By David Neiwert
David Neiwert has not only earned his investigative chops over the past decade or so by exploring the dangerous side of right-wing extremism—he's proven himself to be one of the more lyrical and elegant writers on the beat. Consider the opening line of his latest release, And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border:
Night descends like grace on the Arizona desert.That sentence is a signal: sit back, you're in the hands of a master storyteller. And oh, what a tragic, dark and sadly crazy American story it is.
One night that descended like grace in the Arizona desert in May 2009 was shattered for a Mexican-American family when a sociopathic female Minuteman/border vigilante wannabe named Shawna Forde masterminded a melodramatic break-in that ended in the death of Raul Flores and his nine-year-old daughter, Brisenia, in a remote border town called Arivaca. Gina Gonzalez, Flores' wife and Brisenia's mother, survived the home invasion and execution by playing dead, and she is truly the heroine of this harrowing story: strong, unwavering, ultimately willing to testify over and over and over about the night her family was slaughtered. It's her dignity and insistence on justice for her daughter's and husband's death that makes the contrast with the murderous mastermind of the crime so stark.
A significant aspect of the scapegoating rhetoric common to right-wing nativist movements—rhetoric that is almost wholly structured around building outrage and anger in their audience and overwhelming rationality—is a kind of competitive escalation: the more outrageous and inflammatory the rhetoric, the greater influence you wield, and the greater following you attract. In a can-you-top-this political environment, a lifelong topper like Shawna will always flourish. And she did.
Paranoid, delusional, egocentric and ignorant all collide in these Forde companion characters who swagger along the border like John Wayne wannabes, armed to the teeth and certain everyone is out to get them—even their allies. And, of course, the election of a certain person to the presidency catapulted the paranoia into overdrive, and with the disintegration of the reputation of the border watcher movement, a migration into a new branch of right-wing extremism got underway:
As with most conservatives, Forde was dismayed at the election of a black Democrat, Barack Obama, to the presidency in 2008, and so she eagerly joined up the following winter as right-wing ideology got a fresh rebranding under the banner of the populist Tea Party. Her family members said she was very keen on the protests being planned—and assiduously promoted on right-wing outlets like Fox News—for that April. She wrote about the potential of the movement to advance the Minuteman cause on "Shawna's Corner."After Forde's arrest for the murders of Raul and Brisenia Flores, there was, of course, a mad scramble on the right to disown any relationship with the clearly sociopathic perpetrator. But it was a tough sell: She'd been lauded and courted by Minutemen leaders like Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist. She'd been a featured speaker at a forum on immigration in the state of Washington. There were hundreds of emails passed between her and right-wing leaders across the country, planning rallies, meetings and events in several states.
And then she turned up at the Tax Day Tea Party in Phoenix on April 15. She was one of a long list of second- and third-tier speakers who lined up to have their three minutes at the microphone during the daylong event.
In the context of some of the day's more incendiary speakers, Shawna's remarks don't really stand out—other than that she called for a citizen revolt, perhaps of the kind she was in the process of enacting.
But as Neiwert writes, the very organizations disowning her initially helped to recruit and maintain exactly the kind of people of Forde and her fellow murderer Jason Bush could so easily prey on: "… the politics and rhetoric of the Minutemen had everything to do with why they not only attracted but were vulnerable to the predations of psychopaths like Forde and Bush. It was indeed a psychopathic crime—and it was also a Minuteman crime. These were not mutually exclusive aspects of the murders in Arivaca but indeed quite complementary—perhaps even inevitable."
Neiwert's insights after covering right-wing extremism movements, his gift with language, his considerable storytelling skills all combine to make And Hell Followed With Her a near compulsive—and frightening—read. His ability to combine the history of these various organizations with the more immediate crime, and his analysis of the mindset of those who spent their lives immersed in the delusions of the right wing, make this book an important one, one with implications that reach far beyond one woman, two deaths and one border town. In his own words:
The rhetoric of the Minutemen and their related nativist organizations—including, nowadays the Tea Party—appealed to psychopaths like Shawna Forde and Jason Bush because it reflected so much of their interior psyches and moreover provided an irresistible opportunity for grandiose self-inflation and validation.Forewarned, one could say, is forearmed. And Hell Followed With Her is a radically scary wake-up call of forewarning.
Minuteman rhetoric often reflected the very traits of personality disorders, particularly in its political mind-set, which sought to blame weak and helpless (contemptibly so, from the nativist view) others for their own, often self-inflicted, national problems. It was frequently grandiose, particularly in its claims to be preventing terrorist attacks and its larger claims to be in the act of "saving America:; it indulged a marked propensity to lie and dispense false information, ranging from Glenn Spencer's Ebola rumor and Reconquista claims to Chris Simcox's bogus border-fence scam to Jim Gilchrist's bathetic, and ultimately futile, attempts to distance himself from Shawna Forde. The Minutemen also frequently distorted facts, if they did not outright falsify them, in order to manipulate public sentiment, and they did so remorselessly. Most of all, despite occasional lip service to the plight of immigrants, the Minutemen's rhetoric was profoundly lacking in empathy for the targets of their ire; indeed, the more callous and cold-hearted the remark, the more widely it was circulated. If ever there was a movement tailored to recruit and promote psychopaths, it was the Minutemen.
(Neiwert's work can also be found at Crooks and Liars, where he blogs regularly.)