‘Hell Followed’ Minuteman Leader Shawna Forde

August 16, 2013

By Mark R. Day

Shawna Forde

Shawna Forde

Back in 2006, a collection of anti-immigrant groups called the Minutemen made a big splash with their citizen border patrols and warnings about an illegal immigrant invasion. However, after 2009 they began to lose their edge and fade from the news media they so carefully cultivated.

Several factors led to their demise, but none was so powerful as the 2009 murder of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father, Junior Flores by Minuteman leader Shawna Forde and her accomplices, Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola.

David Neiwert chronicles the rise and fall of the Minuteman movement and the trial and conviction of the Flores’ murderers in his excellent new book, “And Hell Followed Her.”

Shawna Forde’s story provides the narrative thread of Neiwert’s book, but he also gives us an in depth look at the Minuteman movement, its key protagonists and the hate-filled rhetoric and paranoia that pushed people like Forde to commit violent, racist attacks and criminal deeds.

Neiwert profiles two of the Minutemen’s key leaders, Jim Gilchrist of the California-based Minuteman Project and Chris Simcox, head of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in Arizona.

As with most of the movement’s leaders, both men showed signs of egomania, authoritarianism and a lack of accountability for hundreds of thousands of dollars they raised from their devoted followers.

This led to numerous lawsuits, divisions, splinter groups and confusion about the Minutemen’s agenda to control our borders from the perceived threats of illegal immigration.

Lack of discipline and the absence of vetting candidates also led to the movement’s collapse. This was particularly true with their so-called “musters” at the U.S. Mexican border in California and Arizona.

Dropouts, misfits, white supremacists and individuals with criminal records mixed with ordinary folks who believed the U.S. Border Patrol needed the assistance of “neighborhood watch volunteers.”

That led to endless power struggles and occasional fist fights between warring factions. It also made Border Patrol wary of these well-armed, self-appointed vigilantes.

Enter Shawna Forde, another volunteer the Minutemen leadership failed to vet. A fortyish, thrice divorced native of Washington state with an extensive rap sheet of petty theft and prostitution, Forde finagled herself into key leadership positions with both Gilchrist’s and Simcox’s factions.

Eventually, Forde branched out on her own and founded the Minutemen American Defense (M.A.D.) telling her friends that she wanted to take the fight against illegal immigration “to a new level.”

For a while she teamed up with Glenn Spencer of the American Border Patrol at his hi-tech surveillance ranch near the Arizona border. But he evicted her, wrote Neiwert, when Spencer heard she was servicing other Minuteman in a trailer on his property.

Neiwert does an excellent job showing how the national news media reported the Minutemen’s border patrols uncritically, seldom questioning their statements and claims.

CNN’s Casey Wian, for example, quoted Chris Simcox who said his group had turned in 6,000 suspects from 26 different countries to the Border Patrol and expected 1,200 volunteers to come to 2005 “border watch.”

None of this was true. Only a handful of volunteers joined the patrols. The press vastly outnumbered them, yet lionized their paltry and misguided “operations.”

Meanwhile, Forde made no secret about how to raise money for M.A.D.’s border “missions,” bragging openly about confiscating the ill-gotten gains of drug trffickers.

On May 30, 2009, she and her accomplices targeted Junior Flores, who she believed had amassed a fortune as a marijuana smuggler.

Flores and his wife, Gina, lived in a trailer with their two daughters, Alexandra and Brisenia, near Arivaca, Arizona.

Neiwert recreated the murder scene at the Flores home with skillful reporting reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, showing its brutal effect on the family and community.

When Forde and her accomplices, Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola left the Flores trailer that night, both Junior Flores and nine-year-old Brisenia Flores lay shot to death, and Gina was seriously wounded.

Since the assailants left a mountain of evidence behind, it didn’t take the jury long to decide their fate. Forde, who masterminded the murder plot was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death.

Triggerman Jason Bush was found guilty of murder and given he death sentence; Albert Glaxiola was also found guilty but received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

From that point on, the Minuteman movement went downhill. As for Jim Gilchrist, shifting demographics and political winds have changed in his native Orange County and local Republicans no longer demonize undocumented immigrants.

Chris Simcox resigned from the Minuteman Civil Defense Project in 2010. In June, 2013 he was arrested on multiple counts of child molestation of three girls under the age of 10, ending his career as a border watcher.

As the Minuteman brand faded, its remaining leaders migrated to the Tea Party. But their rhetoric is no longer so edgy and they have ceased patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.

Neiwert concludes his book by posing the choices Americans have as immigration reform is debated. We can choose nativism and the language of dehumanization or we can choose common sense solutions that respect the dignity of immigrants.

But we’d better hurry up, because time is running out.

Mark Day, mday700@

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