Posted Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011, at 12:15 PM
Few news items have provoked mixed feelings as strongly in me as learning that Shawna Forde was sentenced to death yesterday, after being convicted of a hate crime that's up there with the dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper and the killing of Matthew Shepard , though Forde's crime has, for some hard to discern reason, not received nearly the same levels of attention. I'm torn, because I oppose the death penalty broadly, but I also believe that hate crimes and domestic terrorism are ideal crimes for maximum sentences that send the message to future would-be terrorists that they do not have community support.
With many crimes, the potential for severe sentences being a deterrent is questionable. Most murderers already accept that they're operating outside of the law and the wishes of the community, and so being forceful about that fact doesn't seem like it would do much to change their minds about their behavior. But domestic terrorists are different. Many of them believe that they do have community support behind them, and that most of the community is just cowed by political correctness from speaking out. Certainly Forde believes this, positioning herself as a martyr by claiming she's oppressed as "a white, conservative, Christian woman." Just like Scott Roeder, the man who killed Dr. George Tiller, Shawna Forde spent many years immersing herself in right wing subcultures, where she convinced herself that the community shared her beliefs and would support her actions.
Forde's beliefs were basically that Mexican immigrants are subhuman and deserve to be wiped out. Certainly, one can see why she would think the community supported her--she lived and acted in Arizona, a state that has gone to extremes when it comes to anti-immigrant sentiment. Forde's racism led her to join the anti-immigrant vigilante group the Minutemen, and then spin off her own group, and then finally break into a house she selected because she didn't like that the family was Hispanic, and shoot everyone in the house on the pretense of stealing drugs to sell to fund her group. The mother, Gina Gonzalez, survived, but her husband Raul Flores and her 9-year-old daughter Brisenia Flores were killed. There were no drugs in the house.
I don't like the death penalty, but it's critical that domestic terrorists are punished to the full extent of the law, because that sends the signal to future would-be terrorists that the community does not, in fact, support them. Since they rely on the belief of community support to rationalize acts of terrorism, this can make a big difference in preventing crimes like these. If only the maximum sentence across the land was life in prison without parole, and then I could support throwing the book at Shawna Forde without reservation.