If there's a single lesson to be carried away from reading this engrossing and chilling new book about vigilantes and our border, it's this: Don't underestimate 'em.
Those Minutemen might have been funky-looking old guys with beer bellies and hairless legs, perched on lawn chairs, facing down Naco. But those were real guns in their holsters. And those were real children on the Sonoran side of the international line. And given the right conditions, opportunities, company, encouragement and media attention, Neiwert suggests, they might have felt slicker than spit to have taken some of those real children out.
Investigative reporter David Neiwert—whose previous work includes The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right and Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community—situates at the book's core the 2009 Arivaca murders of Raul "Junior" Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, by some splinter Minutemen. In addition to the murder piece, he explores the roots and nature of the Minuteman movement, and the path to death row of Shawna Forde, leader of the splinter group.
Neiwert builds the case that the Minuteman movement, spawned in Southern Arizona in reaction to failed government immigration policies, evolved from the same murky roots as the 1850s Know Nothing Party, the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society and border militias of the 1990s. It's nativism, following in the grand American tradition of bigotry against immigrants—Irish, Germans, Asians and, now, Latinos.
Several threads are pulled through And Hell Followed with Her, including the roles of various players and the influence of the media in stoking Minuteman fires. Neiwert follows retired California businessman Glenn Spencer, whose Voices of Citizens Together opposed Hispanic immigrants in the '90s. After supporting California's Proposition 187 denying benefits to undocumented residents; demonizing the student group MEChA; and spreading the "Reconquista" theory of Mexicans' plans to overrun the Southwest and return it to Mexico, Spencer ceded California to "Aztlan" and relocated to a ranch in Arizona.
Into this ripe soup waded California teacher Chris Simcox. Paranoid and xenophobic, according to Neiwert, Simcox came to Tombstone after September 11 to join the Border Patrol. He was too old for the BP but he found a job as a re-enactor in the town's Old West shootouts. He stuck a gun in his waistband and also bought the local newspaper the Tombstone Tumbleweed. With his newfound bullhorn, ("ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!") he started forming a militia to block invading hordes. Only two volunteers—but also four reporters—showed up for his first border-watch training. Although the movement grew modestly, media coverage of it ballooned and "journalists became Simcox's target audience." He and compadre Jim Gilchrist would become the darlings of CNN's Lou Dobbs and Fox News' Sean Hannity.
Gilchrist—the other main player in the movement—was a Vietnam vet and an ex-newspaperman turned CPA. Fearing the Latino masses flooding Southern California, he joined Simcox's group and eventually helped spread it nationally. It was he who came up with the name "Minuteman Project."
Shawna Forde would become one of Simcox's representatives in the unit in Washington state and occasionally Gilchrist's spokeswoman. As it turns out, they should have vetted her better.
Neiwert organized his book in a such a way that we have no doubt about what happened on May 30, 2009, but he maintains suspense through the quality of his observations: Forde and three others in camouflage invaded the home of small-time marijuana smuggler Junior Flores and shot him; his wife, Gina Gonzalez; and their daughter, Brisenia. Only Gonzalez survived. They found nothing of value.
Forde herself was a species of victim—an illegitimate child passed from family to family and abused and neglected. She was a thief and streetwalker by age 15 and a cunning manipulator by adulthood. The effect of the Minuteman movement on her was to facilitate the transformation of an already damaged human being into a psychopath.
The wave behind the Minuteman Project rose and broke. But Neiwert cautions us that the impulse that gave rise to it—the hatred and bigotry of the extremist right—has not gone away. It will just find another face ... on the surface, funky, perhaps. But not to be underestimated.