, over time, posted occasional racist, anti-Semitic or anti-LGBT comments on his Facebook page as well as more obscure sites where he sporadically uses language typically associated with the white nationalist movement.
Some of his social media posts indicate an affiliation with a group called "the Anchorage Stormers," a chapter of the Daily Stormer Book Club. That group operates "The Daily Stormer" neo-Nazi website, labeled "the top hate site" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The center also said Maness posted on Gab.ai, "the white supremacist alternative to Twitter," mostly about cryptocurrency but also "reposted a wide swath of racist, Nazi and anti-LGBT content," according to a post Thursday on the center's website by former Anchorage Press editor Brendan Joel Kelley.
Maness does work as a paralegal — his ex-wife said he got a law degree in federal prison — and also considers himself a pioneer of Alaska's heavy metal music scene.
His band, Hyperthermia, opened for Metallica at Sullivan Arena in 1989.
He refers to himself as the "godfather of metal" in a seven-minute documentary produced by the Alaska Public Media series "Indie Alaska" in 2013.
Maness responded with an obscene anti-LGBT tirade in a YouTube exchange with a commenter after the Indie Alaska film was posted.
His past includes numerous criminal convictions and violent encounters.
Maness has several criminal cases dating back to 1988, including a murder charge from 1997.
Along with the case involving shooting and killing a neighbor, he was also shot by Anchorage police in 2001 in Mat-Su as they helped Alaska State Troopers trying to transport him to Alaska Psychiatric Institute for evaluation at a girlfriend's request.
The 1997 murder case began when a neighbor, Delbert White, confronted Maness in his ground-level apartment with a two-by-four, according to court documents and news reports.
Police at the time said Maness had been yelling racial slurs and waving guns at his neighbor, who was black, for several weeks. Prosecutors argued Maness provoked White by shooting a pellet gun at his house that morning.
The confrontation ended with Maness shooting and killing White with an assault rifle when he came to the door, according to an Anchorage Daily News story at the time. Court documents indicate White was shot once in the hand and once in the back of the head.
Maness was charged with first-degree murder as well as drug and weapons charges after investigators found more than 200 marijuana plants and a cache of guns inside.
But a jury acquitted him of the murder charge during a lengthy trial where he argued self-defense.
The Anchorage Superior Court judge in the case, Milton Souter, later told Maness he believed he was a dangerous person and a racist who escaped the murder charge because a key witness was a crack addict and "a disgrace on the witness stand."
"So that's why the jury did not find you guilty, Mr. Maness," the judge said, according to a transcript of the March 1999 hearing. "It's not because they believe your cock and bull story."
The firearm conviction was later reversed.
Tinamarie Buffington, who called herself Maness' ex-wife, said he started out a good man but his personality had changed.
Buffington said she came home one day in June 2001 and knew something was wrong by the look in his eyes. She said she went to the Palmer courthouse and asked for a psychiatric evaluation.
Troopers arrived at the couple's Wasilla home, according to a filing with the state Supreme Court in the case. Maness fled in his motor home down the Parks Highway, troopers and police in pursuit. Maness grabbed weapons and fled into the woods, claiming to hear gunshots.
He hid in the woods for four hours before a police officer shot him in the shoulder, according to news reports at the time. All state charges in the case were ultimately dismissed, but Maness was convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He was sentenced to 10 years.
Buffington said she and Maness split up on their fourth wedding anniversary while he was in prison.
"It was just too hard. It wasn't the same person," she said. "The look in his eye, the way he sat, the way he looked, it was not the same."
She hasn't seen him since, she said.
Soren Wuerth, one of the organizers of Saturday's training, said reactions to the arrest will probably focus on Maness and his criminal history and potential mental instability.
But, Wuerth said, he hopes attention is also placed on hate groups that give traction to supporters conducting criminal activities.
"I know it's important he gets help, but there is this larger societal problem that we have with hate groups," he said. "I see this happening in Anchorage, I see people, even young people, are affected by the messages of these hate groups."
Tips bartender Kim Graham said she rarely saw Maness, who wasn't a regular at the neighborhood bar alongside the Glenn Highway in downtown Eagle River and "kept to himself" in his apartment upstairs.
"He's very quiet, you don't even know he's there," she said.
Graham said she also manages the dozen or so small apartments above Tips, and said Maness always paid his $600 rent on time.
"He was the most unlikely person," she said.
Maness was charged Wednesday with first-degree terroristic threatening, a felony, as well as second-degree burglary and numerous counts of assault.
Matt Tunseth of the Alaska Star and the ADN's Kyle Hopkins contributed to this story.