Leaders of anti-illegal immigration groups trade insults over Forde case

EVERETT — Controversy over an Everett woman charged with two killings in Arizona now has the national leaders of anti-illegal immigration groups calling one another idiots.

Shawna Forde, 41, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and other crimes in connection with a May 30 raid on an Arivaca, Ariz., family. Killed were Raul Flores, 29, and his daughter, Brisenia, 9. The child’s mother also received gunshot wounds, but survived and drove the attackers away in a gun battle that was recorded during a her frantic 911 call to police.

The sheriff’s department in Pima County, Ariz., has alleged Forde led the raid believing Flores was a drug trafficker, and she could net money to support her Minutemen American Defense group

Even before the shootings Forde was a polarizing figure for people who endorse the idea that self-styled Minutemen engaged in surveillance and patrols are part of the solution to illegal immigration, human smuggling and drug trafficking along on the U.S.-Mexico border. Forde conducted border watches and patrols in Arizona, and was an ally of Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Orange County, Calif.-based Minutemen Project.

An e-mail obtained by The Herald shows that Gilchrist was one of 17 people Forde apparently wanted contacted if she was arrested or killed after the Arivaca homicides. Last week, Gilchrist acknowledged that he’d been told Forde was wanted for questioning by police prior to her arrest in Arizona. He said he called her about eight days before she was captured, but she denied being in trouble.

He’s since publicly withdrawn all support for Forde.

Forde was arrested June 12 by FBI agents and others at a roadblock about a mile from the Sierra Vista, Ariz., ranch owned by Glenn Spencer of American Border Patrol, a group that monitors the border using cameras and aerial surveillance. Spencer last week said Forde was taken into custody after she’d made a brief, uninvited stop at his home. He said he’d broken ties with her a year earlier.

On Monday, William Gheen, president of ALIPAC — Americans for Legal Immigration — posted on his group’s Web site a repudiation of Gilchrist and Spencer in which he flatly accused them of assisting Forde after the Arivaca killings.

“We warned the nation and all group leaders, including Spencer and Gilchrist, about Shawna Forde many months before these murders,” Gheen wrote.

The warnings did appear on Gheen’s group’s Web site earlier this year and largely regurgitated reports by The Herald that raised questions about Forde’s link to a string of violent incidents in Everett. At the time, police were investigating the Dec. 22, 2008, shooting of Forde’s ex-husband, her claim that she’d was beaten and raped a week later by people she suggested were connected to Mexican drug cartels, and her own gunshot injury Jan. 15 in an Everett alley. Everett police recently said they’ve ceased investigating Forde’s rape report based on insufficient evidence.

Spencer on Monday denied that he got any warning about Forde from Gheen, and asserted that he didn’t need one anyway because he’d long before decided against associating with her. After her rape report Spencer wrote that he told his staff again that Forde “was unstable and not welcome as a guest on the ranch.”

Spencer added:

“The idea that I would put the reputation of American Border Patrol at risk by assisting someone that I knew to be unstable is outrageous and slanderous … By making these totally false accusations with no evidence whatsoever to back them up, Mr. Gheen has proven himself to be unprofessional and exploitative of the problems of unfortunate people like Shawna Forde. He is doing this to make money by tearing his ‘competitors’ down, pure and simple.

“There is really only one way to deal with people like Mr. Gheen and it is not to mince words. To wit: Wm. Gheen is an idiot,” he added.

On Gheen’s Web site there is more cross fire today, including a post that describes Spencer and an employee as idiots, too.

Gheen has been contacting reporters since Forde’s arrest, arguing that readers aren’t being told enough about the difference among those in border-watch groups, particularly when it came to support of Forde.

“Outside of the media, to my knowledge, nobody has done more before these murders to stop Shawna Forde,” Gheen said of himself during a recent interview. He said his group raised doubts about Forde’s claims of being attacked in Everett. He noted that Gilchrist stood by her, even after The Herald published a story detailing the woman’s troubled past. The article also contained Forde’s acknowledgment that she’d privately been telling police that local street toughs — not drug cartel killers — likely were behind the violence involving herself and her ex-husband this winter in Everett.

Questioning Forde’s story at the time was the right thing to do, Gheen said.

“If I had not done that, the Shawna story would have gone nuclear through our movement,” he said.

Forde was arraigned on the murder charges Monday in Tucson, Ariz. Prosecutors there are considering whether to seek the death penalty.

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