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Border fear: Robberies by rogue citizens militia

By Jesse McKinley and Malia Wollan

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

ARIVACA, Ariz. — "Somebody just came in and shot my daughter and my husband!" the woman shouted to the 911 dispatcher. "They're coming back in! They're coming back in!"

Multiple gunshots are then heard on a tape of the call.

The woman, Gina Gonzalez, survived the attack after arming herself with her husband's handgun, but both he and their 10-year-old daughter died.

The killings, last month, have terrified this small town near the Mexican border, in part because the authorities have tied them to a rogue group of citizen border patrols.

The three people arrested in the crime include the leader of Minutemen American Defense, a Washington state-based offshoot of the Minutemen movement, in which citizens roam the border looking for people crossing into the country illegally. Former members describe the group's leader, Shawna Forde, 41 as having anti-immigrant sentiments that are extreme, at times frightening, even to people accustomed to hard-line views on policing the border.

The authorities say that the three suspects were after money and drugs that they intended to use to finance vigilantism, and that they have been linked to at least one other home invasion, in California.

"There was an anticipation that there would be a considerable amount of cash at this location," said Clarence Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, because, he said, Gonzalez's husband, Raul Junior Flores, had previously been involved in narcotics trafficking, an assertion the family denies.

A Pima County public defender representing Forde had no comment on the case. Nor did lawyers for the other suspects: Jason E. Bush, 34, and Albert R. Gaxiola, 42. All three have been charged with first-degree murder, assault and burglary. Merrill Metzger, Forde's half-brother who worked for Forde's group for six months just as it was getting started in 2007, said Forde had often traveled from Washington to Arizona with weapons. In March, while stopping over at Metzger's home in Redding, Calif., Forde presented a plan for the group to undertake, said Metzger, speaking in in a telephone interview." She was sitting here talking about how she was going to start an underground militia and rob drug dealers," he said.

Metzger quit the group, alarmed, he said, by a number of things, including Forde's demand for extreme loyalty, right down to the choice of cuisine.

"I had to take an oath, and part of the oath was that I couldn't eat Mexican food," he said. "That's when red flags went up all over for me. That seemed like prejudice."

Another former member of Forde's group, Chuck Stonex, a retired independent contractor, said Forde had talked about buying a ranch near Arivaca and building a compound. He said that in October, he took an excursion with her into the desert north of here, where, wearing camouflage and carrying handguns and rifles, they searched for illegal immigrants.

"It's just like hunting," Stonex said, describing the tracking skills the group used. "If you're going out hunting deer, you want to scout around and get an idea what their pattern is, what trails they use."

Stonex said he treated one of the suspects, Bush, for a flesh wound the day of the attack on Gonzalez's family. Gonzalez had presumably shot Bush in warding off the attackers, but, Stonex said, the wound did not raise his suspicions, because, he said, Forde offered what seemed a plausible explanation: "They'd been jumped by border bandits."

"They were very relaxed, having casual, normal chitchat," he recalled.

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