The Nativists

Around the country, an anti-immigration movement is spreading like wildfire. An array of activists is fanning the flames.

AGE: 71

Barbara Coe boiled over one day standing in the lobby of an Orange County, Calif., social services office. Looking around her, she told a Los Angeles Times reporter, she was reminded of the United Nations. Then she noticed the windows for Spanish and Vietnamese speakers were open, but the English window was not.

"I went ballistic," she said. She's been that way ever since.

In 1994, Coe organized a group called the California Coalition for Immigration Reform to help write and push through California's Proposition 187, which was meant to cut off undocumented immigrants from social services like public schools and hospitals. The initiative passed but was eventually found to be unconstitutional. Later, in 1999, she helped organize an effort to recall anti-187 Gov. Gray Davis, who she derided as a communist and referred to as "Gov. Gray 'Red' Davis."

Vitriolic, conspiracy-minded and just plain mean, Coe routinely refers to Mexicans as "savages." She claims to have exposed a secret Mexican plan (the "Plan de Aztlan") to reconquer the American Southwest. Last May, at a "Unite to Fight" anti-immigration summit in Las Vegas, she launched the kind of defamatory rant for which she is infamous. "We are suffering robbery, rape and murder of law-abiding citizens at the hands of illegal barbarians," she warned her cowering audience, "who are cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos."

More recently, she attacked the new Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, accusing him of seeking to return Southern California to Mexico.

But the most curious thing about the former police clerk -- whose friends have said she told them she was forced from her job in 1994, after using a city-owned camera to photograph people she thought were illegal aliens -- may be her offhand comments to the Denver Post this November. In a profile of her close friend, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the paper said Coe described speaking to and belonging to the Council of Conservative Citizens. That group, which has called blacks "a retrograde species of humanity," has long been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group -- as has Coe's own California Coalition for Immigration Reform.