By Miriam Raftery
Exclusive: An East County Magazine special report
June 14, 2009 (San Diego’s East County) – Shawna Forde, leader of Minutemen America Defense(MAD), has been arrested along with two men and charged with double homicide in a home invasion. The victims included a nine-year-old girl and her father. Forde has recently visited Camp Vigilance, a high-desert training camp operated by Minuteman Civil Defense near Boulevard in San Diego’s East County in 2008, East County Magazine has learned. A second suspect arrested also has ties to Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), which operates a Minutemen training facility in East County.photo: Forde in East County, courtesy of Campo Minutemen.
Forde was arrested along with Albert Robert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush in Pima County, Arizona. All three have been charged with two-counts of first-degree murder and other charges in a home invasion that left Raul Junior Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, dead. The trio reportedly dressed as law enforcement officers, gunning down Flores and his daughter. The home invasion was reportedly drug related and the motive may have include financial gain. “Forde had previously discussed robbing drug traffickers linked to Mexican organized crime, her mother said,” according to the Everett Herald in Washington State, where Forde had recently resided.
Pima County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman deputy Dawn Barkman said Forde "was the ringleader of this group and of this attack. She made the order for Bush to go in and shoot these individuals…."She's just truly an evil person to do something like this.” Forde and the others charged have denied guilt.
“These Minutemen are violent vigilante groups as I’ve always said, including groups of people in East County,” Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels in San Diego and a leader in the immigrant rights movement, told East County Magazine. ”Their motivation is hate,” he said, warning that hate speech and vigilantism can lead to violence and in this case, the tragic death of an innocent child. “They have been in the Campo area and at meetings; these are part of the racist vigilante Minutemen. There are also some neo-Nazis in East County now,” he added. “The authorities have been advised.”
Local Minutemen group have long claimed to oppose violence, while supporting vigilante citizen patrols of the Border.
“It is, of course shocking and horrible, especially with the little child being involved. It takes someone truly monstrous to harm a child,” Campo Minutemen spokesperson Deborah Craig informed ECM in an e-mail interview. She later e-mailed her remarks to a Minutemen list-serve. “We have not heard the men involved, however, we have met Shawna Forde,” she revealed. “The various media reports seem to be inaccurate with regard to her involvement with other groups.”
Minutemen Civil Defense Corps is based in Arizona and was founded by Chris Simcox, who left when he began his run for United States Senate.“Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) maintains a facility in California near Boulevard known as Camp Vigilance," Craig said. "In August of 2008, Shawna Forde came [to] the border at Campo, CA and contacted Campo Minuteman Britt Craig. She did not make any comments to indicate she was unstable or violent,” Forde recalled. “She had a Minutemen Civil Defense Corps badge so she presumably had been vetted by the group. Minutemen Civil Defense Corps charges a fee and does a background check.”
According to Deborah Craig, Forde and Campo Minutemen leader Britt Craig went to Camp Vigilance in separate vehicles “where she was given full access by the caretaker. She purchased a bullet proof vest from the caretaker and indicated she planned to spend the night,” Deborah Craig added. “She indicated that she primarily did her border watching in AZ , that she had her own group, Minutemen American Defense, and we did not hear [from] her directly again.”
Bush, who goes by the nickname “Gunny”, serves as operations director of MAD according to the group’s website, however the Associated Press reports, he has “recently been living in Arizona and was once associated with the better known and larger Minutemen Civil Defense Corps” which operates Camp Vigilante in East County.
Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) took $10,000 in political contributions from The Minuteman PAC, the political action arm of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC). The MCDC is described as “a nativist extremist group whose members conduct armed patrols of the border” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which tracks hate crimes and hate-related groups nationwide.
San Diego Minutemen (SDMM) founder Jeff Schwilk also denounced the murders. A notice on the SDMM website states that “SDMM and other groups have sent and posted numerous warnings about Forde starting in January when she was involved in several violent, suspicious crimes in Everett, WA. She also has been openly advocating violence and `taking it to the drug cartels’ for many months now. All border acativists have been strongly warned to stay away from her and her small “Minuteman American Defense border watch group,” said the statement, which adds that SDMM “alerted law enforcement to the dangers we believed she posed, especially on the Arizona and California border.”
SDMM is described by the SPLC as a “particularly virulent nativist group…making a thuggish name for itself.” However the SDMM website posting criticizes national Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist for failing to distance himself from Forde.
Today, however, Gilchrist clarified that his past support of Forde has ended, the Hearld reported. "Am I going to come to her support at this time? Of course not. How can I?" Gilchrist said, according to the Herald.
Gilchrist co-founded the California-based Minuteman Project, along with Simcox. After the pair spilt up, Simcox went on to found the MCDC in December 2005. Gilchrist’s Minutemen Project has distributed white supremacist literature and is considered a racist nativist group, according to the SPLC.
Forde has a checkered history that included arrests for prostitution and juvenile crimes, the Herald has reported. In addition, the newspaper reported, “More recently, Forde has been at the center of a bizarre string of violence that began Dec. 22 when her ex-husband was shot in an ambush attack at his Everett home. A week later, Forde called the newspaper to report being beaten and raped by strangers at the same house.” She claimed the violence was retaliation for her activities targeting criminal groups operating on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. She posted photographs on her Web page displaying what she said were rape-related injuries,, but was widely suspected of staging a hoax.
“If you look at her history closely, and you know what we know, she is at best a pyschopath," Sheriff Dupnik said of Forde during a press conference. “To just kill a 9-year old girl because she could be a potential witness, to me, is one of the most despicable acts I have ever heard of.”
The murders of Flores and his daughter allegedly committed by Minutemen, coming in the same week as a white supremacist opened fire in a Holocaust museum and a pro-life activist gunned down an abortion doctor, raises anew the question of whether hate speech is giving rise to violence. One Internet poster, commenting on the reported murder of Flores and his daughter by Minutemen leaders, concluded, "This is terrorism."