In a unanimous decision, a jury in Tucson handed down the death sentence yesterday for right-wing anti-immigrant vigilante Shawna Forde — founder of Minuteman American Defense, an offshoot of the national Minuteman movement — who was found guilty last week in the double murder of Brisenia Flores, age nine, and her father, Raul, 29. (See photo, right.) The father and daughter were killed — and Gina Gonzales, their wife and mother, respectively, was seriously wounded — in the early hours of May 30, 2009, when Forde and an alleged accomplice, Jason Bush, posing as uniformed authorities, entered their trailer home in remote Arivaca, Ariz., searching for drugs.
Brisenia, who had gone to bed on the sofa that night to be with her new puppy, slept through the commotion at first and may have missed Jason Bush telling her father, “Don’t take this personal, but this bullet has your name on it,” before shooting him six times.
Awakened by the gunfire, the little girl watched in horror as Bush allegedly shot her mother in the shoulder and leg. Gonzales fell to the floor and feigned death.
“Why did you shoot my mom?” Brisenia asked Bush. He didn’t answer. Instead, he slowly reloaded and then placed the barrel of the gun against her cheek.
“Please don’t shoot me,” Brisenia begged him. Unmoved, Bush shot her in the face two times. With the killing out of the way, Forde and Bush got to business. They tore the home apart, searching for drugs, money and jewelery.
After the killers left, Gina managed to call 911, but as she was speaking with the operator, Shawna Forde returned, found Gina alive and called for Bush.
By the time the gunman entered the house, Gonzales had retrieved her husband’s gun. She opened fire. Forde was unscathed but Bush later showed up at an emergency room seeking treatment for a bullet wound. Later, when they were arrested, Shawna Forde had Gina Gonzales’ wedding ring and other jewelry in her possession.
Prosecutors believe Forde and Bush had been hired by Albert Robert Gaxiola, a local drug dealer, to raid Raul Flores, a rival dealer, steal his wares and kill him and his family. They believe Forde intended to use proceeds from the hit to fund her right-wing anti-immigrant activities.
For what it’s worth, both Raul Flores and his daughter were U.S.-born American citizens.
Bush and Gaxiola face trial later this year.
Violent Right-Wing Ideology
Shawna Forde (in booking photo, right) is from Everett, Wash. The Everett Herald has done a thorough investigation into her background. What follows is an overview, with excerpts, of the paper’s reporting on Forde by Scott North and other Herald reporters.
“Forde’s history is complicated and hard to track down,” North wrote in February 2009. “She was adopted at age five and has been married four times — which means she has had at least six names. Her employment history includes numerous jobs and different careers: working as a youth counselor, building airplanes for the Boeing Co., cutting hair in beauty salons…”
Born in Everett, Shawna was abandoned as a young child and put into foster care at age four. According to her foster mother, who spoke anonymously with the Herald, little Shawna was trouble from the start. “She had sticky fingers from Day One,” the woman said. At age seven, Shawna was caught stealing a valuable diamond necklace during a dinner party at the home, according to her foster mother. After being convicted of burglary at age 12, she was returned to state custody.
In response, Shawna told the Herald that her foster mother was a liar. She also claimed her foster father had sexually abused her, a claim her foster mother vehemently denies.
In February 2009, the Herald reported that Forde had also resorted to prostitution when she was a teenager.
Shawna apparently became attracted to right-wing fringe politics in her thirties. By 2006, she was involved with the local Minuteman chapter, in part by ingratiating herself with the local leader, Bob Dameron, and his wife. North reports:
…She acted as the group’s spokeswoman [in Washington state] but often fought with other Minutemen who were not as impressed as [Dameron] with her efforts. She also claimed to have more authority in the Washington organization than she actually had. Some leaders wanted her out.
Dameron was instructed to fire her on Nov. 14, 2006, after she was done with a Yakima public television station’s town hall forum about illegal immigration.
Dameron broke the news before Forde left the next morning to return to Everett. “I told her I was told to fire her,” he said. “I also told her I couldn’t do it.”
In 2007, Shawna Forde got involved in the local Republican Party. Through them, she make contact with Jim Gilchrist, the controversial Minuteman leader who, in February of that year, had been ousted by the group after $400,000 of its funds went missing. This fact apparently did not faze Forde or the county GOP leaders, who organized a town hall on immigration issues featuring Gilchrist and others at he end of June. In the course of planning the event, Forde had a falling out with the local GOP leaders, who later accused her of trying to use their contacts to advance herself in right-wing fringe politics.
Earlier that year, Forde had also made contact with Chris Simcox, the Arizona-based founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (and failed 2010 U.S. Senate candidate), to complain about the leadership of her local chapter. At Forde’s behest, Simcox appointed her to a special statewide leadership post in the organization, leap-frogging her over the group’s quasi-military chain of command.
Within a month, however, the statewide Minuteman organization in Washington voted Forde out of their group. She responded by creating a new anti-immigrant organization, the Minuteman American Defense — or, aptly, MAD — and quickly gained a following of about 15 or 20 members. As her first order of business, Forde and a few of her followers traveled to south the Arizona desert, where they camped and patrolled the border for three months.
Back in Everett, Forde recounted alarming tales about her experiences on the border. She sent around photographs of smuggler’s cache of drugs and cash she said she’d found. She also claimed to have been raped by a Latino gang. Then, on Dec. 28, 2008, Forde’s ex-husband was violently attacked in his home in Everett, a case that is still unsolved. The next month, Forde apparently faked an attack in which she claimed to have been shot.
Scott North writes that Jim Gilchrist claimed to be among the last to realize how dangerous Shawna Forde was:
Gilchrist now says his only concerns about Forde revolved around her claims that she was using “undercover” tactics to infiltrate border-area drug traffickers.
“I really thought that she was getting into the wrong crowd and was going to end up murdered,” he said…
Meanwhile, Shawna Forde’s activities were also noted by more reputable members of the Minuteman movement, according to Scott North:
Among them [were] two Colorado men who tried to get investigators near Denver to look at Forde’s activities in Arivaca. In April, they say, Forde tried to recruit them to help commit home-invasion robberies of people she suspected of drug trafficking.
Their concerns weren’t taken seriously until after the Arivaca killings, they said.
Joe Adams also has been talking with law enforcement about Forde. He is a former private investigator from St. Louis whose tough-guy credentials include combat tours with the Marines and federal prosecution for his activities linked to the CIA during the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.
Forde was fascinated with Adams’ “Project Bluelight,” which he ran in the desert south of Tucson. Instead of simply observing from lawn chairs, Adams’ cadre of well-equipped former Marines went on patrols, looking for people who were up to no good. He told people his operation had the blessing of federal officials, including the Department of Homeland Security…
Around the time she allegedly was trying to recruit people for drug-house robberies, he told her to get lost.
“Here is what I am suggesting,” he wrote in a May 11 e-mail. “1. Stop dropping mine and Project Bluelight’s name to give you and your amateur operations credibility. 2. Stay in Washington and off the border for the good of the movement. Shauna (sic), you are a dangerous sociopath and anyone who would listen to your (expletive) is an idiot. You do not know what you are doing, and you put people in the border movement in harms way. … Go away. Good luck in prison.”
On May 31, 2009, just hours after the Flores murders, Forde sent a dispatch to Gilchrist by email:
Forde reported that she and her group had been in “boots on the ground” patrols of the border for eight days and had observed thousands of pounds of dope being smuggled into the country.
“A (sic) American family was murdered 2 days ago including a 9 year old girl,” Forde wrote. “Territory issue’s (sic) 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.”
Meanwhile, a SWAT team visited the home of a Minuteman in Tucson who had once allowed Forde’s teenage daughter to live in his home. Upon hearing this, Gilchrist called Forde. “She was as calm as can be,” he told Scott North.
On June 12, in what would prove to be her last email to the Minuteman leadership, Forde wrote, “The border is going to be HOT. Good things to come my brother.” She was arrested later that day.
Scott North also investigated the alleged shooter in the Flores case, Jason Bush, an ex-con known as “Gunny, and found that Bush had unambiguous ties to the Aryan Nation white supremacist group. He is also accused of at least four other murders.
Story Ignored by Establishment Media
Last month, Jared Loughner’s gun attack on Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents in Tucson sparked a national debate about the role right-wing rhetoric played in pushing an apparently unbalanced person like Loughner to violence.
The right wing prevailed, of course — sloughing off responsibility for the attack primarily by narrowing the debate to a single point: Was Loughner driven to attack Rep. Giffords because Sarah Palin had marked Gifford’s district with a gun-sight icon on her infamous bullseye map.
Because Loughner did not single out Palin or the map in his screeds online or elsewhere, the right-wing argument went, therefore violent right-wing rhetoric and ideology do not lead to political violence. Case closed.
At the same time this debate was underway, many of the best and brightest national reporters traveled to Tucson to cover the Giffords story — they were even joined briefly by their profession’s elite, the White House press corps, who accompanied Pres. Obama to Tucson to speak at a memorial service for the six people killed in the attack, among whom were a federal judge and, ironically perhaps, a nine-year-old girl.
What’s notable about this is that, at the time of the Giffords attack on Jan. 8, the trial of Shawna Forde, which was scheduled to begin just 17 days later, on Jan. 25, was a top story in the local news.
The national press corps had to have heard about the Forde trial while they were in Tucson, so why did they collectively choose not to report on it, especially since it was undeniably relevant to the debate about the role of right-wing ideology in creating a climate of violence?
Perhaps they believed the allegation that Brisenia’s father was a drug dealer muddied the waters — or the fact that the murders were not purely hate crimes but also had elements of a gangster-style hit negated the ideological underpinnings.
Whatever the reason, this case should have been brought up during the debate, because, unlike Loughner’s rampage, Shawna Forde’s role in the murder of Brisenia Flores is unequivocally an instance in which violent right-wing ideology led directly to a cold-blooded killing.