By Julie Muhlstein, Herald columnist
In Arivaca, a tiny Arizona town near the Mexican border, a 9-year-old girl and her father were dead. They’d been shot by home invaders in the wee hours of May 30, 2009.
In California, the mother of border activist Shawna Forde reached out to someone she could trust.
In Everett, Forde’s hometown, Herald reporter Scott North had answers for Rena Caudle, the California woman. Caudle had contacted North asking him to track down any news in the past couple of days out of Arivaca. That’s where Forde was when she called her mother with a bizarre tale about a drug cartel “kicking in doors and shooting people.”
“So he looked it up, and he emailed me back, and he says, ‘Well, there was a shooting down there, a man and his daughter was killed and the wife was shot in a home invasion.’ And then I got to thinking: ‘She did it.’ I just knew she did it.”
That account, by Forde’s own mother, is among the riveting details in a new book, “And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border,” by Seattle journalist and author David Neiwert.
The book is far more than the criminal saga of Forde, now on Arizona’s death row after being convicted in 2011 of killing Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul Flores, and of trying to kill Brisenia’s mother, Gina Gonzalez. Two men were also convicted of the killings.
At the trial in Tucson, attended by Neiwert, jurors heard testimony about Forde planning to rob suspected drug dealers to bankroll her border-watch group, Minutemen American Defense.
North, who in The Herald covered Forde’s dealings months before the Arizona killings, reported in 2009 that she started her MAD group after being booted out of a national Minutemen organization, which focused on border security and illegal immigration.
In his book’s acknowledgements, Neiwert, 56, wrote that “It was North who first exposed Shawna Forde as a pathological fraud, even before she became a child-killer, and it was North who uncovered the entire story of her career in crime in the aftermath of the Flores murders.”
That story includes Forde’s record of petty crimes as a girl in Everett, and a still unsolved shooting of John Forde, Shawna’s husband at the time, in his Everett home.
Why, though, write a book about this lowlife killer?
By phone Monday, Neiwert said his book paints a picture much larger than one woman’s shady life. One overarching theme is infiltration by racist outlaws into groups of many well-meaning people. The original aim may be patriotic. But with doors open to extreme views based on hate, the result can be as horrible as the bloody murder scene in Arivaca.
The Minutemen movement, Neiwert said, is “one of the largest, most mainstream” groups focused on immigration. In a chapter about a 2006 border watch on the Whatcom County-British Columbia border, Neiwert said he wanted to show how the Minutemen “attracted a lot of well-meaning people who were sincere and being misled.”
“What they didn’t understand, they were providing a huge avenue, something white supremacists and people on the far right had been dreaming of doing for years — vigilante border watches,” he said.
Neiwert is a University of Idaho graduate who has worked at newspapers in Bellevue, Missoula, Mont., and Idaho Falls and Sandpoint, Idaho.
His zeal for covering white supremacist and militia groups dates to his early career at The Bonner County Daily Bee in Sandpoint.
“We had the Aryan Nations moving in,” Neiwert said of the neo-Nazi group that for more than two decades had a compound near Hayden Lake, Idaho. Robert Mathews, leader of The Order white militant group who later died during an FBI standoff on Whidbey Island, once wrote letters to the Sandpoint paper when he lived at Metaline Falls, Wash., Neiwert recalled.
As editor of the Daily Bee, Neiwert decided not to cover the Aryan group at Hayden Lake, thinking “they just want publicity.”
“That was a big mistake. I learned that lesson and just stayed on it,” said Neiwert, who later covered Aryan Nations cross burnings for the University of Idaho paper. Later, as an editor at The Bellevue Journal-American, he covered militia groups and the anti-environmental movement tied to property rights.
It was during the 1990s that secessionists in Snohomish County aimed to create Freedom County. “The first militia meeting I went to was out there in Maltby,” Neiwert said.
The author stuck with the subject of hate after getting to know Bill Wassmuth, a former Catholic priest whose home had been firebombed in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the 1980s when the Aryan Nations group was based nearby. Wassmuth, who died in 2002, established the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity.
“It’s kind of a tribute to him,” Neiwert said.
After finishing “And Hell Followed With Her,” Neiwert said he went through an uncharacteristic spell of being depressed. “It really takes a toll — the hatefulness,” Neiwert said. In Arivaca, he said, “talk about Brisenia and people get tears in their eyes.”
He met Shawna Forde only once, briefly.
“The interesting thing about Shawna, a lot of psychopaths can’t hide the fact they have no empathy. There’s a giant hole in their souls. Shawna could fake empathy quite well,” he said. “Her actions spoke louder than her words.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
•7 p.m. Thursday at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park. 206-366-3333
•7 p.m. April 12 at Village Books, 1200 11th St., Bellingham. 360-671-2626