Washington State-based border vigilante activist Shawna Forde received the death penalty in February 2011 for the murders of Raul Flores and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia. On May 30, 2009, Forde and accomplices Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola reportedly dressed as law enforcement officers and forcibly entered the Flores residence in Arivaca, Arizona, located near the Mexican-American border. According to the Pima County sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, Forde was the "ringleader" in a "planned home invasion where the plan was to kill all the people inside this trailer so there would be no witnesses."
In April 2011, Bush also received the death penalty for his role in the murders. Albert Gaxiola, who authorities believe recruited Forde and Bush to carry out the home invasion, was spared the death penalty but received two life terms.
Forde headed the Minuteman American Defense (MAD), a small border vigilante group. Authorities have said the motive for the horrific crime appears to have been financial gain. The three accomplices were reportedly in search of drugs and money to fund their anti-immigrant activities. As one victim was a suspected drug dealer, the three may have believed that there would be money and drugs in the home. Bush, MAD's operations director, is alleged to have been the actual shooter. He sustained a non-fatal gunshot wound in the leg, shot by the surviving victim.
Bush reportedly has "long standing" connections to white supremacist groups and individuals associated with Aryan Nations, according to police in Washington. In addition to the charges he faced as a result of the Arizona incident, Bush was charged in June 2009 with second-degree murder for allegedly stabbing and beating to death an Hispanic man from Washington in 1997. Washington police have not officially stated that the motive in the alleged 1997 crime was racial. However, an affidavit filed by Wenatchee County Sergeant John Kruse includes a statement by an informant who revealed that Bush was allegedly motivated to murder a man because he was Mexican.
Bush has a long history of committing violent and other criminal acts for which he has served prison sentences. As reported by media sources, Bush, as a teenager in Idaho, was convicted for burglary, grand theft, and writing a check backed by insufficient funds. Years later in Kansas, he was reportedly found guilty of battery against a law enforcement officer, burglary, attempted escape, and trafficking contraband into a penal institution. He then moved to Washington, and in the one year period from 1997-1998, possessed stolen property, unlawfully possessed a firearm, and took a motor vehicle without permission. For these crimes, he was sentenced to a prison term of two years and nine months. Bush also pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault as a result of assaulting an inmate in a Chelan County, Washington jail.
The caption on a video segment of Shawna Forde's November 2006 appearance on a Washington television segment labeled her as a representative of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the largest anti-immigrant group in the country. Preceding her statements on the program, the host also introduced Forde as a Minuteman member and FAIR "representative."
Such a connection is damaging to FAIR, which has steadily tried to purify its image in media and government circles in spite of its associations with virulent anti-immigrant groups and figures. On June 16, 2009, FAIR issued a press release claiming that the group "has no association with Shawna Forde." In the press release, FAIR leader Dan Stein claimed that Forde "is not and never was an employee, member activist, or donor of FAIR and certain has never been authorized to speak on behalf of our organization."
A string of violent incidents, including an alleged shooting, plagued Forde and her estranged husband in late December 2008 and January 2009. Forde claimed that she was shot, raped, and beaten, and that intruders shot her husband. Some, both within the anti-immigrant movement and conservative circles, voiced concern that Forde might have been fabricating details of some of the alleged incidents.
The string of alleged incidents began with a shooting at the Everett, Washington, home of Forde's estranged husband, John, who filed for divorce in October 2008. On December 22, 2008, an intruder reportedly entered John's home and shot him several times in his arms. He sustained serious injuries and had to be treated at an area hospital.
A week later, on December 29, Forde claimed a second incident occurred, which she later described in a January 2009 Internet radio interview. According to Forde, she was either entering or leaving her kitchen in her Everett home when she was "slammed against the head." She allegedly lost consciousness but remembers being raped and sodomized with an "instrument." She also explained that a knife was used to cut her neck, and that a statement was made in Spanish. Forde claimed that she heard someone saying, "We need to drown the bitch," and when she returned to her home after her hospital stay, her bathtub was full of water.
Forde also reported that the number 13 had been scrawled on the floor of her home during the incident and suggested it was an indicator that the violent Hispanic gang MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha, a Central American gang that also has a presence in California and some other parts of the United States) might have been involved.
In June 2009, police closed the investigation into the alleged December rape, citing "insufficient evidence" to continue.
In the past, Forde has claimed to have participated in "undercover" investigations of drug traffickers and others in Arizona and Washington. She has speculated that her Minutemen connections could have provoked her alleged attackers, and later charged that her work with border vigilante groups might have inspired the Latino gang to target her.
The Web site of MAD (part of the Minutemen network of border vigilante activists who stage armed patrols of the border), featured images that show Forde with bruises and marks on her face, neck and thighs. The MAD Web site also displayed scanned images of Forde's hospital release papers, which listed her conditions as a minor head injury, whiplash, multiple contusions, and sexual assault (the latter specified as either "alleged, observation or examination").
The third incident allegedly occurred on the night of January 15, 2009. Forde claimed that an unknown assailant shot her in the arm while she was walking in an alley near her home in Everett, Washington. Forde was treated at a local hospital.
Controversy surrounded the credibility of Forde's allegations. Individuals in conservative and anti-immigrant circles have alleged that one or more of the incidents may be hoaxes.
An anti-immigration activist who vocally expressed suspicion was William Gheen, who heads the North Carolina-based anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC) and has a history of ties with the Minutemen. In spite of his prior support of the Minuteman movement, Gheen announced he would put the Shawna Forde issue "on hold," as it contains "many highly unusual suspects."
Gheen also expressed concern that if Forde were to be exposed as a liar, her behavior would tarnish the reputation of the movement as a whole. In a January 2009 post to the ALIPAC forum, Gheen elaborated on his concerns: "If this story is a hoax and some sort of attention grab, then it could prove highly embarrassing to our movement and cause." He also listed seven "concerns" about the incidents themselves, including the allegation that "the photos provided by Shawna Forde showing supposed bruises look like greasy makeup…Shawna is reported to be a cosmetologist." Gheen also questioned why "MS-13 [would] switch from brutal murder and decapitations to bruises and light scratches that look like they were made with a paper clip."
In comments posted to the Web site of Free Republic, a conservative Internet discussion forum, others had similar views. One individual using the name "dominic flandry" was troubled by the photos of Forde's bruises: "I have to say they're not terribly convincing. Multiple, parallel, superficial wounds. Many are on the right side, which makes it easier for a right-hander to self-inflict." Another individual, using the name "cripplecreek," wrote, "I wonder if she faked this attack to gain some of the sympathy her husband had been getting?" A third, "Momma Republican," alleged, "There are many reasons why this story is false and faked."
Other anti-immigration activists publicly supported her statements. In a post to the Minuteman Project's Web site, Minuteman Project Executive Director Stephen Eichler wrote, "I believe what I have been told, and the reports I have read in the newspaper, to be factual and accurate." He also explained, "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."
Laine Lawless, an Arizona anti-immigration activist who has been associated with several border vigilante groups, has also supported Forde around various incidents involving Forde which began in late 2009. In August 2009, Lawless launched a Web site for the purpose of defending Forde against charges of murder, stemming from the May 2009 killing of a Latino man and his nine-year old daughter in Arizona. Lawless's Web site is presented as the product of "The Committee for Justice for Shawna Forde." It claims that "Shawna's become the target of a socialist government's clumsy attempts to marginalize and terrorize America's patriots." The site's spokesperson, John Lyon, is a member of the virulently anti-Hispanic United for a Sovereign America, an Arizona-based group.
Earlier, in a January 2009 post to the Web site of her group, Border Guardians, Lawless praised Forde's border activities and argued that the alleged attack that month was "obvious proof that the reach of the Mexican cartels extends way beyond the borders of Mexico deep into the United States."
Forde was a Washington-based Minuteman leader who was frequently active in Arizona, along the United States-Mexican border. She was a co-founder and current National Executive Director of Minuteman American Defense, a group affiliated with the Minuteman Project, at one time one of the largest Minuteman groups in the country, for which she was the Border Operations Director. Forde claimed that MAD has several thousand private members, although there was no evidence to confirm this large figure. She co-founded MAD because she wanted to take it to a more "aggressive and active level" than the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), another prominent national Minuteman group, of which she has also been a member. She also claims to be a member of the Patriot Border Alliance, a border vigilante group formed by former MCDC state directors.
According to Hal Washburn, a Kitsap County, Washington, Minuteman, Forde was a member of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps until February 2007, when she was asked to leave. Washburn reportedly warned members of his group to avoid her.
One of Forde's activities had been coordinating vigilante border patrols in Arizona. In an Internet radio interview in January 2009, Forde explained, "I have many weapons that I borrow when I go down on the border…All of our Minutemen all have weapons and long arms and all that kind of stuff."
In October 2008, MAD members participated in a border patrol operation dubbed "Allied Recon." Based out of two locations in Arizona, the operation patrolled the border "war zone" to investigate "drug cartel[s] and trafficking [sic]." Stephen Eichler, in a post to the Internet, wrote that "the Minuteman American Defense is a strong organization of brave Minutemen and Minutewomen and we are honored to associate with them." Forde has claimed that in addition to working with the Minuteman Project, she also worked with the MCDC during the operation.
Forde had previously made allegations about Hispanic gangs intruding into her life. In 2008, when her daughter was briefly missing, Forde uploaded fliers to the Internet in which she alleged that her daughter "has been targeted several times by Hispanic Gang Members (sic)" who twice had allegedly attempted to drag her daughter into a car.
In 2007, Forde unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Everett City Council. In August of that year, she pleaded guilty to shoplifting chocolate milk from local supermarket. She claimed to have chosen not to face trial because she was too busy filming a documentary along the Mexican-American border.