When tiki-torch-carrying white nationalists returned to Charlottesville, Va., this month, a bearded protester wearing a sports coat spoke into a megaphone: "Hello, Charlottesville; we're back, and we have a message. We're back, and we're going to keep coming back. You will not replace us. You will not erase us."
The bearded man addressing the gathering at the foot of a controversial Robert E. Lee statue was Mike Peinovich, who grew up in a upper-middle-class household in Maplewood, N.J., and is commonly known by his pseudonym, Mike Enoch. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as a white nationalist who hosts an unabashedly racist and anti-Semitic podcast called The Daily Shoah, a play on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
Peinovich became known as a leader of the "alt-right" in December 2016, after he appeared on the Between Two Lampshades podcast (named after rumored Nazi atrocities during WWII) alongside noted neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin, the creator of the white-power website the Daily Stormer.
Peinovich's journey up the alt-right ladder was nearly halted the following month, when his identity was released online by members of an 8chan imageboard. Along with his name and personal information, it was revealed that his wife was Jewish. Later, it was disclosed that his adopted brother, who was the best man at Peinovich's wedding, was African American.
"Yes my wife is who they say she is. I won't even bother denying it," Peinovich wrote after initially denying the information. Outside his home in New York City's Upper East Side, fliers were posted featuring photos of Peinovich underneath a headline that read, "Say hi to your neo-Nazi neighbor, Mike Peinovich!" He lost his job as a web developer. His wife, Ames (who had appeared on his podcast in 2015 to read a neo-Nazi parody of "The Night Before Christmas"), filed for divorce.
But despite the outcry from within the white nationalist movement, leaders like Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke supported him.
Peinovich did not respond to multiple requests to comment.
The New Yorker's Andrew Marantz spoke with his father, Mike Sr., a former English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who said his son was an outspoken Trump supporter ("very much the only one in the family") but had no clue about his life as a white-power shock jock prior to the release of his identity.
Peinovich Sr. said he'd only spoken to his son once this last year, requesting that his son legally change his last name to Enoch. Peinovich initially agreed, then changed his mind, and relayed his decision via text message. It was the last time the two communicated.
"What do you do?" Peinovich's stepmother, Billie, told Marantz. "Send a letter to your cousins — 'Haven't spoken to you in 20 years, hope you're doing well, and, oh, P.S., our son's a Nazi now?'"
Peinovich's parents, who could not be reached for comment, didn't point to a single instance or event that led to his views. Instead, it appears Peinovich's transition to white supremacy happened slowly, behind the backs of his family. He attended Columbia High School in Maplewood and took classes at Ohio University and Rutgers before learning how to code and landing a job at AOL.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, his radicalization started with an interest in libertarian ideas, then shifted into outright racism and extreme anti-Semitism.
The New Yorker reported that Peinovich spent hours debating politics in chat rooms and on Reddit, and eventually created a Facebook group called the Right Stuff, which declared: "Even though you are wrong, we are open to outside opinions… Also we're white and we're not sorry."
"I became attracted to right-wing politics initially as a rebellion against my 'more progressive than thou' WASP upbringing," Peinovich wrote of himself on the Right Stuff, adding that his support of freedom and markets was "slapped in the face by human bio-diversity."
In a statement to the New York Daily News in September, Peinovich defended his beliefs and lamented what he called the decline of the white population in the United States and Europe.