Anti-illegal immigrant activist gets death sentence; may be seen as a martyr

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 23 2011 6:02 p.m. MST

TUCSON, Ariz. — An Arizona woman convicted of orchestrating the murders of two people in an attempt to personally enforce federal immigration laws was sentenced to death Tuesday prompting anti-immigrant enthusiasts to declare her a martyr.

Jurors found Shawna Forde, a 43-year-old beautician, guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths 9-year-old, Brisenia Flores, her father Raul "Junior" Flores and the attempted first-degree murder of her mother Gina Gonzalez, Arizona's Green Valley News reported. She will die by lethal injection.

May 30, 2009, Gonzales told detectives a man and a woman knocked on her door and demanded entry, claiming they were looking for fugitives, reported The Herald in Everett, Wash. The man then shot Gonzales, her husband and her daughter. Gonzales played dead until the two left then called police.

Prosecutors said Forde, who founded a fringe border security group called Minutemen American Defense, masterminded the invasion of the Flores' Arizona home because she suspected he was a drug smuggler. Witnesses testified that Forde was looking for drugs and money to finance a paramilitary organization that would seal off the border to immigrants.

Forde went by the nickname "White" because "she hates all ethnicity with the exception of Caucasians," The Herald reported. She attracted national attention earlier in 2009 for falsely claiming that gang members from Central America had nearly shot her ex-husband to death and, in separate attacks, raped her and shot her in the arm. She was targeted, she said, in retaliation for her Minuteman activism.

Forde showed no emotion Tuesday when the jury announced her fate, The Herald reported. Mike Carlucci, a Seattle-area private investigator who Forde once recruited to act as "legal muscle" for her Minuteman group, said, however, that she'll likely try to spin the verdict to convince others she's a martyr.

"In her delusional scheme of things, this is going to be some sort of a twisted moral victory," he said.

Others are already stepping up to defend her.

After Forde was sentenced, Dutch Joens, a California-based Internet talk-radio host for Separatist Christian Militia Radio, said Forde was "being persecuted for her white skin and patriotic views," The Daily Beast reported.

A group of self-proclaimed conservative Christians formed a support group called The Committee for Justice for Shawna Forde. On their web site, where Forde is described as a "racially profiled, false arrested, political agenda prisoner," they proclaimed: "It is a crime to be a white, conservative, Christian woman who loves your country if you're caught in drug-smuggler-loving Pima County."

The New York Times said the case illustrates a rift in the Minuteman Border Movement. There is a division "between participants who watch the border from lawn chairs with binoculars around their necks" and those whom witnesses described to investigators as "a bunch of drunken idiots ... running around with M4" rifles, reporter Joseph Goldstein wrote.

William Simmons, a border expert and political scientist at Arizona State University, called the case an exception, not a representation of the Minuteman movement.

"These fringe elements get in the way of having civil dialogue about these issues," he told The Christian Science Monitor.

Forde's membership in the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was officially revoked in February 2007, The San Diego Examiner reported. Jeff Schwilk, founder of the San Diego Minutemen, said the organization warned law enforcement officials in California and Arizona about Forde.

"Unfortunately, they didn't take our warnings seriously until after two people were murdered," he wrote in an e-mail to the Deseret News.

Some believe, though, the case is proof that the anti-immigrant movement in the United States is getting out of line.

Media Matters For America, a non-profit Washington D.C. think tank, chastised the mainstream media for largely ignoring Forde's case. While Fox News Latino put the story on the front page, Fox News maintained silence, the think tank claimed.

"Instead, they helped perpetuate the myth of immigrant violence by focusing on stories where immigrants were the ones committing the crimes," Shauna Theel wrote.

In contrast, after rancher Robert Krentz was killed by an illegal immigrant last March, politicians cried for increased border security, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

"We have failed leadership: They won't speak up, they're silent," Carlos Galindo, a community activist and Phoenix radio talk-show host, told The Christian Science Monitor. "To not say that it's tragic for a child to die — that leaves it as acceptable to continue harming immigrants or Hispanics here in Arizona."

e-mail: estuart@desnews.com

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