'And Hell Followed with Her;’ Murder Along the Border
March 22, 2013
David Neiwert’s new book is a taut true-crime story told with a measure of gravitas, gripping as much for the grisly particulars of a violent murder as for the fascinating context of the anti-immigrant movement playing out along the U. S-Mexico border.
“And Hell Followed with Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border” (Nation Books, 336 pp., $26.99) begins with a harrowing retelling of a 911 call made by Gina Gonzalez, grievously wounded near the bodies of her slain husband and 10-year-old daughter, victims of a brutal execution-style shooting in Arivaca, Ariz., 12 miles north of the border. Author David Neiwert takes off from there to flesh out the stories of the victims and the assailants while examining the murky and often chaotic world of border vigilantes.
In a cast of dubious characters, the most notorious is Shawna Forde, the flamboyant leader of a small band of crooks who plan and carry out the killings in May 2009 for a stash of money they think is hidden in the victims’ house.
Forde lived in Washington state from 2006-2009, when she first became active in the growing Minuteman militia movement. Neiwert, a Seattle resident, devotes a whole chapter on the movement in Washington state.
Forde was born into poverty and abuse, and committed her first felony at age 11. Throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, she cycled in and out of crime, jobs and relationships. An inveterate liar, Forde could also be charming and persuasive. In 2009 she moved to Arizona to be closer to the action. As illegal border crossings mounted during the last decade, Minutemen decried the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Border Patrol. Many decided to take action as private citizens. Although they didn’t openly promote violence, pledging to call the Border Patrol when they spotted suspected illegal entrants, many had a violent past.
Southern Arizona and other regions along the Mexico border became a nexus for an assortment of nativists, white supremacists, gun zealots and ex cons, conjuring up the old wild west. But while they attracted a lot of attention, the movement was disorganized and rife with infighting, and it was not nearly as popular and widespread as media reports indicated.
Neiwert shows how credulous media members — especially local television stations and CNN’s Lou Dobbs — whipped up the hysteria with softball interviews of Chris Simcox, Jim Gilchrist and other Minuteman leaders. As the author astutely observes, the anti-Latino, anti-immigrant frenzy recalls historical racism in the American west, especially anti-Asian campaigns in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Neiwert wrote a groundbreaking history of Japanese Americans in Bellevue.)
In an otherwise seamless narrative, Neiwert occasionally lapses into perplexing (and slightly noir) declarations — “Like most of Shawna’s stories, it had about a 99 percent chance of being 100 percent bull---,” he writes — when his superb reporting and descriptive skills are more than enough to expose the B.S.
Though the incidents in this book occurred nearly four years ago, the circumstances surrounding the murders are still highly relevant. As the national debate on immigration heats up again, this is a must-read for those who seek a deeper understanding of the issues and emotions behind the rhetoric.