The Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA) has received plenty of criticism for its blatant attempt to divide communities of color with its July 15 “DC March for Jobs.” The event only seems stranger when one of its organizers is a longtime member of one the longest running codifiers of white nationalism and far-right conspiracy theory in America.
Jesse Lee Peterson is a “proud member” of the John Birch Society (JBS). In a 2009 address to the group, Peterson quipped, “I’ve been a member for so long I’ve forgotten how long. I love what it stands for.”
Peterson, it seems, is unaware of what JBS actually stands for or what it has done over the last 50 years. Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons note in Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort that:
“In a sense, the Birch society pioneered the encoding of implicit cultural forms of ethnocentric White racism and Christian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the White supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of Jews that had typified the old right prior to WWII. Throughout its existence, however, the Society has promoted open homophobia and sexism.”
In the past, JBS membership has included some of the country’s most prominent white nationalists including Willis Carto and William Pearce. The latter of which founded the neo-Nazi National Alliance and wrote The Turner Diaries, inspiring Timothy McVeigh. To this day, JBS remains opposed to civil rights legislation fearing it would lead to America falling under communist rule. If Peterson’s JBS had their way, it certainly would have been more difficult for the black organizers of BALA to hold a rally – or even vote against the politicians they criticized endlessly during it.
In fact, in Peterson’s idealized America, things would be even worse for BALA founder Leah Durant. In a sermon last year, Peterson referred to granting women the right to vote as “one of the greatest mistakes that America made.” Later saying, “wherever women are taking over, evil reigns.”
In addition to his affiliations with JBS, Peterson is also the founder and president of a Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) state contact group called Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny. Peterson spoke at the July 15 event, but interestingly was not introduced as a member of BALA during the DC rally itself despite being a founding member of the front group.
Peterson is not JBS’ only connection to the BALA rally. Michael Cutler, Senior Writing Fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization, also spoke at the rally and appeared on JBS member Donald R. Griffin’s radio show last June.
BALA’s march last week could not be successful without the participation of Tea Party and Minutemen groups. Many of them brought signs calling mass deportations and immigration reform efforts a “pathway to disaster,” complementing the BALA-produced “Save Our Jobs” placards. One attendee from Georgia noted that, “If the Tea Party Patriots people had not shown up for that march, there would have been nobody there.” Apparently, for an event that supposedly supports black communities to succeed, it also needed speakers like Ken Crow who lauded the (mostly white) crowd’s “incredible DNA” in what seemed to be a call for racial purity.
BALA may attempt to distance itself from of those like Crow and Peterson, but is also needs to rely on such extremists for its own survival. The fact that this is the audience accepting and spreading nativist messaging speaks much louder to its lack of merit than any number of citizens marching on the nation’s Capitol ever will.