Activists dog hate-preacher in Portland

Avowed racist's first public access show focuses on Ben Smith

The Oregonian/February 27, 2000
By Bryan Denson

Civil-rights protesters rally against a white supremacist leader from Colorado as he speaks to followers

The pastor who helped unite white supremacists and militia leaders into America's anti-government movement preached to more than 80 people Saturday at a Portland hotel as demonstrators outside shouted "Nazi scum."

Peter J. Peters, a 53-year-old Colorado rancher, preached off and on for more than six hours in a narrow meeting room at the Courtyard by Marriott near Portland International Airport. His sermon demeaned Jews, homosexuals and the 75 noisy civil-rights protesters outside.

"I want to apologize to you," Peters told followers. "There was a time I could attract a bigger crowd of protesters than that." His audience laughed. They listened to his sermon enrapt, flipping through Bibles on their knees as children sprawled on the carpet or fidgeted in chairs.

Peters is one of the key voices in the Christian Identity faith, a theology followed by white supremacist groups such as Aryan Nations and factions of the Ku Klux Klan. He teaches that Jews are the spawn of Satan, homosexuals should be executed, and white Europeans and their descendants are the chosen people.

Peters slipped into Portland unannounced to the public. But investigators with the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity intercepted Peters' invitation to his followers and summoned civil-rights groups to Saturday's protest.

Jonn Lunsford, who tracks hate groups as research director for the Seattle-based coalition, worries that the following of Christian Identity is on the rise and might compel people to violence in the name of their faith. He noted that Buford O. Furrow, the man accused of shooting five people at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles last year, was once a security guard with Aryan Nations in Northern Idaho.

Peters has preached at the LaPorte Church of Christ in Colorado since 1977, once hosting members of The Order. That Northwest white supremacist gang committed a series of armed robberies and murders while attempting to finance a race war.

In 1992, Peters convened more than 150 people in Estes Park, Colo., including key personalities in the West's far-right fringe: among them Klan and neo-Nazi leaders, tax resisters, abortion opponents, gun-rights activists and others. Civil-rights groups say the meeting was seminal to the anti-government movement that inspired the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Peters' message now echoes from a newsletter, shortwave radio broadcasts, a computer Web site, Bible camps and sermons such as Saturday's.

About 75 demonstrators gathered in a cold rain outside the motel. As the last of Peters' followers trickled in, a band of youthful protesters -- some wearing masks to prevent reprisals -- broke from the crowd and stormed the lobby. One demonstrator tried to disable a back door with a bicycle lock. Police officers pushed the crowd outside and strung yellow crime-scene ribbon around the hotel. They arrested one demonstrator, alleged to have interfered with a police officer.

The unruly group heartened a few aging demonstrators in the crowd, including Stew Albert. "I came here to bring the holy spirit of the '60s to this younger generation," Albert said. He was delighted by their spirit but cautious about the masks, which can appear menacing.

Later, a protester who had taken a seat among Peters' followers shouted obscenities at the preacher and was escorted out.

Peters sermonized against the woman, who is white, as a daughter of Satan and told his followers that such people "don't have to be of the cursed people; they can be of our own people."

The general manager of the Courtyard, Ted Kooy, said that his hotel was not affiliated in any way with Peters but that his guests were entitled to free speech and privacy unless they broke the law.

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