June 14, 2009

Logan already gathered most of the relevant early details about the remarkable case of Shawna Forde, arrested yesterday for ordering the murder of a 9-year-old girl and her father in Arizona.

My old friend Scott North, who has been around the block with reporting on the activities of the far right in Snohomish County -- where Forde is from -- reports this morning that Forde may have been involved in another violent home invasion in California already:

On Saturday, Arizona detectives were pursuing tips that members of Forde's group may have staged a home invasion robbery in Shasta Lake, Calif., on Monday.

The victims, friends of Forde's mother, reported being robbed at gunpoint of nearly $12,000 by two men who showed up at the door and presented badges claiming they were U.S. Marshals.

Truck driver Peter Myers, 48, said he recognized one of men who robbed him after he saw news reports about Forde's arrest and photographs of her co-defendants.

He said the man who directed the robbery in his home was Jason Eugene Bush, 34. The ex-convict from Eastern Washington is a Forde associate now accused of being the gunman in the Arivaca killings.

"That is the guy. He pointed a gun right at us," Myers said.


Arizona officials have said Bush is recovering from a gunshot wound received during the home invasion there. Myers said that description fits the tall man who bound him with zip ties and then took cash from the family's lock box.

"He was moving real slow," Meyers said.

Forde's mother, Rena Caudle, said her daughter recently visited the area. After Friday's arrest, Caudle said she made certain that Arizona officials knew about the suspected link to the California robbery.

This may just be the tip of the iceberg with this gang. Already Jim Gilchrist, the Minuteman leader with whom Forde has had a long association, is making the signs of the cross in her general direction and declaring he had nothing to do with her:

Jim Gilchrist, president of the California-based Minuteman Project and a longtime Forde ally, made it clear Saturday that his earlier support of Forde should in no way be construed as approving the actions now attributed to her.

"Am I going to come to her support at this time? Of course not. How can I?" Gilchrist said.

Forde ran her own organization, Gilchrist said.

"Unfortunately, some people in this Minutemen movement have used this movement to carry out sinister agendas," he said.

We'll see. Investigators may not be done making arrests yet.

Indeed, it's starting to look as though Forde may have been organizing basically a low-rent version of The Order: an ideological army turned into criminal moneymaking operation. Only this time, anti-immigrant nativism instead of white supremacy is the ideological driver. And when The Order crumbled in flames, it exposed all kinds of criminal dealings on the far right.

North reported yesterday on Forde's background. He also conducted a long interview (see above) in which she claimed to be an important figure in the Minuteman movement. The problem, of course, is that you can't believe a word any of these people say:

Forde has a long and troubled history in Snohomish County, including juvenile convictions for felonies, prostitution and other street crime. Some of her past was recounted by The Herald in a profile that appeared Feb. 22.

Forde was at the center of a flurry of violence that began Dec. 22 when her ex-husband was shot in his Everett home. A week later, she reported being beaten and raped by strangers at the same house.

On Jan. 15, Forde was found in a north Everett alley with apparent gunshot wounds.

She claimed the violence was all retaliation for her activities targeting criminal groups operating on both sides of the border between Mexico and the U.S.

The cases here remain under investigation by Everett police.

Forde's ex-husband was seriously wounded during the Dec. 22 shooting. Reached Friday, he was distraught hearing that a child died. He declined to comment on his former wife.

Forde's mother, who lives in California, said she was not surprised to hear of her daughter's arrest.

Rena Caudle said Forde visited her before heading to the border this year. She talked of staging home invasions, Caudle said.

"She sat here and said that she was going to start a group where they went down and start taking things away from the Mexican mafia," Caudle said. "She was going to kick in their doors and take away the money and the drugs."

Caudle said she wasn't sure what to make of that at the time, in part because Forde has a history of exaggeration and lying.

Turns out, this time she wasn't.

Now, back in October, I published an investigative piece on the Minutemen -- financed by The Nation Investigative Fund and published in The American Prospect -- which warned precisely of this kind of devolution of the Minuteman movement:

Welcome to the world of the Minutemen, where all-American values provide a nice storefront for a financial black hole that vacuums up hundreds of thousands of donors' dollars. The group fits into a long tradition of right-wing political organizing that runs from the resurrected Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s to the tax-protest movement of the 1980s and the militias of the 1990s. In the end, these efforts are mostly scams: They serve up a heady concoction of jingoistic fervor, bigoted xenophobia, and paranoid conspiracy theories as a means to salve all that ails the patriotic soul--but largely they have the mysterious effect of separating their fellow right-wingers from their money. And as these groups dissolve into scandal and infighting, they leave far more radical splinter groups in their wake.

... Today the minuteman movement is beyond mere disarray; it is in the early stages of complete decay. The arc of the Minutemen's decline and fall happens to trace almost precisely that of previous right-wing populist movements, notably the Klan of the 1920s and the militias of the 1990s. The pattern goes like this: The group is beset by financial manipulators who seem naturally drawn to them. Then, following an initial wave of popularity, the group splinters under the pressure of competing egos into smaller, more virulent entities who then unleash acts of public ugliness and violence that eventually relegate them to the fringes.

The Minutemen haven't quite reached that final stage yet, but they are well on their way. And while that may be welcome news to those who oppose the Minutemen's nativist agenda, that last stage represents some natural and equally toxic consequences.

The broken promises and vicious infighting have meant, unsurprisingly, that the Minutemen's original mission---watching the border--has receded to the background. In 2007, the MCDC claimed some 2,000 volunteers at various border watches, though the on-scene reports indicated far fewer participants. In 2008, the activity dropped further, so that the annual April border watch attracted only a few dozen participants and no media coverage.

The Minuteman movement has fallen on such hard times that even Gilchrist has publicly admitted that he regrets the "Saddam Hussein mentality" within its ranks, particularly some of its smaller, independent offshoots. "Am I happy at the outcome of this whole movement? I am very, very sad, very disappointed," Gilchrist told The Orange County Register in June. His concern may have been disingenuous, but it was far from groundless. Over the past year, several incidents of violence have been associated with various subfactions of the Minutemen. Last summer, a couple of Minutemen created a video portraying the shooting of border-crossers--which they later admitted was a hoax but decidedly a reflection of their real attitudes. The men were in a group that had spun off from the San Diego Minutemen, itself an independent offshoot of the movement.

Considering that the Minutemen were largely built on the sort of nativist appeals long favored by racist organizations, it's no surprise that racist and white-supremacist elements have been entwined with the movement since its inception. Gilchrist and Simcox both made loud noises about weeding out racist members, though in reality their "background checks" were mostly shams and covert white supremacists were silently tolerated. But even the stigma against overt racism appears to be disappearing among their organizations' successors. One border-watch group, headed by a former Minuteman Project official named Laine Lawless, went so far as to indulge in an e-mail exchange with a neo-Nazi organization offering tips on how to harass Latinos the old-fashioned way: steal from them, beat them up, mistreat their children, make death threats. This behavior has started to infect the main Minutemen organizations themselves. The MMP's official Las Vegas chapter, Americans4America, recently co-hosted an anti-immigration strategy session with officials from the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.

It's all part of the downward spiral of violence into which right-wing populist vigilante groups eventually descend. Now, I'm not claiming that spotting this in advance makes me particularly smart. In fact, it isn't rocket science. These groups have a long record of matching histories, and they all follow the same arc of flight. I'm just paying attention.

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