I have never supported the death penalty, and I still don’t. The fact that Shawna Forde is, by my reading of the evidence, guilty of planning and ordering the executions of Brisenia and Raul Flores and the attempted killing of Brisenia’s mother, Gina Gonzalez, does not change that opinion. But I will try to be objective in looking at why the jury sentenced her to death.
Putting myself in the place of a juror and seeing the evidence presented to the jury, it would be difficult to resist giving Forde the maximum penalty allowed by law.
Killing Brisenia and Raul was not incidental to the home invasion in Arivaca, Arizona. It was central to it. The Flores family was not shot during a struggle, and Forde did not just plan to kill Raul, she wanted to kill the whole family. In fact, when she and her second in command Jason Bush realized that one member of the family, Brisenia’s sister, was missing, they demanded to know where the little girl was so they could get her, too.
Brisenia’s last act was one of heroism, refusing to give up her sister to the assassins.
Forde was not the gunman in these killings, but she was the author. She began planning them at least four months before they took place. She organized the men in her operations unit and she allied her group with local drug dealers in Arivaca to provide intelligence on the ground. She recruited Minutemen from as far away as Texas, Colorado, and Washington for her project. She also brought in a white supremacist with a long history of violence to serve as her triggerman.
That Brisenia and Raul were mortally wounded and Gina was seriously injured shows that Forde intended to kill. After ransacking the house for money that her so-called intel told her was valued in the millions of dollars and finding just a few pieces of costume jewelry, Forde saw that Gina was still alive and she ordered her gunman to finish the job.
After the killings, Forde promptly began planning her next home invasion. While her gunman nursed his wounds, Forde attended a barbeque at the ranch of another border militia leader, where she appeared calm and untroubled to others there, even as news of the massacre was airing on TV and the radio.
Forde’s motives for the killings were both political and financial. They fit the very definition of cold blooded.
In light of the verdict, we should also look at Forde’s history: She was a well-known member of the Minutemen for most of that movement’s existence.
Associates say Forde was so anti-Latino that she wouldn’t even eat Mexican food. Her most devout friend, Laine Lawless, is best known in Arizona for publicly burning Mexican flags.
Forde believed that armed militias at the border were the only way to prevent Latinos from entering the US illegally, and at the time of the murders, she saw the nascent Tea Party movement as potential Minuteman converts. She told her associates in the weeks before the killings that she was going to take the Minuteman American Defense organization to a whole new level, presumably she wanted to do something that would draw the political right’s attention.
As we learned through the investigation, Forde saw the killings as a way to further radicalize the Minutemen and perhaps as a way to establish her preeminence within the movement. The Minutemen, contrary to the image of unity promoted by Fox News, are actually a seriously fractured network of more than 60 organizations engaged in constant bickering and mutual accusations of financial wrongdoing.
Forde had been a member of one faction, Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, from its early existence, but had been expelled two years before the killings. She then allied with the better-known Minutemen Project and started her own offshoot, Minuteman American Defense. A spectacular series of operations could have taken her to the very top of the organization, a position that has only been held by men.
Forde also believed that her home invasions would bring a massive influx of money to the Minuteman network, money she felt it badly needed.
In 2005, the Minutemen had briefly been the darlings of the Republican right, and it was not unusual for Minuteman groups to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations in a single quarter. Much of that money was never accounted for in audits. Accusations of financial mismanagement and outright theft by Minuteman leaders led many rank and file members to abandon the organizations.
Forde thought that by targeting smugglers along the border, the Minutemen could tap into a new revenue stream, and she picked the Flores home for attack because her supposed intel told her that Raul was a drug smuggler with more than a million dollars in cash in his home. I cannot vouch for Raul’s character, but he was never arrested or charged with drug trafficking, and his home did not have millions of dollars in it when he was killed. There was just $3,000 there when he died, enough for the mortgage and utilities for the new month.
So much for Minuteman intelligence.
When she found that the anticipated cash wasn’t there, Forde stole the cheap jewelry Raul had given to Gina as presents over the years they were married.
Forde has continued to try to make money off of the people she killed. Her support committee, Justice for Shawna Forde, charges a fee for any reporter who wants to talk to her. Here is what a reporter from the Arizona Star wrote on February 22:
If the committee behind the Justice for Shawna Forde website is correct, Forde is displeased with the results of her interview last week with The Daily Beast.
According to the website, Forde is so upset, “She is now willing to speak to media and to answer all questions asked, and directs journalists to the media section of this website. She will grant no interviews unless the parties have been screened through The Committee for Justice for Shawna Forde first.”
You’ll notice it makes no mention of the fees Forde told her attorney Eric Larsen she wants to charge for interviews. (She told him this last Friday.)
That being the case, I e-mailed the committee and informed them I intended to go to the jail after Forde’s sentence comes down to see if Forde would talk to me—with or without being vetted.
Here’s the response I received…:
“Shawna won’t talk to anyone without the correct password. I am the only one who knows that. She won’t speak with you unless you have been given the OK, and there is not enough time for Shawna and I to talk and for her to decide the terms under which she will speak to you. No one will get an interview gratis.”
Forde’s followers believe that the attention generated by her trial will make Shawna Forde a martyr to the Minuteman cause.
Hopefully, the complete rejection of her acts by a jury of her peers will serve as a warning to anti-immigrant radicals that the insular world of hatred they inhabit stands disconnected from the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans.