Will the Real Barbara Coe Please Stand Up?

I devote a couple of pages of my Orange County: A Personal History (book signing Sept. 18 at the Yost!) to the Huntington Beach-based California Coalition for Immigration Reform, the single group most responsible for fanning the anti-Mexican flames in the United States over the past 15 years. One crucial moment I discuss is CCIR head Barbara Coe's self-professed epiphany regarding the illegal-alien menace, as quoted in Daniel Sheehy's 2006 book Fighting Immigration Anarchy: American Patriots Battle to Save the Nation. Hopefully, Google Books will still have the excerpt here when you click on it, but the Cliff's Note version: Babs had a friend who couldn't get medical benefits. She put him in a Orange County nursing home staffed by employees who "could not speak English and did not properly care for him." Because of this negligence, she says, the WWII vet died a premature death because of his "immediate deterioration" at the hands of the immigrant nurses. Later, Coe says someone told her "the majority of these nursing facilities employ illegal aliens and most of the patients are illegal aliens."

That's a funny story, because this origin is much different from what Coe has previously squawked for the past decade.

As long as I have followed Coe, she has always offered the following anecdote as the reason she began beaner bashing. From a September 4, 1994 Los Angeles Times article:

Coe's political baptism came three years ago when she went to an Orange County social services office to smooth out a dispute involving an elderly war veteran's public health benefits.

The frantic scene in the lobby startled her, reminding her of the United Nations, she said. Coe noticed windows open to serve Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking clients, but said the single one available for English-speaking applicants was closed.

"I walked in and I'm going, 'Where am I?' " Coe recalled.

A welfare agency employee offered some answers and sympathy. Coe listened in dismay as the counselor complained that illegal immigrants were able to obtain the same services that were denied to Coe's elderly friend.

"I went ballistic," said Coe, whose rage led her to other immigration reform groups that she found weak and powerless.

I've seen similar retellings in books, on television, at meetings, everywhere. The Sheehy spin is the first time I've ever heard Coe say that version--in fact, the closest I could come to reconcile her two creation myths is a 1994 Minneapolis Star-Tribune profile which stated Coe's friend lived in a rest home but mentioned nothing about premature deaths or non-English-speaking nurses.

The difference between the two is crucial. Instead of just telling audiences that our modern-day Babel provoked her anti-immigrant genie, now Coe can claim murderous illegal aliens converted her to become a Know Nothing. Now she can say that not only do illegals not speak English and get benefits, but they also kill WWII veterans, so CLOSE THE BORDER.

It can very well be true that both of Coe's stories are correct, but that begs the obvious questions: Why did Coe wait for years before revealing what Sheehy wrote? Why did she instead tell the other one, with little deviation, for over a decade? She mentions nothing about the scene described by the Times in Sheehy's account--why not? Could it be that, all these years, Barbara Coe has been retelling a lie?

We know Know Nothings read this blog, so can one of ustedes convey this message to Babs: Will the real Barbara Coe please stand up?


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