Taking a pause from its coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith, CNN’s Paula Zahn NOW belatedly revisited the topic of discrimination against atheists in the United States. Filling in for the conveniently absent Paula Zahn was guest host John Roberts. The panelists for the evening were Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, Rachel Maddow of Air America, and the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson. Before the discussion with the panelists began, a truncated version of Paula Zahn’s interview of Richard Dawkins was aired.
From my perspective, Monday night’s segment on atheism was marginally better than the previous one with Karen Hunter and Debbie Schlussel. While Dawkins’ 20 minute interview was regrettably chopped down to about four minutes, I thought he presented a positive face for atheism. Unfortunately, the format of the panel discussion that followed did not lend itself to a substantive exchange.
Ellen Johnson, as others have noted elsewhere, allowed herself to get thrown off track by Jesse Peterson’s demand as to where atheists get their morals from. It is a common question asked of and about atheists and Ellen Johnson should have been better prepared to answer it. After the segment was over, I thought about how I would have answered that question. I intend to follow this post up with another one dedicated to Jesse Peterson entitled “Where I Get My Values From”. In short, I would have told him that “I get my values from the wisdom and reason that humanity has accumulated over thousands of years of history. You say you get your values from the Bible, well I draw my values from the moral and philosophical traditions of all the world’s great civilizations.”
As for Jesse Peterson himself, I thought he managed to be worse than Karen Hunter and Debbie Schlussel combined. He pushed all the right reactionary buttons with his references to the “godless lifestyle” and comparing us to “the radical homosexual movement.” The clear message he was trying to get across is that atheists were ruining America for all of the good, decent God fearing people of this country. It was on the train ride to work this morning that the title of this post would be an homage to a minor but memorable character in Tolkien's "The Return of the King".
I don’t know if Ellen Johnson knew enough time beforehand that Jesse Peterson was going to be her nemesis on the program. If she had, it might have been helpful for her to do a little research as to who this guy really is.
Robert’s introduced Peterson as the founder and president of an organization called Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny, also known by its acronym BOND. The organization’s motto is “Rebuilding the Family By Rebuilding the Man.” I met Jesse Peterson briefly back in 1998 at a conference held in Washington, D.C. for activists in the immigration restrictionist movement. At the time I had never heard of him, but several years later, after I had left the movement, I started to see Peterson as a guest on Fox News, particularly on the Hannity & Colmes program. He could always be counted on to rail against Jesse Jackson, the Civil Rights establishment, liberal, and illegal immigrants. Even on Paula Zahn’s program, in addition to attacking atheists as trying to impose their “godless lifestyle” on Americans, he also managed to berate black dependency on welfare and cavil about college liberals.
As Max Blumenthal writes in The Nation, Jesse Peterson, “with his extremist politics…is merely playing the role of front man for a murky, well funded network of white nationalist activists and right-wing Beltway operatives.” Peterson’s organization BOND, “serves as a platform for Peterson's various publicity stunts. His flagship media event was "National Repudiation of Jesse Jackson Day," timed to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day…In its five-year life span (it was discontinued last year), Jesse Jackson's "repudiation" was not national (it was limited to a street corner outside Jackson's LA office), and it consisted almost exclusively of Peterson's friends, BOND employees, boys' home residents and small-fry demagogues like anti-immigrant border vigilante Glenn Spencer, who joined the crowd in 2004.”
In perusing BOND’s website, it appears to me that community services take a back seat to promoting Jesse Peterson and his right-wing views. Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with African-Americans, or anyone else for that matter, having and espousing conservative viewpoints. No group of people should be locked into just one political party or school of thought. Personally, depending on the issue, my political views are a mix of liberal and conservative. The problem with Jesse Peterson, and others of his ilk such as Roy Innis, is that he does not represent any constituency and his organization is just a shell that, as I quoted from Blumenthal above, provides him with a platform for his advocacy. In return for financial contributions and promtion by the likes of Sean Hannity, he can be relied upon to give them a reliable and controversial mouthpiece in blackface.
Should any atheist spokespersons find themselves facing off against Jesse Peterson in the future, I would advise that they read up on his background and be prepared to give him a good bitch slapping.