Border fear: Robberies by rogue citizens militia

By Jesse McKinley and Malia Wollan

Published: Sunday, June 28 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Small numbers of Americans have always viewed border patrolling as a patriotic duty, but the most recent incarnation — the Minutemen movement, which takes its name from citizen militias formed during the Revolutionary War — gained momentum in 2005, when hundreds of volunteers flocked to locations from California to Texas.

Their patrols initially drew praise from some leaders, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, but also raised concerns that such activities were thin veils for racism and xenophobia. Over time, the Minuteman movement has also suffered from infighting, with some groups, like Forde's, advocating increasingly confrontational tactics while others have simply monitored the border and reported illegal border crossings to authorities.

Since the killings here, members of some better-known groups associated with the movement have hastened to disassociate themselves from Minutemen American Defense, while other began doing so long before. The 750-member San Diego Minutemen started warning people on its Web site in January to avoid Forde.

In the killings here, the authorities said the three suspects believed that Gonzalez's husband, Flores, 29, was holding both drugs and money at their remote ranch home. According to Gonzalez's 911 call, they were dressed in uniforms resembling law enforcement and arrived shortly after midnight on May 30. They told the family that they were looking for a fugitive.

The suggestion of drug smuggling have devastated and outraged residents in Arivaca, a town of retirees, artists, and working people about 55 miles south of Tucson. "This is a good town," said Fern Loveall, 76. "It's a good place to live, and it's a good place to raise kids. What they're saying about it isn't true."

Members of Flores' family also denied that he had any connection to the drug trade. "He was a good guy," said Gilbert Mungary, 80, Flores' grandfather. "I know what happened, but I can't imagine why."

The family's house was silent last week. An American flag hung on the porch, and three pink roses adorned the front door. Down a dirt road, at the local community center, a picture of Brisenia, the slain daughter of Flores and Gonzalez, had been placed in a frame with a small black ribbon affixed to it.

For the regulars at the La Gitana Cantina, on the town's only major street, emotions have ranged from abject sorrow to rage.

"I've had people come into the bar and just put their heads in their hands and all the sudden, they've got tears pouring down their face," said Karen Lippert, a bartender. She added that while one of the suspects was a local — Gaxiola — Forde had come from out of town. "This is not us guys," she said. "It's not the way us guys operate."

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