EVERETT — Shawna Forde believed organized criminals operating at the border between the U.S. and Mexico posed one of the greatest threats to the nation’s security.
Drug traffickers. Human smugglers.
The Everett woman was convinced they were helping terrorists sneak radioactive “dirty bomb” materials into the U.S. She feared the federal government was in league with the United Nations and allowing what amounted to an illegal-immigrant invasion.
In a May 20 “border report” posted on the Web site of her Minutemen American Defense group, Forde warned readers that soon “you will walk out your door and think you were just transplanted into Mexico.”
Forde spent much of the past three years scouring the Arizona desert for signs of criminals.
Now, she finds herself behind bars, the focus of a double murder investigation in Arizona with potential connections to a home invasion robbery in California and other crimes in Washington.
Pima County, Ariz., detectives on Friday described Forde leading a plot to finance her Minutemen activities by robbing suspected drug traffickers. She and two others are charged with a fatal May 30 home invasion at a suspected drug trafficker’s home in Arivaca, Ariz.
Raul Flores, 29, and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, were killed when a group of armed people, including a woman, forced their way into the home. The child’s mother traded gunfire with the attackers. She survived but remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
The Arivaca robbery was meant to raise money to fuel Forde’s group, investigators said.
Detectives believe there are additional suspects and are aggressively continuing their investigation.
On Saturday, Arizona detectives were pursuing tips that members of Forde’s group may have staged a home invasion robbery in Shasta Lake, Calif., on Monday.
The victims, friends of Forde’s mother, reported being robbed at gunpoint of nearly $12,000 by two men who showed up at the door and presented badges claiming they were U.S. Marshals.
Truck driver Peter Myers, 48, said he recognized one of men who robbed him after he saw news reports about Forde’s arrest and photographs of her co-defendants.
He said the man who directed the robbery in his home was Jason Eugene Bush, 34. The ex-convict from Eastern Washington is a Forde associate now accused of being the gunman in the Arivaca killings.
“That is the guy. He pointed a gun right at us,” Myers said.
Arizona officials have said Bush is recovering from a gunshot wound received during the home invasion there. Myers said that description fits the tall man who bound him with zip ties and then took cash from the family’s lock box.
“He was moving real slow,” Meyers said.
Forde’s mother, Rena Caudle, said her daughter recently visited the area. After Friday’s arrest, Caudle said she made certain that Arizona officials knew about the suspected link to the California robbery.
She also told them about a frantic May 30 phone call from Forde, who said she was in hiding and mentioned the Arivaca killings. Forde had previously discussed robbing drug traffickers linked to Mexican organized crime, her mother said.
Detectives arranged an interview.
After her arrest, Caudle said, Forde apparently tried to use her as a reference in hope of securing release on $1 million bail. She declined.
Caudle said she’s deeply saddened over what happened in Arizona. If her daughter was involved in the killings, she expects her to be held accountable.
“I can only sympathize with the woman who lost her 9-year-old daughter,” Caudle said. “You can quote me on this. I want people to know I do not approve of anyone killing anybody else for any reason. But I still love the Shawna that would come down and do haircuts, and girly girl things with her mother. I love the kind side of her and the laughter we shared.”
Forde has a long and troubled history in Snohomish County, including juvenile convictions for felonies, prostitution and other street crime. She’s been married and divorced four times, has been fired from numerous jobs and managed to alienate many in Minutemen circles, in part because of her inability to follow rules.
In 2007, Forde ran for Everett City Council, campaigning on a platform that emphasized immigration issues. Her bid for office came up short after she was convicted of shoplifting a container of chocolate milk.
More recently, Forde has been at the center of a bizarre string of violence that began Dec. 22 when her ex-husband was shot in an ambush attack at his Everett home. A week later, Forde called the newspaper to report being beaten and raped by strangers at the same house.
Forde claimed that the violence was retaliation for her activities targeting criminal groups operating on both sides of the border between Mexico and the U.S. She suggested that the street gang MS-13 was somehow involved, and for a time she posted photographs on her Web page showing herself partially dressed, displaying what she said were injuries to her thighs and upper buttocks.
Forde’s handling of the rape report triggered a blogosphere backlash accusing her of staging a hoax.
Just weeks later, on Jan. 15, Forde was found in a north Everett alley with apparent gunshot wounds to an arm.
Before her arrest, Everett police were contacted by Pima County detectives and they shared information about Forde, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.
Everett’s investigation into violence here continues, Goetz said.
Bush, the suspected gunman in the Arivaca killings, has extensive adult and juvenile criminal history in Eastern Washington. He’s served prison time for auto theft and being a felon in possession of firearms, court papers show.
Dave Neiwert is a Seattle journalist and author who has written extensively about political violence, including the 1999 book “In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest.”
He and others on Saturday said Forde’s case echoes earlier criminal activity that involved people with far-right leanings who took up weapons.
The most notorious group was “The Order,” a white supremacists group led by Robert Jay Mathews, who in the early 1980s engaged in a campaign of robbery and murder in Idaho, Washington and other western states. Mathews died in December 1984 in a fiery gun battle with FBI agents on Whidbey Island.
There are common themes among those attracted to groups that engage in crime to further right-wing causes, Neiwert said.
Those involved often see the world simply. They often have difficulty maintaining stable relationships. They frequently are broke, and looking to blame others, he said.
“A lot of these people are losers with a capitol ‘L,’” Neiwert said.
Eric Ward was a community organizer in the Northwest during the 1990s, when militia groups were forming. He’s now national field director for the Center for New Community, a national civil rights organization based in Chicago. Much of his work now revolves around immigration.
Forde’s case appears to highlight what has happened repeatedly during U.S. history when people begin to dehumanize and scapegoat others, and then find space in their political movement for those who threaten violence, he said.
It is time for people to take a stand against bigotry and violence surrounding immigration issues, Ward said.
“I think Arizona has become a much more dangerous place,” he said.
Devin Burghart is associate director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He also worked as a community organizer in the Northwest during the 1990s.
Human rights activists have been warning since 2005 that Minutemen activism could lead to violent acts, Burghart said. Supporters bear some responsibility, he said.
“All of them should be held to answer for these murders, which include the brutal killing of a 9 year-old girl,” he said.
Minutemen groups on Saturday seemed most interested in putting as much distance as possible between themselves and Forde.
The Web site for Forde’s group posted a statement purporting to come from its leaders. The statement offered the group’s “deepest regrets” to the family of those killed in Arizona, and vowed to “cooperate totally and fully with any and all Law Enforcement agencies and the appropriate judicial system to bring this most terrifying event to a close.”
Chuck Stonex of Alamagordo, N.M., was a staunch supporter of Forde. Earlier this year he was among those who wrote The Herald, angry about how Forde’s travails were being covered.
Stonex on Saturday responded to an e-mail from the Associated Press sent through the group’s Web site. “This is not what Minutemen do,” he wrote. “Minutemen observe, document and report. This is nothing more than a cold-hearted criminal act, and that is all we want to say.”
Forde called him on May 30 while he was visiting Arizona and asked him to bring bandages to an Arivaca home because Bush had been wounded, Stonex told the AP.
According to the story, Stonex said it appeared Bush had a relatively minor gunshot wound, which he treated. Forde and Bush told him Bush been wounded by a smuggler who shot at him while the group were patrolling the desert. He didn’t suspect that might not be the case until was contacted by a deputy on Saturday about their alleged involvement in the crime.
Jim Gilchrist, president of the California-based Minuteman Project and a longtime Forde ally, made it clear Saturday that his earlier support of Forde should in no way be construed as approving the actions now attributed to her.
“Am I going to come to her support at this time? Of course not. How can I?” Gilchrist said.
Forde ran her own organization, Gilchrist said.
“Unfortunately, some people in this Minutemen movement have used this movement to carry out sinister agendas,” he said.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in The Herald
Shawna Forde was arrested Friday in Arizona for investigation for murder.
Forde has a long and troubled history in Snohomish County. Some of her past was recounted by The Herald in a profile that appeared Feb. 22.
That violence remains under investigation by Everett police.