As we see the conservative movement embracing and legitimizing some of the country’s most extreme personalities and their rhetoric, And Hell Followed With Her reminds us of the dangerous consequences of mainstreaming radicalism.
David Neiwert has explored far-right extremism in books including The Eliminationists, Over the Cliff, Death on the Fourth of July, and In God’s Country. In And Hell Followed With Her, he investigates the vigilante groups “patrolling” the U.S.-Mexico border, the “Patriot” movements of the Pacific Northwest and their enablers in Washington, D.C.
In his gripping new book, Neiwert offers a frightening look inside the Minutemen militias and sheds light on the history and the unhinged personalities behind them. It is no easy task to write about people who readily make up tales and fabrications to describe themselves and their agendas. But Neiwert cuts through the bullshit (and there’s a lot of it), adeptly untangling truth from myth.
During the Bush administration, anti-immigrant sentiment flared up with the help of talk radio personalities, cable news pundits and far-right Republicans in Congress. Much of their rhetoric targeted “illegal aliens,” whom they accused of taking away jobs from American workers, refusing to learn English or assimilate, dealing drugs, joining gangs and raping women.
Several anti-immigrant activists, encouraged by these extremist voices, set up their own “Minutemen” organizations to guard the country’s borders. These vigilante groups alleged that the government was either unable to “secure the border” or was deliberately sanctioning the “reconquista” of America. Some claimed there was a Hispanic “invasion” aided by political and corporate elites seeking to do away with “traditional America.”
The emergence of these right-wing militia groups was nothing new. Neiwert takes us through the long history of armed right-wing groups that have claimed to be defending themselves against a government they see as hostile.
As Neiwert reveals, the Minutemen who ostensibly focused on preserving “law and order” were not only closely linked to Neo-Nazi militia groups, they didn’t exactly shy away from engaging in criminality themselves.
But image-conscience and media-savvy, the Minutemen attempted to hide their more extremist elements and had won the praise of conservative media commentators and Republican elected officials.
More than anything, the group stressed that they were absolutely, definitely, unequivocally not racist and not violent. In fact, Minutemen Project president Jim Gilchrist once gave an impromptu speech at a Minutemen post comparing his anti-immigrant vigilante organization to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi…while standing in front of members of the National Alliance, a Neo-Nazi group.
Gilchrist and his friend-turned-rival Chris Simcox, founder of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps routinely made up stories about their backgrounds and the threats they faced on the border from gangs and from the government.
Shawna Forde, the founder of Minutemen American Defense, was similarly creative, transforming her image and gaining admirers by creating stories of being followed, assaulted and even raped by Hispanic men because of her work to stop immigrants from crossing the border. She was also press-savvy: she charmed one European documentary film crew by taking them on a tour of her work on the border in high heels.
But Forde, who had a troubled history and a long rap sheet, had a not-so pretty grand scheme: to raise funds to support the Minutemen and anti-immigrant organizations by raiding drug dealers’ outposts and stealing their money. (Neiwert reports that she told Gilchrist of her plan; Gilchrist denies it).
In May of 2009, while working near the border in southern Arizona with fellow Minuteman Jason “Gunny” Bush and Albert Gaxiola, the rival of an Arizona drug trafficker named Raul Junior Flores, Forde and her cohorts broke into Flores’ house. Flores and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia were both murdered; his wife was also shot but survived.
Neiwert’s book is an important introduction to the personalities and ideology that drove Forde and her cohorts, and the events that led to their horrific crime. And it remains sadly relevant today. Far-right activists are once again pushing theories about a borderline-dictatorial government that is hostile to gun-owners, conservatives, Christians and whites. Even as the GOP gives itself a political “makeover” and Congress once again wrestles with legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, radical anti-immigrant groups continue to have a strong voice on the Right. Neiwert has told a compelling story that gives us insights into a movement that is still very much alive.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]