Barbara Coe, the vitriolic California racist who regularly called undocumented immigrants “savages” and once claimed that these “barbarians” were busily “cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos,” has died.
Although she was widely known for statements like those, especially in recent years when she also charged that President Obama was not American and admitted she was a member of a hate group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity,” Coe was once a key player in the nativist movement. In 1994, her California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) helped push through the state’s Proposition 187, which barred the undocumented from services including non-emergency medical care but was ultimately struck down by the courts.
Coe, who was 79 when she died of lung cancer at her Huntington Beach home on Aug. 31, made a routine of viciously attacking immigrants and anyone who supported them. When an 18-year-old student committed suicide because he could not get legal status in the United States, she described his story as just another “sicko yellow-belly coward illegal alien ‘sob story.’” During the 2003 Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, held to support legalization of the undocumented, she wondered “how many in this group of foreign invaders have robbed, raped and possibly murdered law-abiding American citizens and legal residents?” When Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2005, she accused the son of a Mexican immigrant of plotting to return Southern California to Mexico. After newly elected California Gov. Gray Davis refused to pursue the Proposition 187 court case, she accused him of being a Communist and began calling him “Red” Davis.
She despised Obama, who she characterized as a lying Muslim born in another country. Less than an hour after the president announced the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, she wrote her followers: “OBAMA is a proven, radical pro-Islamic Muslim BUT will do/say ANYTHING to get re-elected. OBAMA has illustrated that he complies with Sharia Law — which demands Misleading or Lying (TAQIYYA) to promote the Koran’s mandate to ‘torture, kill ALL non-Muslim infidels.’ DUMP OBAMA (and his fellow-TRAITORS) or DIE! YOUR CALL!”
Not that she limited herself to hating Democrats. At a 2007 March Against the North American Union — referring to a baseless conspiracy theory about a secret plot to merge Mexico, the United States and Canada — she said that President George W. Bush and undocumented immigrants were working together to impose the “New World Order,” a reference to a much-feared global government. “Illegal aliens,” she said, “are the ground troops needed by Bush Jr. and his globalist buddies for the ultimate death of America.” She went on to charge that Bush and other “globalists” were exploiting the “herd mentality” of immigrants to achieve their aims.
In Orange County, Coe’s death was noted in an Orange County Register story that described her in forgiving terms. Coe, the obituary said, was “best known for tapping into some citizens’ deeply held concerns about illegal immigration.” The piece said nothing of her self-admitted membership in the Council of Conservative Citizens, an openly racist group, and it quoted none of her more vitriolic statements. It did, however, cite CCIR board member Evelyn Miller, who insisted that the “charge of racism is used by charlatans” and vowed to continue Coe’s work.
Others celebrated Coe’s dubious contributions. According to the Register, the far-right Eagle Forum of California planned to honor her in a meeting yesterday. And the CCIR itself vowed to continue her work, the paper reported, with board member Vaughn Becht saying, “We have a board that will carry on her legacy.”
Barbara Coe was born on a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, but eventually moved to California, where she became a crime analyst for the Anaheim Police Department — until she left in 1994 after reportedly being caught using a department camera to photograph striking workers she suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
By her own account, Coe’s hatred for immigrants took off when she accompanied a friend to a social services office in Orange County in 1991. “I walked into this monstrous room full of people, babies and little children all over the place, and I realized nobody was speaking English,” she recalled three years later. “I was overwhelmed with this feeling: ‘Where am I? What’s happened here?’”
During the 1994 Proposition 187 campaign, Coe announced plans to post fliers near polling places on Election Day saying “Only citizens can vote.” She was accused of trying to intimidate voters, and the FBI questioned her but did not bring charges.
The next year, she and racist nativist Glenn Spencer organized a speaking event for Peter Brimelow, another nativist who runs the white nationalist VDARE website. VDARE stands for Virginia Dare, said to be the first English child born in the New World.
With Spencer, she claimed to have discovered another non-existent foreign plot against the United States — the so-called “Plan de Aztlan,” a supposed Mexican conspiracy to reconquer the seven states of the American Southwest.
In the late 2000s, Coe became a board member of the Minuteman Project, a major anti-immigrant citizens border patrol group whose members President Bush once characterized as “vigilantes.” While there, she became embroiled in a complicated internal battle over control of the group, helping to fire founder Jim Gilchrist for alleged mismanagement. She resigned from the group’s board in 2007.
“She was fire and brimstone,” Spencer told the L.A. Times for its obituary earlier this week. And she was certainly fire, as anyone who has heard her speak can testify. But Barbara Coe may be even better remembered as brimstone, an archaic word for sulphur.