In the hyper-masculine right-wing internet community known as the “manosphere,” few figures loom larger than Jesse Lee Peterson.
The Los Angeles-based pastor and online radio host has become a star in conservative media in part for his demands that men and women return to his unorthodox version of traditional gender norms. Peterson’s ideas about gender can be eccentric even by the standards of his compatriots, with Peterson claiming that a woman who orgasms during sex is somehow “becoming a man,” a practice he frowns upon.
Peterson has also emerged as one of the right’s most vocal anti-gay figures. He’s claimed that people who march in gay pride parades are the children of Satan, and that “radical homosexuals are evil.” He’s become a regular sparring partner for progressive YouTube personalities, telling online commentator “Destiny” in 2020 that he didn’t understand why his debating partner was openly bisexual.
“I don’t understand the purpose of putting that out there,” Peterson said. “People are going to judge you, they’re going to look down on you.”
Now several of Peterson’s one-time friends allege that the pastor’s own personal life is rife with gay sexual relationships.
Two of Peter’s former male associates came out in June with on-the-record interviews saying they engaged in sexual activities with him, while other men say he propositioned them. These allegations about the pastor—who in public is staunchly heterosexual—have ripped like an earthquake through the manosphere, prompting some of Peterson’s allies to abandon him and prompting one manosphere conference to ban him.
“I’m very sorry to have Jesse’s situation damage the conservative movement,” Patrick Rooney, one of the men who claims to have had a sexual relationship with Peterson, told The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast was not able to substantiate the sexual allegations. Peterson’s ministry, a California “brotherhood organization” known as BOND, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
This isn’t the first time the manosphere has been roiled by controversy in the past year. In December 2021, a manosphere influencer who goes by the alias Jack Murphy was outed for filming himself in an outlandish series of online porn videos, prompting his onetime allies to turn on him. That same month, a manosphere influencer murdered five people in a Denver rampage before being fatally shot by police. In April, Romanian law enforcement raided the home of a prominent British manosphere figure as part of a human-trafficking investigation.
The allegations against Peterson broke into the public view in June, when Church Militant, a radical right-wing Catholic website that once hosted hate figure Milo Yiannopoulos, released a nearly 30-minute investigation into Peterson called “Amazing Disgrace.”
In the video, a Church Militant reporter interviewed two men who alleged having sexual contact with Peterson, as well another man who said Peterson had propositioned them.
The video prominently features Rooney, who frequently appeared on TV and online shows with Peterson for decades. Peterson, who is Black, once praised Rooney on his show as “one of the smartest white men this side of heaven.” But in the Church Militant video, Rooney alleges their relationship went further than friendship after Peterson sexually approached him in 2005.
“Next thing you know, he’s ripping his clothes off,” Rooney said.
Rooney claims the two men had a roughly 10-year sexual relationship after that first incident, until Rooney, who is married to a woman, broke off the relationship and confessed the affair to his wife.
Rooney told The Daily Beast he doesn’t have emails, text messages, or recordings that could prove his allegations.
“Jesse Lee Peterson is a very smart person, he’s a sly person,” Rooney said. “He’s not going to leave a lot of extraneous evidence out about what he does”
Another man, Samuel Arambula, alleged in the Church Militant video that he had started to hang out with Peterson at the “BOND house,” a Los Angeles home where Peterson purportedly lives with other male members of his religious “brotherhood,” in May 2020. Soon after that, Arambula claimed in the video, Peterson approached Arambula and began rubbing Arambula’s thighs and genitals. (While the video compares Peterson to a pedophile priest, the youngest man he allegedly had sexual contact with was 30 years old).
Robert Santner, who described himself as the BOND house’s former manager, claimed he witnessed Peterson acting physically affectionate towards men in ways that he deemed suspicious—including one bizarre incident with Peterson and another man. In Santner’s telling, he walked in on the pair as the unnamed man was wrapped up in a blanket “like a burrito,” while Peterson hugged him and kissed his forehead. Santner also alleges that Peterson once confronted him while massaging his own genitals, before smiling at him and walking away.
Church Militant’s founder, Anthony Michael Voris, has a history of intra-right provocations, and was once described by the National Catholic Reporter as “one of the U.S. Catholic Church’s most infamous agitators.” Church Militant is currently being sued by a Catholic priest for defamation in an unrelated case.
In an email to The Daily Beast, an unnamed person operating Church Militant’s “editor” email said the video was a response to the outlet’s fear that Peterson’s “large following of young Catholic men” would be misled by the pastor. Shortly before the video’s release, Voris and Peterson had sparred over Christian doctrine in an online video show.
Peterson, who is not married, has mostly avoided responding to the allegations. But in late June, a caller to his online show managed to break through.
“I’m just kind of confused,” the female caller said. “Why haven’t you addressed the issue of the gay documentary?”
“Uh, it’s not concerning to me,” Peterson told his audience as he hung up on her. “What a wicked woman!”
The Church Militant video has roiled Peterson’s hyper-masculine conservative community. Anthony Dream Johnson, the organizer of a series of manosphere conventions where Peterson has appeared and the self-proclaimed “First President of the Manosphere,” wrote in a June 22 newsletter that many manosphere members were “outraged” and “going through the beginning stages of grief.”
“I’ve never witnessed this level of extreme hypocrisy and fraud before in my professional career,” Johnson wrote, before closing the newsletter with the message “May Jesse burn in hell.”
Johnson claims that he’s banned Peterson from his future manosphere conferences.
Some of Peterson’s accusers and their supporters have started picketing outside of BOND’s office, prompting at least one police visit to the site over harassment concerns, according to a video viewed by The Daily Beast. In the video, police warned the apparently peaceful protesters not to get aggressive with anyone entering the building.
Rooney initially refused to talk to The Daily Beast, claiming he was afraid that his alleged relationship with Peterson would hurt the broader American conservative movement. But he changed his mind after considering what he describes as Peterson’s hypocrisy towards gay people.
“You certainly want to go after Jesse as a hypocrite, which he is—a hypocrite,” Rooney said.