On the night of January 22, two days after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, a mysterious woman placed strips of bacon on the door of the Islamic Center mosque in Davis, California, near the state capital of Sacramento. The prowler then proceeded to vandalize bicycles and smash six windows before slipping away.
Surveillance video caught her in the act and tips led police to Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, 30, an unemployed UC Berkeley grad arrested on February 14. She had no criminal record but Davis cops found clues that quickly turned up in local news stories.
Kirk-Coelho had posted messages expressing admiration for murderer Dylann Roof, adding that she would like to “kill many people.” She also made derogatory comments about Jews, African Americans and Mexicans and made web searches about Alexandre Bissonnette, charged in a January 29 mosque attack in Quebec. Kirk-Coehlo also launched searches about mosques across the United States and made reference to a bomb-vest and mental issues.
FBI special agent Monica Miller decried “hate crimes” in the community. Local officials proclaimed Kirk-Coelho a danger to the public and slapped on bail of $1 million. Mohamed Kheiter of the Davis Islamic Center board told reporters, “There is a lot of concern that we’re no longer safe,” and that Muslims were “really afraid.” Islamic Center president Amr Zedan explained, “Having an incident like this happen keeps you at unrest in your home. You never feel like you’re safe.”
Local CAIR boss Basim Elkarra issued a statement thanking local authorities for “their swift investigation and arrest in the case.” In all the swiftness, a few key realities were overlooked.
Surveillance video of the vandalism was provided “courtesy of CAIR,” as the Sacramento Bee acknowledged in a caption. The Bee report by Steve Magagnini did not name the source as the Counsel on American Islamic Relations. A report in The Aggie, student newspaper at UC Davis, cited footage “from the mosque” and noted that “shortly after the footage was released,” the local CAIR chapter “called on state and federal law enforcement to investigate the motive behind the vandalism.”
The video shows the vandal moving slowly and deliberately, making no effort to conceal her face. At one point, she practically poses for the camera, wearing a hat that resembles one of Trump’s Make America Great Again lids. At no point does the vandal show concern that she might be caught, and she leaves the scene in a casual manner.
After the arrest, Kirk-Coehlo’s high-school photograph was the first to appear, instead of her booking photo.
Several traffic offenses and a trespassing charge in Santa Barbara county were her only previous contacts with police. The most informative news story came from Meseret Carver and Megan Bobrowsky of the Blue Devil Hub, online news service of Davis High School.
Lauren Kirk-Coehlo showed “no signs of such behavior during her time at Davis High and for years after graduation,” according to classmates. One of them, Jacob Berman, called her a “pretty unremarkable Davis liberal,” with no eccentricities beyond a “weakness for marijuana and loud colored hair dye.” Berman told the reporters “I never knew I was friends with a white supremacist.”
A high-school science teacher called Kirk-Coehlo “a very happy, bubbly person.” She served as president of the Davis High School environmental club and the report showed a photo of her happily posing with club mates. The story’s only negative comment came from Sule Anibaba, who started the Muslim Student Union at the high school and attends the Davis Islamic Center. Anibaba did not know Kirk-Coelho but told the Hub, “I’m sure she had hate in her.”
Nobody recalled that Kirk-Coehlo attended a mosque but statements from local Muslims raised doubts. UC Davis student Nida Ahmed explained on television, “we want her to know that we are a forgiving community, and we would like to welcome her back if she’d like to come and visit us and learn more about Islam.” So the bacon vandal must have been there before.
“In a way, we want to thank her, because she brought us all together,” explained Mohammed Kheiter, treasurer of the Islamic Center. The incident “made us more powerful and more active in our community.” According to Kheiter, it was a teaching moment. “We know she did it for lack of knowledge,” he told reporters. “She deserves an opportunity to learn about us. We are sure if she learned about our beliefs, she would regret what she did.”
On February 17, the Sacramento Bee ran a large photo of the bespectacled prisoner with “her chestnut hair in pigtails,” a detail of significance given the bacon caper. In her court appearance Lauren Kirk-Coehlo made no statement and her two prominent defense attorneys, Steven Sabbadini and David Dratman, both declined to comment for reporters. Even so, the narrative was evident.
Muslims had been victimized by a pigtailed white supremacist hatemonger straight from central casting. Even in progressive Davis, Muslims were afraid in their homes and not feeling safe. Yet, the noble victims extended an olive branch of forgiveness. All would be well if she could “come back” and learn about Islamic beliefs.
The Bee’s Steve Magagnini, who also teaches at UC Davis, took care to include the back story: “Some Muslims nationwide have reported being harassed after president Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 barring all entry into the U.S. by visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.” So post Trump ergo propter Trump is the high concept for hate crimes.
Magagnini has written about prominent local Muslims such as Mohamed Abdul-Azeez of the Tarbiya Institute, also recently vandalized. Abdul-Azeez was not quoted on Kirk-Coehlo but what he said of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings may be relevant: “The whole thing has a fishy stench to it,” Abdul-Azeez told Magagnini, and “the story is riddled with inconsistencies.”