Over the weekend, Donald Trump’s presidential transition committee sent out a press release containing statements of support from “civil rights and law enforcement groups” for Trump’s intended nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. As a few news organizations pointed out, the press release did not actually include any civil rights advocates—not a huge surprise since Sessions isn’t exactly known as a friend to the civil rights community.
Instead, it contained the endorsement of Leah Durant, who was identified as a “civil rights attorney and founder of the Black American Leadership Alliance.” Durant is a longtime anti-immigration activist with close ties to the network of anti-immigrant groups founded by John Tanton, a proponent of white nationalism and eugenics.
Durant was an attorney for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the chief Tanton group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), before leaving to head up Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), a Tanton-tied group that attempts to get liberal environmentalists on the side of anti-immigration advocates. (Kris Kobach, who is advising the Trump transition on immigration issues and is reportedly on the shortlist to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has long worked with IRLI as well.)
Then, in 2013, Durant appeared again as the head of a new group called the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), which seemed to be entirely run out of PFIR and appears to have been founded solely to fight the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill. Shortly after establishing itself, BALA led an anti-immigration rally in Washington, D.C., featuring a handful of enthusiastically anti-immigration members of Congress including Sessions.
Also featured at the rally was founding BALA member Jesse Lee Peterson, a right-wing activist whose bread and butter is going on conservative talk shows claiming that there is no such thing as racism and that white people must stand up to stop people of color from “waging war against whites, which represent the goodness of America.” Peterson claims that contemporary civil rights leaders are “worse than the Ku Klux Klan and skinheads combined” and says that African Americans today are worse off than they were before the civil rights movement.
Since then, BALA has appeared only very occasionally in the media, until this weekend when the group was lifted up again in an attempt to provide cover for Sessions’ long history of opposing civil rights.