The Anti-Immigrant Paranoia That Drives Shawna Forde to 'Patrol' the American Border
The following is an excerpt from David Neiwert's new book "And Hell Followed with Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border" (Perseus Books, 2013), an inside look at the paranoid and anti-immigrant extremists known as the "Minutemen" and the terrifying story and psychology of movement leader Shawna Forde.
Shawna and the Belgian documentary maker have been talking music. Grunge rock, specifically. Nirvana, even more specifically. Shawna has been telling him how she knew Kurt Cobain personally. As he films her, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes up on the CD player in Shawna’s Honda Element. They are sitting out in the Arizona desert. He asks her to name her favorite Nirvana song.
“I like a lot of them, but I love ‘Teen Spirit,’” she says. “I really do. I love ‘Teen Spirit.’ That was like his first hit. His big one, you know?”
She pauses briefly, thinking. “I like all of ’em. Because if you listen to the words behind it—and he always talks about killing himself or shooting himself—because he was always really infatuated with death. But he never thought he would kill himself. I don’t think he ever thought he was going to kill himself. But I think everyone knew he would eventually.”
Sebastien Wielemans had written to Shawna several weeks before organizing the trip from Brussels to Arizona. He was employed by a Canadian broadcaster making short documentaries and was intrigued by the idea of a border project. He arrived at Shawna’s camp south of Three Points in mid-October 2008.
As with the Nirvana talk, much of what Shawna says on the resulting video is pure bullshit, intended to impress her international audience. Shawna emphasizes her concern for rape victims and the women crossing the border, and she talks about how all the Minutemen want to do is “save the country.”
There is a rare glimpse of honesty from Shawna, however, when she talks about why she goes out on border watches: “It’s an adrenaline rush. You get addicted to it. It’s an addiction. I’m an addict. I’m an adrenaline junkie.” She giggles at that, then turns serious.
“So, you know, what do you say? I mean seriously. I think once you’ve lived certain ways, it’s really hard to go and be humdrum. OK, I’m just going to sit at home, or I’m just going to work my nine to five Monday through Friday and have my weekends off, and in the evening I’ll watch my favorite TV show and I’ll go to bed by ten p.m. I mean, who—I’ll never live that way. I’d rather die. I’d rather die. Put a bullet in my head. Because—forget it. Because to me, that would be death to me too.”
As it happened, her husband, John Forde, agreed. He had just filed for divorce from her that week.
After Shawna’s jaunts down to the desert in August 2007, John Forde had pretty much had his fill of his absentee marriage. He gave Shawna an ultimatum: either she started acting like a wife and contributing to their household instead of running off to the desert, or he would divorce her. Forde says he wanted to stay married, but it was up to Shawna to change things. And for awhile, she did; for much of the late part of 2007, she backed out of Minuteman activities.
In the meantime, she continued her pattern of getting into trouble and then claiming victimhood. “Every single time it was always somebody else’s fault,” John recalls. “It was never Shawna’s fault.”
Shawna worked for awhile at the Sears hair salon at the mall in Lynnwood. During that time, she kept coming home with Sears goods, including a large painting and various tools and gewgaws. John asked where she was getting it all, and she claimed it was all on the square.
Then one day she came home and grabbed everything she had brought home from Sears and put it in the car and had John drive her to the mall. She now explained that it really was all stuff that she’d purchased using her friend’s employee discount, and that she wasn’t going to let her friend get into trouble. She said that she’d worked it all out with the security people and everything was taken care of.
John, naturally, knew better than to believe her: “I kept saying, Shawna, everything is drama here.”
Even more dismaying to John was the transformation in his wife since she had joined the Minutemen. He attended a couple of their gatherings, including an MCDC event in Yakima and the Immigration Summit at the Elks Lodge. He walked out of that one after about an hour: “It just wasn’t my scene.”
The vitriol the movement promoted bothered him the most. “It just is disgusting, the anger,” he says. “I wanted to help her, but it is not my cup of tea to run around and do battle and be angry.”
It obviously was Shawna’s. Gradually there was an increase in Shawna’s venom: “She began to get filled with hate and using the n-word,” he says. It got to the point that he told her, “You aren’t the person I knew.”
She was giving voice to these sentiments on her blog—titled “Shawna’s Corner” and written in her inimitably semi-illiterate style—at the MAD website. “See, there is a new white girl in town ... this one is not afraid and will not tolerate this, not while I’m on post,” she wrote. “We can all live in fear or we stand strong and tall and look the criminals in the eye and say ‘No more.’ I did not get involved in this movement to be a wallflower and as most of you know me you know I’m a hands on kind of gal. We have to do this so if you have area’s that are known to be [drug] traffic area’s and full of illegal’s make a stand start with local law enforcement, take pictures and build a case file.”
A vein of ethnic hatred and paranoia emerged as well. She began making offhanded remarks about “subhuman Mexicans.” “After they cross the border,” she wrote of immigrants, “they are taking over area’s of our cities, neighborhoods, schools with their way of life witch is: 1 Corruption 2 Lie’s 3 Drug dealer 4 welfare fraud 5 stealing 6 Filthiness 7 Gang code of ethics 8 violence 9 no respect for existing Americans 10 Hate. I could continue this list I have seen first hand and have been getting to know people in the Hispanic community so that when they say we should respect the plight of these pour people do not be fooled for one moment they think we are weak and stupid plus we don’t speak their language so they operate their own life styles under the radar. I would say 90% of all patrons here are illegal some just got her yesterday. These are not proud people they are nothing more than thugs.”
The hiatus from the Minutemen ended soon after Jim Gilchrist named Shawna Forde his “director of border operations” in February 2008 and she hosted his visit to Ellensburg. He assigned Shawna to lead a Minuteman Project unit down at an April border watch in Campo, California, led by Britt Craig, the Minuteman who, only a few years before, had defiantly declined to recognize Gilchrist as an organizational leader and had gotten into a tussle on the street with the local MMP leader.
It’s unclear whether Shawna actually went down to Campo in April. She did, however, show up there in August. Craig’s wife, Deborah, later explained in a statement: “In August of 2008, Shawna Forde came [to] the border at Campo, CA and contacted Campo Minuteman Britt Craig. She did not make any comments to indicate she was unstable or violent. She had a Minutemen Civil Defense Corps badge so she presumably had been vetted by the group. Minutemen Civil Defense Corps charges a fee and does a background check.”
The statement added that Forde and Britt Craig went to their operations center, dubbed Camp Vigilance, in separate vehicles, “where she was given full access by the caretaker. She purchased a bulletproof vest from the caretaker and indicated she planned to spend the night. She indicated that she primarily did her border watching in AZ, that she had her own group, Minutemen American Defense, and we did not hear [from] her directly again.”
Chris Simcox’s MCDC organization in Tombstone also organized a border watch in Arizona that April, held at a private ranch about forty miles south of Three Points called King’s Anvil Ranch, right in the middle of the Altar Valley. Lasting only a week, it was part of MCDC’s announced strategy of holding more frequent border watches of shorter duration.
They held another “muster” at King’s Anvil in mid-June. Reportedly, Shawna Forde showed up there, too, presenting herself as Gilchrist’s MMP representative in the field. She was asked to leave, MCDC officials later claimed.
“They had a military, bad-ass posture about them,” Chris Simcox later told a reporter. “She had made a comment at that time that they were going to be stopping any drug dealers that they came into contact with. They were going to be carrying long arms and not be letting people pass.”
Simcox claimed that MCDC officials kicked Forde out of the camp and contacted the Border Patrol, whose agents “went out and talked to them. And they B.S.’d them [the agents] as well,” Simcox said.
But Shawna was evidently inspired by the Altar Valley ranch watch, because she then set about organizing her own watch in the Altar Valley that fall. This was to be a monthlong affair, headquartered at a desert-ranch RV park about eleven miles south of Three Points called Caballo Loco, which MCDC had also used as a camping facility for its musters.
In the meantime, with her daughter, Jaszmin, in tow, she returned to Glenn Spencer’s ranch outside of Hereford in August and once again took up occupancy in the guest RV. By this time, however, he had gotten wind of Shawna’s multiple sexual dalliances during her previous stay, and he asked her to leave after a little while. She asked if she could leave Jaszmin behind at the RV for a few weeks while she did more scouting work for her fall event. He refused and says he instructed his staff not to let her return.
Shawna instead returned to Everett and dumped Jaszmin with some friends. She showed up at the Caballo Loco the first week of October in her shiny new copper-colored Honda Element. She had paid $30,000 for it.
She arrived knowing her marriage with John Forde was finished, obliterated by this latest spate of border-watching travel and absence from their home. Before she left, he told her he was filing for divorce.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” she had asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “I want you out of my life. I want this madness to stop.”
It was at the Caballo Loco that Shawna Forde won most of her media attention before the murders in Arivaca. Sebastien Wielemans was only one of several European documentarians to shoot footage of Minuteman American Defense’s Delta One Operations (as Shawna had taken to calling them) in Arizona. Another crew from Norway also arrived and obtained similar shots of Shawna and her ragtag crew cruising the desert.
Shawna explained her philosophy to the filmmakers: “We’re not a Third World country. We’re not getting people—scientists and doctors—here, OK? We’re getting the poorest of the poor. We’re getting Third World values into a first-rate country, which is dropping all of our rates way down.
“This is my country first. If you want to become an American, there’s a process you need to go through, because a lot of people do go through that process. So it’s important for us also to secure these borders. I think after 9/11, I think it made us realize what a target we are, and how many people out there want to see us dead. And I’m not sure what part of ‘I want to kill you’ we don’t understand, but I understand it. And because I do understand that, I want to do my part in helping to get these borders secured and educate Americans on the issues of the southern border. And there’s a lot of issues down here.”
This was also where Chuck Stonex first met Shawna Forde and became part of her organization. You can see Stonex in some of the documentary footage, defending their presence in the desert and decrying illegal immigration.
Shawna posted a number of videos from her Altar Valley operations. The handheld clips often focus on the garbage left in the desert by border crossers. One notable video shows Forde claiming to have found a “rape tree,” a spot where the illicit coyotes would assault their female clients. The weirdest video, by far, features Shawna claiming that Border Patrol had found bodies of drug mules duped by terrorists into carrying radioactive materials hidden inside their marijuana loads. Forde explained that the smugglers’ bodies couldn’t be touched because “the radiation is so heavy [it] will kill you on contact.”
A Boston-based photographer named Andrew Ong came out to try to document the Minutemen’s activities. His shots—which later ran as a gallery at the online magazine Daily Beast—show Shawna stalking through the sand in high heels and tank tops.
Ong told Scott North that Forde spent the bulk of her time on the border laboring over emails or posts for the MAD website. Ong photographed Shawna’s grand new tattoo: shoulder-to-shoulder ink across her back, the Minuteman American Defense logo—an eagle crest with the legend on its chest “Rule Of Law”—demonstrating her final allegiance.
In an eerily prescient scene, he also captured Shawna wading into a vacant desert home, gun in hand, wearing a dress and high heels, as she and her fellow Minutemen search for illegal immigrants. She was locked and loaded.
Ong tagged along on one of Shawna’s night patrols, for which Shawna furnished some night-vision equipment. As the patrol stopped to check a brushy area for smugglers, Ong watched Shawna pick up a couple of rocks and heave them over the heads of her Minutemen.
One of the rocks hit a hard object, producing a sound like a ricocheting bullet. Sure enough, the Minutemen were convinced they were being shot at and scrambled for cover. Forde was back behind them, quietly laughing. She saw the look on Ong’s face.
“Have some fun, Andrew,” she said, grinning. “Have some fun.”
The next day, Forde ordered the Minutemen to report the incident to the Border Patrol, saying they had been shot at. She also posted a video of the incident on YouTube as evidence of the hazards Minutemen faced while patrolling the nation’s borders.
Indeed, Shawna and the Minutemen eagerly regaled the Norwegian film crew with the tale of their harrowing close call a few days later. Stonex, who was one of the Minutemen in the group, described the event from his clearly gullible perspective: “We got ready to come out, and we spotted some fresh tracks, the driver seen some fresh tracks, and we got out and was investigating the fresh tracks, and probably got twenty-five, thirty yards down this little wash, and all of a sudden there was a gunshot and a ricochet that kind of fell between me and the cameraman. And we never did figure out who it was, but it was close. Some say it was a warning shot. I say it was a bad shot.”
It was also an opportunity to tout their own bravery. “I was out there with a flashlight,” Stonex added. “I mean, I was the prime target, I was the one that was fully armed. But that’s the risks we take here on this border watch. Right now it’s mostly drug cartels out here instead of people looking for a better way of life. It’s just these guys trying to destroy somebody’s better way of life.”
Stonex said it had been awhile since he had been shot at. “It was my first experience since I left Vietnam,” he told the filmmakers. “So you know, hey look—it’s what price are you willing to pay to protect your country? Here you got a problem going on here. You got drugs coming over from Mexico and South America by the truckload. I’m willing to pay whatever price I have to protect my family and my country, you know.”
Shawna made sure the journalists knew what stakes were at play: “Shootings and deaths occur on a daily basis out here,” she told them.
The whole scene left Andrew Ong shaking his head. “It was very, very bizarre,” he said. “It was not at all what I expected.”
Much of the reason Shawna got such an adrenaline rush from her life as a Minuteman was that it so closely approximated the kind of tough-guy action movies she loved to watch. She was out on the front lines, stalking the desert with a gun, making headlines, getting media attention. But up until the fall of 2008, all of her talk about investigating drug-cartel activity in the area had been mostly just that—talk.
Then she finally had a breakthrough that October in Arivaca. She made a connection with a drug-cartel figure. They had a little macho showdown at the bar. They shared some cocaine. Then he showed her his stash house. She took pictures. It was all incredibly exhilarating.
At least, that was the picture she painted in a breathless email she sent to a handful of Minutemen, including Jim Gilchrist, on November 3. She described how she had descended into the murky underworld of drug smuggling in Arivaca, leaving her deeply fearful: “Everyday I almost expect it to be my last. I have moved Jaszmin ‘daughter’ to a safe and undisclosed location,” she explained.
I met my contact in a Catina in Arivaca he had received a call I was in the area with a couple of others so he came to check me out, When this happened I order my guys around in front of him so he recognized that I was a leader “ it’s a respect thing” anyway I knew in my gut he was important but when we made eye contact it was confirmed he had eyes of a killer.
I ordered my guys to leave me there so I could work it out. I wanted a knife so went to car with them and had them give me a knife which was a sorry excuse for one but I took it and put it into my bra, armed with a cell phone a lipstick and now a knife I went back in.
Wow as soon as they left it was on I was surrounded by the most dangerous looking group of drug cartel that you see in movies and it was not a flirt session it was “Who are you, why are you in Arivaca? and they were hitting me hard and fast so I could see the leader sitting and watching me from the side to see how I would respond, I turned to one on my left told him to back off my grill and to go sit the fuck down because he was annoying me.
I seen the leader nod and then he started to laugh and came and sat by me next thing I know I’m in a conversation with him and we had the whole side of the bar to ourselves they all went elsewhere just from a nod. He was testing me so he asked if I wanted to get high I said sure, This is not a place or time to be holier then thou. So we got up went outside in the courtyard and I followed him to the bathroom on our way down my knife fell out of my bra he saw it fall I quickly recovered it and said ohh “my lipstick” I did not think he was paying that close attention.
we get in the bathroom and he takes out his 45 slides it back to cock it and looks me dead in the eye. If I could share with you the feeling in that 8x10 room “chilling” then I looked him straight in the eye and say nice gun. He puts it down on the sink we laugh “nervous laugh”
At that point, as Shawna described it, they went back to the bar, and then after a nighttime walk about the town, he took her to his “stash house.” At one point, she claimed, he asked to see her knife and laughed at what she produced, then gave her a better-quality switch blade of his own. “So we connected and were relaxed,” she reported. “I am planning on going back today sometime and hang I need to get his address and more pics.”
Shawna attached the photos from the stash house with the email, which was titled: “Stash house Do not share these!!!!!!!!! it would be my life.” Naturally, this meant that it was immediately distributed widely among the Minutemen, both in Washington state and elsewhere. As with many of Shawna’s emails, it caused a brief sensation in those circles.
It later emerged, of course, that the “cartel guy” with whom she had shared cocaine was none other than Albert Gaxiola. For some reason, she thought he was honcho of some sort, while in reality he was about a third-tier gofer, in charge of other gofers. But she didn’t need to know that. He was going to be her connection in Arivaca. If he played his cards right, she was going to be very useful.
Shawna was not able to hang out in Arizona for very long after her big breakthrough, however. There was a little problem with money: she didn’t have any. There was also the problem of the impending divorce from John Forde. The two were closely related.
John knew the divorce was the right thing when all of his family members—including his children, who despised Shawna—started reconnecting with him, now that Shawna was out of the picture. “The people in my family were like, ‘Oh, thank god. Thank God,’” he says.
In order to make the divorce possible, John had to take out a second mortgage on their properties. He learned in the course of doing so that Shawna, who always had cash on hand, was living on credit. She’d bought the Element entirely on a line of credit and had not made any payments on it.
He also discovered that Shawna had just been stuffing all of her bills into a shoe box. So he took them all, created a spreadsheet, got a high-interest loan, and paid them all off, including her jewelry bills; he even got her current on her car payments. So when Shawna returned to Everett in early December, she had her economic house largely in order, thanks to John.
Even so, she kept after him. “She kept wanting more money,” John recalls. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m not going to give you more money.’”
In the meantime, Shawna had found a new boyfriend. His name was Thomas Wayne Gibler, a slender, six-foot man with tattoos and a rap sheet longer than Shawna’s. Gibler in fact had fourteen felony convictions to his name, including a panoply of assault and drug charges as well as a high-speed police chase. The state had designated him a high-risk violent offender and placed him under active supervision. Apparently, he was just what Shawna was looking for; she introduced him to several people in Snohomish County as her boyfriend.
John, however, had not met him. At least not yet.
The divorce was being handled by a legal outfit called Peaceful Separations in Everett. One day, Shawna came in to sign some papers in the divorce and wound up chatting up the paralegal handling the papers. “She asked the woman, ‘What would happen if John died, or something happened?’”
In fact, Washington is what is known as a “community property” state—that is, a spouse is entitled to all of a decedent’s property if that person dies intestate, without a will. As it happened, John was worth close to a half-million dollars at the time. If that fell to Shawna, it would be her biggest haul ever: “She would have got the most money had I died compared to anything she has done—big time,” John says.
The paralegal thought that Shawna’s query was odd and brought in the lawyer because of it. The attorneys in turn gave John a heads up that Shawna was floating those kinds of questions and advised him to keep trickling money to her so that he could get out of the situation as quickly and cleanly as possible. So he did—not large sums, but enough, he thought, to keep her at bay.
John felt liberated too. It was December, Christmas was approaching, and he was enjoying life for the first time in awhile, going skiing and hanging out with his old friends. Some of them started telling him stories about Shawna, stories they had kept quiet about out of respect for John’s marriage. Now that it was over, they were telling him the truth. The more he heard, the more relieved he was to be done with her.
It had mostly been amicable. The only bump in the proceedings came when John rekeyed the locks to their duplex. Shawna complained bitterly to him, calling from what she said was an attorney’s office and insisting that she had a right to be in the home until the divorce was final. She threatened to bring cops if he didn’t give her a key. He caved and gave her a key to the back door.
Other than that, the proceedings were going smoothly—almost too smoothly for anything involving Shawna. “My buddies even said, ‘John, something is going on. It is too easy,’” John recalls.
On the afternoon of December 22, he got what he thought was a strange call from Shawna. “She asked if I was going to be home,” he recalls. “She was going to pick up some of her stuff.” She asked him when he was going to be home, something she’d never done before.
The whole situation felt ominous to John. He had felt twinges of fear and found himself looking out his window irregularly. What he suspected was that if Shawna wanted to hurt him, she would trash one of his Porsche Boxsters, in which he took a great deal of pride.
John knocked off work at five p.m. as usual and went home to their duplex. He was still in his work clothes, sitting on the couch, watching the evening news with Charlie, his Jack Russell terrier, snuggled next to him, when the stranger walked in.
The living room and kitchen were on the second floor of the duplex, so the man—a thin Caucasian of average height, mustachioed, his hands in his pockets—had entered from below, through the back door. At first, having heard nothing until the man suddenly appeared from the stairwell, John thought it was simply someone who had come in the wrong door and into the wrong home.
Then the shooting began. “He came around the corner, and within seconds he pulled out his right hand and started shooting,” John recalls. “It was one second, maybe two. I was ready to say something, and he started to shoot.”
Being shot, John says, is not the way it is in the movies. When you’re hit by a bullet, he says, you’re done; your body gives out, and you can’t move. “You are down for the fucking count, let me tell you,” he says. And you observe the strangest things.
John was looking at the man’s clothing. It was cheap clothing but brand new: a tan windbreaker, tan pants, tan ball cap. “It looked as if he’d picked it all up at JCPenney or Sears in the work-clothes section,” John recalls. “The first thing I thought was Shawna got him an outfit to kill me at Sears. She had a card.”
The man did not handle the gun professionally, either: he fired from a crooked arm at his waist, like they do in old noir films. That may be why John survived.
The first shot hit his left arm, then the next shot hit his right arm. One of those rounds passed through the arm and pierced his lungs. The man fired three more rounds into John’s torso, with one hitting his lower right abdomen, another hitting his liver and diaphragm, and one more round lodged in his back. Thinking he was done, the man turned and fled back down the stairs.
John lay there, stunned, helpless, smelling his own flesh smoldering where the bullets had entered, knowing he was now bleeding, profusely, to death. At first all he could do was wonder: “All I could think of was ‘What did I do? What did I do?’” But as he realized who the only person who might want him dead might be, he turned angry, and that probably saved him.
John had a lifelong dread of being shot. “I know what bullets do to you. You don’t die right away. That’s the horror in my mind of being shot. You know you are going to die.” Lying on the couch, he realized: “My worst nightmare has come true.”
At first he tried making noise to attract his neighbors’ attention, but when there was no response, he realized he could reach the phone, since he had not been shot in either leg. He half-walked, half-crawled to where the phone was and, using the remnants of his bloodied hands, dialed 911.
He was intent on letting them know right away that he knew Shawna was behind it all. “I just started screaming my name, my address, her name, her address. I’m shot. I’m hit I’m dying. Get somebody here.”
“I said her name a hundred times: ‘I’m getting a divorce. She’s trying to kill me. Nobody would do this to me. Shawna Forde is trying to kill me.’ “
He doesn’t remember how long it took for the ambulance to arrive, but it seemed to take forever, especially because they tried entering through his front door and had to jigger the gurney around on his stairs; he recalls that on the way out, they nearly dropped him over the side of the exterior stairs. He finally lost consciousness en route to the hospital and thought he was dying as he did so. He was in excruciating pain and barely able to breathe, and as blackness closed in, he thought he saw the white light so many people with near-death experiences describe.
Doctors went to work immediately, even though they did not give him much of a chance: he had lost too much blood, had suffered too many egregious injuries. Still, John was alive the next morning, and the next, and the next. He remembers none of it, though.
Shawna in fact was taken into custody that evening and questioned about the shooting. She denied having anything to do with it and suggested that it was likely the work of drug cartels in Arizona that she had angered. She was released that night and told to stay in town.
She wasted no time. The next day, she and Tommy Gibler moved into the duplex, ignoring the crime-scene tape. She had John’s wallet and credit cards and promptly began using them. She never went up to John’s hospital room to visit him or check on him.
It wasn’t until four days after the shooting, the day after Christmas, that John’s family learned he had been shot and was in critical condition in the hospital. Shawna hadn’t bothered to contact them. They only found out because one of John’s commuting buddies had pieced everything together and tracked him down to the hospital. The buddy had then contacted Shawna to get John’s computer and cell phone back, but Shawna wouldn’t let him have the latter. Still, he was able to get the phone numbers for John’s family, and he called them to let them know. They all came to the hospital within the hour, found that John had been registered under a wrong name, and bulled their way up to see him.
John was in a medically induced coma at the time. All he remembers is being on a long spiritual journey and seeing the world from a removed state, and then realizing he was still alive and wanted to live. A short time later he woke up.
The doctors who had worked on him were amazed, and they came by frequently to tell him how lucky he was. “You are a miracle,” they told him. “It is just a miracle you are alive.”
Indeed: John was out of the hospital in twelve days. He retreated to a safe place out of town and began piecing things back together, while Shawna and Tommy Gibler helped themselves to his old residence. While he was recovering, he discovered that Shawna had forged his name on a check for $3,000 from his credit union and had freely used his debit and credit cards and rung up several thousand dollars’ worth there. He also figured out that, prior to her most recent Arizona sojourn, she had obtained a $9,000 loan on their joint account without his knowledge, also using a forged version of his signature.
John had long since stopped being amazed at Shawna’s audacity. Indeed, she had already moved on to what she liked to call “the next level.”
After her initial interview with Everett detectives about the murder attempt on John Forde, Shawna began assiduously avoiding any kind of follow-up interview, finding one excuse after another to put police off. “We’ve made several attempts to schedule a meeting with Ms. Forde. We’ve not been successful,” an Everett police spokesman told Scott North two months later.
Exactly a week after John was shot, Shawna called Everett police from the duplex and claimed she had been beaten and raped. Officers arrived to find her on the kitchen floor, her knees to her chest, sobbing and moaning and saying she had been raped. There was a little blood on the shower curtain, but police could find few signs of injuries.
Shawna was so groggy-seeming that they wondered if she was on drugs; her eyelids were fluttering, and she appeared to be slipping in and out of consciousness. They loaded her onto a gurney. But just as she was being wheeled out the door, she ordered the crews to stop for a minute. She needed her purse.
One of the investigating officers noticed that cuts on Forde’s forearms and thighs—which she later told investigators were wounds from the knife her attackers used—were in fact oddly superficial and shallow, consistent with the injuries seen when people deliberately hurt themselves. Police call these “hesitation wounds.” They had in fact already scabbed over and appeared to be at least a day old.
The next day, even though she had not yet given a statement to police about her rape, Shawna got on the phone and called Scott North at the Herald, asking if he was going to report on her rape in the Everett paper. “I was assaulted. I was raped. I was beaten. I was cut with a knife,” she told him. She knew the rape kit would come back negative, as it eventually did, but that it would be several weeks before anyone would find that out.
North made a few phone calls and figured out that there was a deeper problem with Shawna. He is a veteran newsman and had spent at least a portion of his time as a reporter in the 1990s dealing with the outbreak of right-wing extremists—militiamen, tax protesters, and “constitutionalists”—who had beset portions of Snohomish County and western Washington generally, so he was aware of their proclivities. Moreover, his news sense, honed by thirty years of experience, told him that there might be a real story there—just not necessarily the one Shawna Forde wanted to tell everyone.
Shawna’s version, of course, had in short order been blasted out on the MAD website. She posted it the day after she called North, giving her own harrowing account of her vile mistreatment at the hands of likely Latino gang members. It included photos she had taken supposedly showing her bruises, though even an untrained eye could see that these looked suspiciously like makeup jobs.
The Herald ran a story the next day. Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project website picked up and promoted Shawna’s version of the story, as did the right-wing blogosphere, which began recounting her tale unquestioningly. (At Sound Politics, the leading right-wing political blog for Washington state politicos, the contributor “pudge”—who had posted Shawna’s account uncritically—scathingly attacked anyone who questioned her story, or worse yet, suggested she might have had a hand in John’s shooting.) A conservative webcast called No Compromise Radio conducted an interview with Shawna in which she described three or four assailants shooting her husband and then a like number coming back to beat and rape her.
Shawna had by then gained a large number of enemies among the ranks of Minutemen and other nativists—most notably, Jeff Schwilk of the San Diego Minutemen as well as William Gheen of American Legal Immigration PAC—who castigated Gilchrist for his gullibility. “Jim!” shouted one Schwilk missive. “Don’t be a moron!”
Shawna was dismayed that anyone could suggest she had anything to do with John’s shooting or that she had faked her rape, calling such notions “ridiculous.” She had her defenders, too, including Chuck Stonex, who told the Herald: “It happened. Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind that it happened.”
Jim Gilchrist defended her just as vociferously. He told her critics (and his) that what mattered more was her ability to overcome a troubled past. “She is no whiner,” he wrote. “She is a stoic struggler who has chosen to put country, community and a yearning for a civilized society ahead of avarice and self-glorifying ego.”
When detectives finally spoke to her on January 13, Shawna told them she had been feeding snacks to Charlie, John’s dog, when a Hispanic man appeared out of nowhere and punched her on the left side of her face, near her eye. “I just went down immediately,” she told them. “Bam! I just remember hitting the, I mean, and then everything was like really dizzy, just starry, you know, like I was seeing stars you know, like they say you see stars? Well, you do.”
There were two, maybe three attackers, she said. One of them had on a black ski mask, but she could tell he was Hispanic. The second was a young white male with a scraggly beard and mustache, who used a knife to threaten and subdue her. They were speaking both English and Spanish, saying things like “chinga la puta” and “let’s drown the bitch.” They then proceeded to rape her anally and vaginally, she said, using a miniature souvenir baseball bat. The attack lasted about fifteen or twenty minutes.
Investigators asked if she knew her attackers. “No,” she replied. “But I do remember hearing like some ‘weezie’ or ‘weasel’ or something. ... So, I don’t know what this is about.”
Someone had written the number thirteen on her kitchen floor in black magic marker. The police asked her why they might have done that.
“I think that somebody did that just to be a jerk,” she told them. “And just maybe to scare me or to make me think it was something else. ... I didn’t really make a lot of it to be honest...”
“So even now you’re not making a big deal out of that?”
“No, because after, If you really think about it, and after I’ve thought about it and talked to people—if it was, I mean there are MS-13 in north Everett, I mean they’re out, they are there ...”
“But had you had anything to do with them?”
“Well, other than going after their cartel operations, no. But you know, I’m not one of their friendliest people. They don’t like me, I mean; you know I’m not probably on their top list of favorites.”
“Aren’t you more concerned with illegals crossing the border; just to come over here to work?”
“No. I’m more concerned about the drug cartels.”
Two days later, on January 15, Shawna’s mother, Rena Caudle, got a strange call at her California home from her daughter. “She called me that evening, and she says, ‘There’s somebody following me in a white car,’” Rena recalls. “And she says, ‘I’m going to duck into this alley here and see if I lost them. And I’ll call you back later.’” Then she hung up.
A little while later, Kathy Dameron got a similar call in Yakima from Shawna in Everett. She said she was walking back from the Eagles lodge, and they started shooting the breeze. The only thing that was odd was that Shawna kept telling her where she was at the moment.
Suddenly, it got tense. “Oh my God, there is a car following me,” Shawna told Kathy. Then she said there were two cars—one light, one dark. Shawna said she was ducking into an alleyway and then said she thought she had lost them. Then Shawna cried out: “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh shit!”
Kathy Dameron hung up and called the Everett police directly and told them what she had heard and Shawna’s location. She called Shawna back immediately.
Shawna answered and told Kathy she had been shot in the arm. “The cops are on the way,” she told Kathy.
Kathy recalls, “She said one shot had gone past her head; that she was turned sideways, and two went into her arm.”
Police arrived and took Shawna to the hospital and gathered witness statements. Nobody had seen the shooting, but some of the neighbors had heard gunfire and had come out to investigate.
Jim Gilchrist expressed his surprise at the spate of violence directed at Shawna. “I don’t think this is a hoax. I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I’m certainly in shock. We have to let law enforcement play it out and see what is going on.”
The shooting was the final straw for her brother, Merrill Metzger, who knew that Jaszmin was living with Shawna at the time. He drove up with his son from California the next day to retrieve his niece and bring her down to the family in California, so she could be safer.
Shawna had told him that Scott North had written a story about the attempt on John’s life that included a police sketch of the gunman, taken from John’s description. When he arrived in Everett and they had settled in on the couch at Shawna’s place, where she was hanging out with Tommy Gibler, he got curious.
“So I asked her for that article, and we were both, my son and I, sitting there looking at the drawing,” Merrill recalls. “And I looked up, and all of a sudden Shawna looks at me and she said, ‘That drawing kind of looks like you.’
“And I said, ‘No, not really.’ We were laughing.
“And I said, ‘Actually, it looks like him’”—he pointed to Gibler—“the guy that was there with her. Immediately the laughing was over.”
They flew home the next day. “When I got out of Everett, and I was back home with my niece, I called the Everett Police Department, and I told them, ‘Hey, that guy that’s with Shawna right now fits that description of the shooter to a T.’”
Everett police, however, have never made an arrest in the attempted murder of John Forde. Even though John eventually made a positive identification to police, and neighbors who saw the gunman climb over John’s back fence that night have done so as well, a police department spokesman insists that—short of finding the gun used and the clothes worn—there is not enough physical evidence to bring a case to court.
On February 5, Shawna Forde came in to the offices of the Herald for a two-hour interview. Scott North had conducted a thorough investigation of her the previous two months and had uncovered all the secrets of her past: her felony conviction at age eleven, her career as a prostitute and petty criminal, her many lies and deceptions.
The interview was conducted in a special room and was video recorded. What’s most remarkable, watching those videos now, is how utterly unflappable Shawna was as North laid out before her the devastating results of his investigation. And at the end, she just smiled confidently and said, “It’s not about the past. It’s about what we do today, and trying to secure the borders tomorrow.”
The story ran on February 22 on the front page of the Sunday paper. Shortly thereafter, Shawna—who never did give police that follow-up interview for detectives about John’s shooting—took off for Arizona again, and this time she did not come back.
Excerpted with permission from "And Hell Followed with Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border" by David Neiwert. Available from Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2013.