The UK’s Daily Mail writes today about the execution of a 9 year old Hispanic girl and her father by members of an anti-immigrant militia group in Arizona. The story itself is sad, and a troubling indictment of American attitudes toward immigrants, but these excerpts caught my eye (emphasis mine):
Shawna Forde, the head of the Minutemen American Defence group, is on trial accused of two charges of first degree murder.
She is allegedly orchestrated the attack on the Flores family with two male accomplices, due to face face court in March.
Police claim that Forde believed Mr Flores was a drug trafficker and would have cash and goods in the house which they could use to fund their patrols…
Both were in camouflage. Mrs Gonzalez said one was a heavy-set woman while the other was a man whose face was blackened with greasepaint. He was armed with a rifle and pistol…
Forde allegedly funded her by group by robbing the houses of suspected drug dealers. When she reportedly proposed one such raid to two potential accomplices, they phoned the FBI – who did nothing because they believed the suggestion was too ludicrous to be true.
My first thought while reading this story was My god, they’re doing exactly what every narcotics SWAT team in the country is doing right now.
The only truly shocking part about this story is that these are private citizens, vigilantes, mimicking a policing strategy that is actually quite routine. The 1984 passage of the Comprehensive Asset Forfeiture Act allowed the Department of Justice to expand asset forfeiture programs, and, for the first time in American history, to keep the revenue directly for the prosecution of the Drug War. Over time, this funded the militarization of domestic law enforcement, as billions of dollars would go to purchase .50 caliber rifles, tanks, planes, SWAT gear, and other military technologies for police departments all over the country.
At a micro-level, this translates to SWAT teams using military force to prey on drug users and dealers, looking for cash and other valuable property. This is even reflected in law enforcement slang; SWAT teams and narcotics law enforcement are often called “meat-eaters” by other law enforcement, because they “eat what they kill”.
Arizona law enforcement is particularly brutal and callous in this respect. We have all heard of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign of terror; here, for those of you who don’t remember, is the story of Arpaio’s SWAT team raiding the wrong house, burning it down, and chasing the dog, who had caught on fire, back into the collapsing inferno. And yes, Arpaio collects tens of millions of dollars in forfeiture money through these raids, and funds his private army through this money.
It was only a matter of time before gangs would catch onto this tactic and begin mimicking it. And it was only a short while after that Ms. Forde and the right wing militia groups in Arizona realized that this could be an effective strategy for their own evil aims.