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How the Brutal Murders of a Little Girl and Her Father Doomed the Xenophobic Minuteman Movement

The brutal killings of Junior and Brisenia Flores highlighted growing extremism on the fringes of the anti-immigrant movement.
 
 
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When Gina Gonzalez scrambled, limping, from the living room couch where her bleeding daughter lay dying to grab her husband’s pistol from the kitchen, she was only intent on trying to stay alive. When she fired off a succession of rounds from the gun, huddled in a corner, her sole purpose was to drive out the gang of intruders posing as Border Patrol officers who, only minutes before, had entered their home and gunned down her husband, blasted her in the leg and chest, and then coldly shot her 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, in the face as she pleaded for her life.

In that mad scramble, Gonzalez indeed succeeded in driving out the intruders. What she could not have known at the time was that, in doing so, that night’s horror also became the tragic end of the road for the crumbling vigilante border-watch movement known as the Minutemen.

The intruders were almost entirely strangers to Gonzalez. Certainly she had never met the squat, loud blonde woman who led them into her home in rural Arivaca, Arizona, close to midnight on May 30, 2009, dressed in camo and pretending to be from the Border Patrol. Nor did she recognize the tall, dark-haired man in black face paint with her who gunned them all down. But because she fought back after first pretending to be dead, they fled the house in a panic, leaving behind a wealth of clues: an AK-47 sitting atop her kitchen stove, a silver revolver dropped in the roadway, and most of all, fresh blood from the minor wound she inflicted on the gunman’s leg. All with lots of DNA samples for forensic detectives.

Those, combined with more clues that Gonzalez was able to give detectives two days later from her hospital bed, were enough to set detectives on the track of the key suspects within a matter of days. Within two weeks they made three arrests – a 41-year-old woman from Everett, Washington, named Shawna Forde, and two men who participated in her renegade border-watch organization, Minuteman American Defense, or MAD: Jason Bush, a sometime white supremacist then living in eastern Washington who was identified as the gunman, and Albert Gaxiola, an Arivaca resident who had fingered the home of Raul “Junior” Flores as a target.

The Minutemen’s scheme had been to target drug dealers, rob them of their cash and drugs, and use the proceeds to finance a “super militia” that would both patrol the border and fight the nefarious New World Order. At one planning meeting, Forde told other Minutemen that the “drug house” they were targeting in Arivaca contained up to $3 million in cash and drugs and that the family was just a front for the drug cartels.

Instead, the home of Junior Flores and Gina Gonzalez contained nothing more than their 9-year-old daughter; the invaders found neither drugs nor money (in fact, they missed some $3,000 in cash Gina Gonzalez had tucked inside a pocket of her purse to pay bills). Junior Flores was indeed involved in the pot-smuggling business, but he was a small-time operator known to keep those dealings well away from his home. The depth of these killer Minutemen’s ineptitude was hard to overstate: they had killed a little girl for absolutely nothing.

National leaders of the Minuteman movement – particularly its cofounders, Chris Simcox of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, or MCDC, and Jim Gilchrist, leader of the Minuteman Project – hastily distanced themselves from Shawna Forde and her offshoot organization. Simcox claimed that his organization had kicked Forde out back in 2007, when she had become embroiled in allegations of lying and pretending to be a senior leader in the Washington state chapter of the Defense Corps: “We knew that Shawna Forde was not just an unsavory character but pretty unbalanced, as well,” he said. Not only that, he claimed that her earlier dismissal proved his organization did a good job of weeding out extremists from within its ranks.

 
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