Skip to main content

Questions About Nativist Leader’s Story Continue

A recent story in The [Everett, Wash.] Daily Herald detailing the troubled past of border vigilante Shawna Forde has provoked yet another round of crossfire among leaders of rival Minuteman factions and other prominent nativists.

It all began when Forde, who heads Minutemen American Defense (MAD), reported several brutal attacks this winter and implied that she’d been targeted because of her anti-illegal immigration efforts. Although the incidents are still under investigation, The Herald published a revealing profile of Forde in late February that provided more fodder for both her critics and her supporters within the anti-immigration movement. The article described a difficult childhood — including a stint in foster care and allegations of physical and sexual abuse — a lengthy criminal record that began when she was 11, the loss of a baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and problems with mental illness. Forde also told The Herald that the perpetrators of the attacks might have been local criminals rather than Hispanic gang members.

Forde ally and Minuteman leader Jim Gilchrist wrote that he’d spoken to Forde about the article and that she thought it was “reasonably fair and balanced.”

“Despite Shawna Forde’s checkered past, here is a woman who really has been a ‘victim’ throughout her life, perhaps willingly, perhaps unwillingly,” he posted on Immigration Clearinghouse the day after The Herald article appeared. “To have come through the trials and uncertainties of adolescence and young adulthood with odds stacked against you, and to have overcome those odds, is a statement of her willingness to ultimately do the right thing.”

Then he took aim at Forde’s detractors. “Few of us do not have a skeleton in our closet, especially some of Forde’s harshist [sic] critics.”

One of those critics is William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, who alluded to The Herald article in a message posted on his website. “This e-mail is to inform you that some of our worst fears are now confirmed in the media and the damage to our movement is getting worse,” he wrote. “Despite new revelations that there are major problems with Shawna’s story, that she is refusing to fully cooperate with police, has an extensive criminal record, has made outlandish claims in the past, proclaims she has mental illness and disorders, has made false claims to the media, etc. … Jim Gilchrist is standing by Shawna Forde and her story!”

Activists have speculated that the bizarre series of attacks might be a hoax since Forde first reported them three months ago. First, she told police she was raped and assaulted at her home in the Seattle suburb of North Everett on Dec. 29 (she also posted pictures on the Internet of bruises she says she sustained during the attack), one week after a shooting there that injured her former husband (authorities have not identified the shooter). Then, while walking to a nearby friend’s house on Jan. 15, she was reportedly shot in the arm on a side street as she turned around to see if someone was following her. She told The Herald that suggestions she faked the attacks were due to “politics” and called them “so ridiculous.”

The Forde controversy is hardly the only instance of infighting within the Minuteman movement, which now consists of several factions. Minuteman co-founders Chris Simcox and Gilchrist parted ways shortly after they conducted the first border patrol operation in April 2005. They became leaders of rival Minuteman organizations, but now both are under fire from former associates who accuse them of serious financial mismanagement.

Comments, suggestions or tips? Send them to HWeditor@splcenter.org and follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.