Immigration  
comments_image Comments

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.
 
 
Share
 
 
 

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.

Similarly, Jim Gilchrist took down material from his Minuteman Web site supporting MAD, Forde’s group, and announced his “condolences to the victims,” declaring that Forde and her associates were “rogues,” and insisting that his relationship with her was never “extensive.” “They happened to use the Minuteman movement as a guise, as a mask,” he said.

Simcox’s MCDC spokesperson, Carmen Mercer, decried the media coverage of the Forde case in a press statement. “The media continues to flame the fires of ethnic friction and faux racism through their ridiculous reporting that this is a Minuteman crime — the media is irrational and reckless in perpetrating this despicable propaganda,” she wrote. “The Arivaca home invasion had nothing to do with the Minutemen, nothing to do with race or illegal immigration, it had to do with psychopathic criminals preying on other criminals.”

However, an investigation of these claims and characterizations by AlterNet and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute makes clear that they are patently false. Not only did both Simcox and Gilchrist have extensive dealings with Forde over the years, both repeatedly courted her work and her organization. Simcox didn’t chase Forde out of the MCDC: he begged Forde not to leave his fold. In the case of Gilchrist, one witness to the conversation says that, in 2008, he and Forde discussed her plan to finance the movement by ripping off drug dealers — and that he was enthusiastic about it. Forde not only was fully empowered by Minuteman movement leadership, she was enacting a violent scheme with what she believed was their tacit approval.

* * *

As it happens, Shawna Forde’s rise within the Minutemen coincides with the rise of internal feuding that marked the beginnings of the border-watch movement’s gradual decay. And it may not be a coincidence.

The first rift in the united front of the Minuteman movement arose in late 2005, only months after the movement had attracted massive media coverage for its springtime border-watch campaign, the Minuteman Project. Cofounders Simcox and Gilchrist apparently decided in December of that year — during a Conservative Political Action Committee gathering — to part ways, largely over how to handle the large sums of money the movement was attracting. So Gilchrist kept the Minuteman Project as his own, and Simcox fired up his own organization, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. By midsummer of 2006 the split had become public, and Gilchrist began openly distancing himself from Simcox.

By December 2007, the split was an open feud, especially after Gilchrist announced his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee; Simcox, who backed Ron Paul’s candidacy, retorted: “No, the Minutemen don’t support Huckabee. Jim Gilchrist supports Huckabee. This endorsement threatens to destroy Gilchrist’s credibility and the credibility of his organization forever.” Gilchrist replied by characterizing Simcox as part of a cadre of “professional extremists and charlatans.”

Forde first began showing up at Minuteman events in Washington state in the spring of 2006, roughly at the same time Simcox appeared before the Bellingham human-rights commission, denying that the movement condoned racists or extremists within their ranks.

Forde started out as a simple participant, counter-demonstrating at an immigrant-rights rally in Seattle, and participating in border watches in the Bellingham area that the Minutemen had been organizing. But she moved up quickly in the ranks, largely because of a leadership vacuum in the organization, soon claiming a variety of leadership positions in the Washington Minuteman Detachment (as they called themselves), including “media director” and “events director.” In November of that year, she appeared on a public TV “town hall” discussion of immigration broadcast from Yakima, and was described as representing both the Minutemen and a conservative immigration think tank, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, though the latter denies she was ever affiliated with them.

A few weeks later, in early December 2006, Forde wrote to Simcox, portraying herself as media director for the Washington state MCDC chapter and urging him to look hard at the lack of leadership in the state. Simcox wrote back: “Thanks for the heads up on your concerns Shawna. Thank you for everything you are doing. … You call us any time you need something. I’m investigating beginning tomorrow. Send me what you have and we’ll make a trip up there to hold some meetings to get things back on track.”

Forde wrote back in early January 2007, outlining in a lengthy e-mail her “plan” for the state, urging Simcox to consider creating two outfits there: one dedicated to running border watches, headed by the current leadership, and a second one devoted to “internal” watches, harassing day laborers and people who employ undocumented immigrants — to be headed up, naturally, by herself. She complained that the current leaders were threatening to throw her out of the organization: “They do not like the fact that I’m trying to organize and get thing’s done they see it as a pain in their necks and would like it to be quiet and everyone just go to the border once a month and keep it simple. They always talk about doing things but it never transpires.”

Simcox wrote back enthusiastically: “Shawna, Thanks for the info, we'll get this done asap. I’ll call you tomorrow evening to discuss. Please contact Carmen Mercer about finances and raising money — since we are a non-profit corporation it’s not all that simple, we’ll help you out with internal chapters. Look forward to working with you. I think it best we send a national person up there to help show you how to develop chapters as we have done all over the country.”

Within a few days, he sent out a missive to the Washington state Minutemen announcing exactly that change. Naturally, this caused a major eruption within the organization: the entire leadership of the state chapter threatened to resign, along with a large number of members, if Simcox carried out the reorganization and promoted Forde to head up the new “internal” chapter. After much internal wrangling, Forde backed out and announced she was “stepping down” as “internal chapter director.” A few weeks later, the disgruntled state leadership — after a meeting with Mercer, who flew up to Seattle to try to mend fences — officially fired her from their organization.

It didn’t matter. Forde had decided at that point to form her own Minuteman organization; she had come to recognize that the movement’s larger leadership vacuum was a perfect opportunity for someone with her organizing skills and energy. After state leaders fired her, she had a phone conversation with Simcox during which she explained that she was packing up her act and creating her own outfit, to be called Minuteman American Defense.

A Seattle private investigator named Mike Carlucci was working on a security project for Forde at the time, and he sat in on the conversation. Simcox, he said, was in fact desperate to keep Forde on board at the MCDC — in part because his feud with Gilchrist was heating up, and he didn’t want to lose her to his competitor. He tried to convince Forde to continue working as a power behind the scenes.

“I was there when they were begging Shawna to stay on board, and to weather out the storm, and to work with them,” Carlucci says. “I mean, begging her to do that. Begging Shawna not to be pissed off, not to leave, not to start MAD, but to hang in there with them and they would get this ironed out. Chris Simcox, for crying out loud, was apologizing to Shawna and asking if there was anything that he could do to keep her on board.”

By forming MAD, Forde in essence threw in her lot with Gilchrist. And indeed, in the months after she and MCDC parted ways, she cultivated a friendship with the Minuteman Project leader. Forde organized a July 2007 “Illegal Immigration Summit” in Everett featuring herself and Gilchrist. Later that summer, during a visit to Glenn Spencer’s Arizona ranch, she was photographed with Gilchrist — admiring Spencer’s remote-controlled airplane, then scanning the horizon in search of border crossers. She also ran for an Everett City Council seat that year on an anti-immigration platform, vowing to allow city police check the status of suspected immigrants. She ultimately garnered 5,892 votes to incumbent Drew Nielsen’s 10,943.

Forde kept in touch with Gilchrist and subsequently arranged for him to make an appearance in February 2008 at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, about a 100-minute drive from Seattle. Gilchrist at the time was embroiled in heated lawsuits and disputes with his former board of directors over ownership of the Minuteman Project, and he no longer had any functioning presence on the borders; Forde offered to step in and take on the job. Gilchrist became so enamored of Forde that, on February 9, he directed his staff to “put Shawna in the Web site as our border patrol coordinator.”

Gilchrist flew in to Sea-Tac Airport on February 26 and was met by Forde and her driver — who happened to be Mike Carlucci.

On the drive to Ellensburg, Forde and Gilchrist had an animated conversation in which they discussed, among other things, ways that Gilchrist could provoke the students at his CWU appearance into physically attacking him, so that he could turn around and sue them. They also had a lively talk about ways they could make money — including robbing drug dealers.

“They were discussing in what I thought was a hyperbolic way, doing what she wound up doing — by taking on people who were selling drugs and taking the money from their organizations,” Carlucci says. “She was thinking about that shit in a role-playing way back then, and doing a gallows laugh… It was almost like she was bouncing it off Gilchrist and seeing how he responded.”

Gilchrist apparently was impressed with the idea. He played along and encouraged Forde’s fantasy. At no point did he ever suggest that the whole idea was completely nuts, though there was a lot of laughter. “They were talking incredibly inappropriate shit all the way back,” Carlucci says. “And I’m sitting there hearing it all.”

That April, Forde indeed arrived on the Arizona border, taking up part-time residence in an RV parked on the ranch of American Border Patrol leader Spencer, where she helped lead border-watch operations on Gilchrist’s behalf. In e-mails to other Minutemen, he referred to her as his “border ops coordinator” and “one tough lady.”

Forde kept organizing border-watch operations in conjunction with Gilchrist, who prominently publicized her work on the Minuteman Project website. The entire month of October 2008 was devoted to Forde’s “Allied Recon” project, which ostensibly was intended to bring together assorted border-watch operations under one banner, but which mostly wound up being a Shawna Forde show. A Norwegian film crew showed up and recorded Forde showing off the border country with a pistol down the front of her pants.

She also published a post at the Minuteman Project website defending Gilchrist from his many critics inside the movement: “Jim Gilchrist has been fundamental for lobbying border security in our nation, so to suggest that Jim is not involved in border operations is an absolute exaggeration of truth,” Forde wrote. “Jim Gilchrist was with me on several border operations and I have the documentation to prove it. The Project has worked closely with M.A.D. for several years now. M.A.D. has never been disappointed, mislead, or misrepresented by Jim Gilchrist

* * *

Forde returned home to Everett in November, and that’s when things really started to go sideways. In mid-December, her estranged husband was shot by an intruder in his home but survived; according to her brother, Merrill Metzger, John Forde’s description of the shooter bore an almost perfect resemblance to Shawna's then-boyfriend. Then, a week later, Shawna Forde reported that she had been raped by a gang of threatening Mexicans from a drug cartel who wanted to warn her away from her border work.

Three weeks after that, she turned up at a local hospital with a gunshot wound in her arm, claiming that she had been attacked again by Mexicans. The problem was that there was no evidence whatsoever that these attacks had taken place, according to interviews with police detectives by Scott North of the Everett Herald. The rape kit at the hospital where Forde showed up found no evidence that a rape had occurred, and police began to suspect that her gunshot wound may have been self-inflicted.

Forde tried to convince reporters that she was being persecuted for her border work, and some of her fellow Minutemen picked up the story and ran with it as evidence of looming threats faced by border watchers. The Minuteman Express News warned: “Hate crimes against the Minutemen and any patriotic group will increase as citizens stand up against the criminal drug cartels and the human cargo industry as they tighten their grip on the throats of the American public.”

However, Forde’s story and its obvious weaknesses only raised more eyebrows, even within the ranks of other Minutemen. William Gheen of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC called out Forde, warning that if her claims turned out to be hoaxes, it could discredit the entire movement. Gheen and a number of other Minutemen who had soured on Forde, notably Jeff Schwilk of the San Diego Minutemen, publicly denounced Forde and warned people in the movement to stay away from her.

Gilchrist, however, came to her defense, declaring himself a “proud supporter” of Forde and calling her “a stoic struggler who has chosen to put country, community, and a yearning for a civilized society ahead of avarice and self-glorifying ego.” Gilchrist’s right-hand man, Stephen Eichler, expounded further on the Minuteman Project Web site: “I believe what I have been told, and the reports I have read in the newspaper, to be factual and accurate.” He added: “I may be called gullible, sucker, and naïve, but it is of little consequence to me if I am right and the victims were comforted.”

Forde returned to Arizona in the spring of 2009, and began meeting with other Minutemen about her plan to raid drug houses. One of these meetings took place in Colorado two weeks before the murders at the Flores home in Arivaca; two of the participants promptly contacted the FBI, warning them of Forde’s plans.

In the meantime, Forde had gotten into a squabble with another renegade Minuteman leader: Joe Adams, a former Iran-Contra figure who now operates an Arizona border-watch outfit called Bluelight. Adams warned her to stay away from him, because he had gotten word that federal law-enforcement agencies were taking a hard look at her activities. The evening before the murders, Forde informed him they would have to agree to patrol their own sections of the desert and leave each other alone. “That makes perfect sense to me,” Adams replied the next morning, unaware of the night’s tragic events.

As Jim Gilchrist’s main visible presence on the border-watch scene, Forde had been posting dispatches from the border at the Minuteman Project website for a few weeks, including an announcement that “we are in full operation on the border” and that Forde had named a new “operations director,” a pseudonymous veteran named “Gunny” whose full identity could not be released “due to Operational Security,” and boasted: “He served 6 tours over seas, where he has several medals. He received a Purple Heart, Silver and Bronze star, Combat Infantry Badge and a Presidential citation for his actions in the Special Forces. He will be in charge of all operations on the Southern Border, assisting in command decisions Recon and Tactical training.”

“Gunny,” it later emerged, was none other than Jason Bush, the gunman in the Arivaca shootings — who had served not a single day in the armed services in his life, but was skilled at sounding like he had.

The day after the murders, Forde published a post at the Minuteman Project Web site boasting of having “boots on the ground” in Arizona, citing the deaths at the Flores home as part of a fundraising pitch: “A American family was murdered 2 days ago [sic] including a 9 year old girl. Territory issue’s are now spilling over like fire on the US side and leaving Americans so afraid they will not even allow their names to be printed in any press releases.”

By June 1 — two days after the killings — police were already searching for Forde, and the word spread quickly among the Minutemen, who had received inquiries. Ken Gates, a Tucson Minuteman who had given Forde a place to stay during her Arizona jaunts, was visited by a team of detectives who searched his home for any sign of Forde. One of Gates’s Minuteman friends caught wind of the search and gave Adams a heads-up; pretty soon the word had spread. Adams contacted Forde and asked her what was going on; Forde responded that she had done nothing — rather, it was a sign that law enforcement was about to start detaining Minutemen.

Jim Gilchrist was contacted by Gates, so he phoned Forde personally to find out what was up. She dismissed it, saying Gates was a disgruntled ex-MAD member: “She was as calm as can be,” Gilchrist told reporter Scott North, the Herald reporter. A few days later, she and Bush conducted yet another home-invasion robbery in California, robbing a trucker and his wife of $12,000 stashed in their home.

Forde e-mailed Gilchrist and Eichler the morning of June 12, discussing how to include her MAD outfit in their plans to create a referral system for would-be Minutemen who might want to take part in border-watch operations. Forde wrote Eichler: “The border is going to be HOT. Good things to come my brother.”

She was arrested later that morning on the road outside Glenn Spencer’s ranch.

That day, the Minuteman Project scrubbed its site of any references to Forde and issued a statement offering its “condolences” to the Flores family. Afterward, Gilchrist was rueful. “If she hadn’t been able to use me she would have used somebody else,” Gilchrist told Scott North. “It is so unfortunate because I really thought this person, in spite of her checkered past had, in lieu of a better term, ‘found Jesus’ and really wanted to be a do-gooder.”

* * *

The case was broken into three trials, one for each of the three people charged with the murders of Raul and Brisenia Flores: Shawna Forde, Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola. This meant that for a six-month stretch of 2011, Gina Gonzalez had to relive the worst night of her life three more times for jurors’ consumption.

Each time, the gut-wrenching horror of the sequence of events became clearer: How there had been a loud knocking on the door sometime after midnight, waking her up, and her husband had let in two people — a short, fat woman and a tall man with black face paint — brandishing guns, claiming to be Border Patrol in search of fugitives, frightening Brisenia, who was sleeping with her puppy on the living room couch. How Junior had asked for identification, and when he pointed out that there was something wrong with their behavior, the tall man had simply pointed his gun at him and said: “Don’t take this personally, but this bullet has your name on it” and then fired. How Gina had come unglued, at which point the tall man had shot her twice — once in the chest and once in the leg, both nonfatal injuries — and she had fallen to the floor, curled up in fetal position, pretending to be dead as the tall man emptied his gun into Junior. How he had slowly reloaded his gun’s magazine, asking Brisenia where her older sister was — “She’s at my nana’s,” the girl had answered truthfully — while she asked him why he had shot her dad and her mom and whether he was going to kill her. How he had assured Brisenia no one was going to hurt her and then shot her twice in the face. How, after ransacking their home, when they had finally left her alone in the house, her first instinct was to go to her daughter.

“I sat up and grabbed Brisenia. I was telling her not to die on me,” she testified in Gaxiola’s trial. “She was shaking really hard.”

Then the “short fat woman” had come back into the house, cried “Oh shit!” and ran back out demanding her crew finish the job, while Gina made the mad scramble for the kitchen and her husband’s pistol. Gonzalez recounted again and again how she had fended them off while curled up on her kitchen floor, firing madly away. And in each trial, the jury heard the riveting 911 call she made, with gunfire erupting in the background, followed by Gonzalez’s agonizing wait for the medical help that finally arrived some 18 minutes later.

Testimony like this — and the attendant press attention — meant that, by the end of the first trial for Shawna Forde in March, the Minuteman movement was functionally finished. All three trials produced murder convictions: Albert Gaxiola got a life term in prison, while Shawna Forde and Jason Bush are both on Arizona’s Death Row. And the court of public opinion inflicted the death sentence on the Minuteman movement, even as it tore itself apart.

First came the finger-pointing and internecine warfare that erupted in the wake of Forde’s arrest, particularly between William Gheen, of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, and Jim Gilchrist, who continues to claim that his associations with Forde were “not extensive.” Gheen urged Gilchrist to step aside: “Do the movement a favor and announce your resignation,” he wrote. Another California nativist, Chelene Nightingale of Save Our State, attacked Gilchrist in an e-mail posted briefly at the Minuteman Project Web site: “As a mother I am sick to death that a little child was murdered! Murdered at the hands of people that were endorsed on the Jim Gilchrist MMP [Minuteman Project] site. Wasn’t it bad enough that your forum is a sewer full of lies and bashing of patriots? Or are each of you being paid by say the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center], La Raza to destroy the movement with your filth and personal connections?” Gilchrist dismissed their attacks as the product of jealousy.

In the spring of 2010, Chris Simcox’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps announced that it was closing up shop. The precipitating event was an e-mail that Carmen Mercer sent out to members in mid-March, announcing: “This March we return to the border locked, loaded and ready to stop each and every individual we encounter along the frontier that is now more dangerous than the frontier of Afghanistan.” Mercer said she received a “dramatic” response to the mail from members — many of whom, evidently, responded that they intended to show up at the border fully armed. Mercer said this inspired the MCDC board to dissolve itself because of fears that they would not be able to control participants, and they might be held responsible for people who failed to follow proper “rules of engagement.”

“I’m afraid that for many citizens, the passing of health care against the will of the people and now indications that Obama will try to pass amnesty may be the straw that will break the spirit, or may be the straw that ignites frustration that we, as an organization, may not be able to manage or contain,” Mercer wrote in announcing the dissolution of the MCDC. “This organization has grown too big for its own good; or rather, the problem has grown too big and serious for us to manage. I predict soon the violence will spill over the border (it already is) and I predict Americans, on their own, will lock, load and do what the feckless cowards in Washington refuse to do.”

She told KOLD-TV in Tucson that it was just a tactical maneuver to avoid legal liability for any future Shawna Fordes: “The movement itself, the organization itself, is not going to go away, [it is] just the dissolving of the corporation.” She warned future would-be Minuteman offshoots: “It only takes one bad person to destroy everything we’ve built in the last eight years.”

Chris Simcox, who briefly flirted with a primary challenge to Sen. John McCain in 2010, has largely vanished from public view since April 2010, when his estranged wife, Alena, obtained a protection order against him. Simcox already has a number of domestic-violence incidents in his background; in this case Alena charged that he “brandished a gun and threatened to shoot her, their children and any police officers who tried to protect them.”

Local Minutemen organizations suspended operations in the wake of Forde’s arrest, and most of them have not returned since. Scott Anderson, leader of the MCDC’s Green Valley chapter — which had never had any connection to Forde — announced he was suspending its border-watch activities immediately after the arrests: “I figured something like this was going to happen,” he told a local reporter. “We’re all going to be painted with the same broad brush.” The group has never returned to action.

* * *

A number of former Minuteman movement leaders are currently remaking themselves as Tea Party activists. Glenn Spencer — whose American Border Patrol organization has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since the 1990s for its vicious anti-Latino rhetoric — this summer hosted Tea Party tours at his Arizona ranch, which you could sign up for through the Maricopa County Republicans Web site. Likewise, Simcox’s former right-hand man, Al Garza, who ran MCDC for several years, started up his own organization and called it the Patriots Coalition.

“Unfortunately, the public perception of the Minutemen has been tainted by our detractors and the media, which has successfully been enflamed by the internal and unnecessary strife,” wrote Garza in his announcement. “I do not see an end in sight for the problems plaguing what was once the greatest citizen movement in America.”

There are still some border-watch outfits trying to organize recruits, but none call themselves Minutemen anymore, and they operate on the fringes even more than MAD did. At least one of the new border-watch outfits, led by Arizona white supremacist J.T. Ready, openly courted the most radical segment of the American Right, including neo-Nazis from the National Socialist Movement and biker gangs. Ready named his organization the “Border Rangers” but his operation came to an abrupt halt on May 2, 2012, when he went on a shooting rampage against his girlfriend and her family in the home they shared, killing four people (including a 15-month-old toddler) before turning the gun on himself.

The Minuteman brand name, for the moment, is finished. “A lot of people felt, well, you’re a Minuteman, you’re a killer,” Al Garza told Gaiutra Bahadur of the Nation, and then blamed not Shawna Forde or her enablers but the movement’s critics: “The name Minuteman has been tainted by organizations that didn’t want us at the border, that say we’re killers, that we’ve done harm.”

The claim that Forde wasn’t really a Minuteman, on the other hand, has enjoyed a long half-life. When Bill O’Reilly hosted a segment discussing the story on his Fox News show last February, both of the “legal analysts” featured in the segment, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lis Wiehl, insisted that Forde was not really part of the movement. “She was not part of the Minutemen,” Wiehl told O’Reilly. (O’Reilly himself described the Flores home as “an illegal alien house,” even though both Junior Flores and Gina Gonzalez are third-generation American citizens.)

For her part, Shawna Forde continues to claim her innocence, saying she was set up as part of a government conspiracy to destroy the border-watch movement. One of her border-watching allies, a former Simcox sidekick who calls herself “Laine Lawless” (real name: Roberta Dill) runs a “Justice For Shawna Forde” Web site that explores this conspiracy.

Interviewed by Arizona journalist Terry Greene Sterling, Forde wrote off the murder of Brisenia Flores as the natural product of her parents’ illicit lifestyle: “People shouldn’t deal drugs if they have kids.”

“I wish I could say I was sorry it happened,” Forde told Sterling. “I am not sorry on my behalf because I didn’t do it.”

Gina Gonzalez has declined all interviews since the trial, but her victim-impact statements during the three trials spoke volumes.

“It’s hard for me to understand how this all happened. I have so many questions that will remain unanswered. I just need to know, Why? Even though knowing why still wouldn’t be good enough. It still won’t bring them back,” she told the jury at the Gaxiola trial.

“What could a 9-year-old possibly done to deserve getting shot like that?" she said. “I don’t understand how someone could have that much hate in her heart.”

This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute with support from the Puffin Foundation.

David Neiwert is a journalist and author based in Seattle. A National Press Club Award winner, he is the managing editor of the political blog Crooks and Liars, and is the author of five books on right-wing extremism. His book on Shawna Forde and the border-watch movement, The Last Minutemen, will be published in April 2013 by NationBooks.

 
See more stories tagged with: