How the Anti-Immigrant Minutemen Movement Attracted the Psychopaths That Led to Its Downfall
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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.
Editor's Note: David Neiwert’s new book tells the gruesome story of the Flores killings—the event that contributed to the decline of the anti-immigrant Minutemen vigilante movement in the American Southwest. On May 30, 2009, Raul Flores, Jr., 29, and his daughter Brisenia Flores, 9, were murdered in their home by Minutemen American Defense (MAD) founder Shawna Forde and associates Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola in Arivaca, Arizona. Forde and Bush were sentenced to death and remain on Arizona’s death row, while Gaxiola was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The Minuteman movement began crumbling apart in large part because of the kind of personalities that it attracted: contentious, prone to anger, hypercritical, paranoid, grandiose, egocentric people who found it almost impossible to coexist after only a few weeks of fitful cooperation. The strife and dissension, over issues ranging from strategy to finances, not only continued but intensified over the ensuing years, assuring that the movement would continually splinter, inevitably creating radicalized organizations like MAD, increasingly unleashed from the restraints that national organizations labored under in order to mainstream their movement.
It attracted these kinds of personalities in large part because they reflected both the politics and the rhetoric the movement employed in its appeals: resentment and anger were common features of their rhetoric—indeed, the more inflammatory the speech, the greater its audience seemed to be. The core of the Minutemen’s politics was scapegoating: blaming Latino immigrants for being forced into circumstances that they did not create and that were for that matter created by Americans as much as Mexicans. By insisting on “securing the borders” before fixing the problems that had made the borders so insecure, most of them a product of antiquated immigration laws, they actually ensured that the borderlands would remain a volatile place.
The sum of the Minuteman movement’s achievements was thus nearly nil: in the seven years between its inception and its final demise, nothing changed in American immigration policy, other than that the Obama administration, in an effort to prove its good-faith effort at securing the borders, doubled the number of Border Patrol agents and deported more immigrants—some 396,000 by October 2011—than any administration in American history.
Yet that wasn’t even nearly enough to satisfy Obama’s critics. Tea Partiers and assorted nativists continue to claim that Obama is “soft on immigration” and viciously disparage his immigration policies. In the meantime, any effort to reform the nation’s immigration laws has been stonewalled, especially after Tea Party–led Republicans took control of the House in 2010.
The only thing that did change was that the American economy took a nosedive in 2008, and the resulting recession wiped out many of the five hundred thousand or more unskilled-labor jobs that the economy had at one time produced annually. The demand for immigrant labor thus declined sharply, while simultaneously the Mexican economy began to recover from its long, NAFTA-induced downturn. The end result was that many fewer people were attempting to cross the American border, either through the desert or other means, in search of work. The Minutemen had nothing whatsoever to do with this change.
The Minutemen’s failure was not merely a product of internal dissension or obstructive politics, however. The movement crumbled under the weight of the extremists it attracted, despite numerous warnings—not merely from its critics—that because of its agenda and its politics, it ran a nearly ineluctable risk of becoming a haven for violent racists. Though the Minutemen often proclaimed their efforts to “weed out” racists from their ranks (begging the question: Why did they need to do so in the first place?), movement leaders never took seriously the need to thoroughly vet the backgrounds of their recruits, not to mention their leaders. If they had, people like Shawna Forde would never have been accepted in the first place. Whatever procedures they had were grossly inadequate—though perhaps that is because many of their leaders would not have survived a thorough check, either.