Alt-right

Purged from so­cial me­dia,white na­tion­al­ists are ɿnd­ing a last refuge in pod­cast­ing. And Mike Peinovich has the hottest mic

Newsweek - - News - POL­I­TICS BY MICHAEL EDI­SON HAY­DEN @Michaele­hay­den

The Case Against Na­tion­al­ist Shock Jock Mike Peinovich

it was au­gust 2017, and white na­tion­al­ist shock jock Mike Peinovich was fir­ing up his au­di­ence on The Daily Shoah, the sig­na­ture pod­cast of an “alt-right” net­work that at­tracts tens of thou­sands of lis­ten­ers a week. Many of them were pre­par­ing for the

“Unite the Right” rally in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia. Coun­ter­protesters, how­ever, were promis­ing to dis­rupt the event in Eman­ci­pa­tion Park, where city of­fi­cials planned to re­move a statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen­eral Robert E. Lee. Peinovich told his au­di­ence to come pre­pared for a fight. “Bring what­ever you need, that you feel you need for your self-de­fense,” he in­toned. “We don’t want them to have the im­pres­sion that we are go­ing to be show­ing up there un­armed.… That is not the case.”

Some of his lis­ten­ers ap­par­ently got the mes­sage. Soon af­ter, mem­bers of the Ku Klux Klan and droves of younger, more in­ter­net-savvy white na­tion­al­ists ar­rived with guns, clubs and Plex­i­glas shields. Fights broke out, and men and women were at­tacked with blunt ob­jects. A 20-year-old man who had marched with a neo-nazi group drove his car into a crowd of coun­ter­protesters, in­jur­ing 19 peo­ple and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. (The driver is charged with first-de­gree mur­der.) The story be­came in­ter­na­tional news.

Be­fore Char­lottesville, few out­side the dark corners of the in­ter­net had ever heard of Peinovich or his blog The Right Stuff, com­monly re­ferred to as TRS. But, as tech com­pa­nies like Twit­ter, Paypal and Godaddy slowly at­tempt to purge their plat­forms of alt-right voices in the af­ter­math of the rally, Peinovich’s pod­cast­ing net­work has de­vel­oped into ar­guably the loud­est and most in­flu­en­tial gath­er­ing place for white na­tion­al­ists on the web. His web­site, Theright­stuff. biz, now hosts more than two dozen pod­casts and draws close to 1.5 mil­lion views per month. Un­til re­cently, a sep­a­rate fan fo­rum had nearly 10,000 reg­is­tered users and, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, ap­pears to be spawn­ing new hate groups. One or­ga­ni­za­tion, True Cas­ca­dia, op­er­ates

through­out the Pa­cific North­west and has re­cently drawn head­lines for past­ing neo-nazi fly­ers in lo­cal towns. Re­searchers who study the far-right say it’s be­come dif­fi­cult to keep up with Peinovich’s mas­sive out­put of white na­tion­al­ist pro­pa­ganda.

Some alt-right lead­ers see his net­work as a kind of last refuge for a po­lit­i­cal move­ment on the run. While his peers at the neo-nazi web­site Daily Stormer have been re­duced to ar­rang­ing se­cre­tive cash trans­ac­tions or ask­ing fans for cryp­tocur­rency do­na­tions, Peinovich is still able to raise money us­ing the pay­ment pro­cess­ing com­pany Stripe.

Crit­ics, how­ever, ar­gue that the pod­caster is us­ing his web­site and his voice to hawk a vi­o­lent ide­ol­ogy: A coali­tion of stu­dents, clergy and Char­lottesville res­i­dents are su­ing Peinovich and a hand­ful of other white na­tion­al­ists— in­clud­ing reg­u­lar TRS guests Richard Spencer and An­drew Anglin of Daily Stormer—for al­legedly us­ing their plat­forms for “plan­ning, pro­mot­ing and car­ry­ing out” the at­tacks in Char­lottesville last year. If suc­cess­ful, the law­suit could po­ten­tially un­mask anony­mous Peinovich fans, ex­pose se­cret fund­ing sources and si­lence the alt-right’s largest mi­cro­phone.

For his part, Peinovich has re­peat­edly de­nied that he in­tended to pro­voke vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville—he blames coun­ter­protesters for the clashes that week­end—and ex­pressed re­gret to Newsweek that it hap­pened. But he and the other de­fen­dants have dis­missed the le­gal chal­lenge as “law­fare” de­signed to dis­man­tle the alt-right. Their speech, they ar­gue, is pro­tected un­der the First Amend­ment.

“The facts al­leged by plain­tiffs in this law­suit, even if to­tally true, are not suf­fi­cient to es­tab­lish the el­e­ments of a con­spir­acy,” Peinovich tells Newsweek. “All they are re­ally de­scrib­ing are po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists at­tend­ing a rally.”

Peinovich’s rise was rel­a­tively quick. Broad­cast­ing un­der the name Mike Enoch (a ref­er­ence to a far-right Bri­tish politi­cian who staunchly op­posed im­mi­gra­tion), the for­mer tech worker posted the first episode of his flag­ship show, The Daily Shoah, in 2014. The name is a pun mock­ing the geno­cide of Jews dur­ing World War II. Other shows were quickly added—all of them fo­cus­ing on build­ing a sep­a­rate coun­try for white, non-jewish peo­ple and rev­el­ing in irony and in­side jokes. They have names like The Poz But­ton, a term mock­ing peo­ple di­ag­nosed with HIV/AIDS, and This Week in White Geno­cide, which refers to the be­lief that white peo­ple are being slowly erad­i­cated through race-mix­ing. Another show, Third Rail, which is hosted by anony­mous per­form­ers who call them­selves Spec­tre and Lau­ritz von Guild­hausen, urged their lis­ten­ers to call the po­lice on black peo­ple and file base­less claims that they had stolen some­thing or pos­sessed weapons.

The big­gest draw, how­ever, was Peinovich him­self, a thick and burly car­ni­val barker adept at chan­nel­ing

The TRS fo­rum be­came the place to set­tle ar­gu­ments within the alt-right move­ment, at­tract­ing a who’s who of white na­tion­al­ist lead­ers.

his ex­trem­ist point of view through com­edy. His hu­mor is fre­quently racist and per­sonal. (He has re­ferred to Heyer, the fallen Char­lottesville ac­tivist, as “the fat chick that died.”) He also cre­ates new slurs and lists griev­ances that get re­peated in alt-right cir­cles for months af­ter he speaks. He claims to have in­vented the om­nipresent “echoes” meme, in which Jewish peo­ple’s names are writ­ten with three sets of paren­the­ses around them to sin­gle them out for de­ri­sion by anti-semites.

Like many other white na­tion­al­ist pod­casts, TRS shows are typ­i­cally recorded out of a home. But their su­pe­rior sound qual­ity—en­hanced by indie metal band gui­tarist Jesse Craig Dun­stan—dis­tin­guished them from the pack. Some say this nod to­ward pro­fes­sion­al­ism helped turn a home-brew net­work into an alt-right sen­sa­tion, sim­ply be­cause it changed the perception of how white su­prem­a­cists broad­cast their mes­sages. “Most of th­ese other white na­tion­al­ist pod­casts sound like they were recorded in a tin can,” says Kee­gan Hankes, an in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst at the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter. (Dun­stan, who did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, also con­trib­utes song par­o­dies to TRS shows. One ex­am­ple: “Santa Claus Is Com­ing to Town,” re­placed with the lyrics “Don­ald Trump Is Send­ing You Back.”)

Most im­por­tantly, Peinovich and his col­lab­o­ra­tors gave his fans a venue where they could gather— first in the com­ment threads of the TRS web­site and later on its fo­rum—en­cour­ag­ing them to par­tic­i­pate in po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions on a daily ba­sis. While topics on the NOT A KLU Duke, who was Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and is a fan of Peinovich, pa­trolling the Cal­i­for­nia-mex­ico bor­der for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. fo­rum could range from anti-semitic con­spir­a­cies to re­la­tion­ship ad­vice (typ­i­cally with a glee­fully misog­y­nis­tic tone), it also be­came the place to set­tle ar­gu­ments within the alt-right move­ment, at­tract­ing a who’s who of white na­tion­al­ist lead­ers. One thread from early March de­bat­ing the sub­ject of how na­tion­al­ists should present them­selves at ral­lies lasted for 107 pages and read more like a dra­matic stage play than a po­lit­i­cal debate by the time it was fin­ished. (Sup­port­ers of the alt-right have de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for throw­ing per­sonal in­sults at one another when things don’t go ac­cord­ing to plan.)

Peinovich fans also got to­gether in real life at “pool par­ties.” Re­searchers of the far right say th­ese pri­vate mee­tups of TRS lis­ten­ers rep­re­sented the next step in the evo­lu­tion of the al­tright move­ment, as it stepped out of ob­scure chat rooms and into spa­ces like Char­lottesville.

Anony­mous ac­tivists tried to stop all of this last year by un­earthing and leak­ing the pod­caster’s real name and per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing his mar­riage to a Jewish woman. As a re­sult, he lost his job as a com­puter pro­gram­mer, and some of his fans turned on him. But thou­sands more stuck around, and Spencer, Anglin and for­mer Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke vouched for Peinovich, help­ing him re­ha­bil­i­tate his im­age among the white na­tion­al­ists who of­ten shun peo­ple with per­sonal ties to Jews. Hankes be­lieves Peinovich sur­vived largely be­cause of his enor­mous clout. As Anglin put it in a post on Daily Stormer: “Tens of thou­sands— maybe even hun­dreds of thou­sands— of men have been brought into the [alt-right] move­ment through TRS and Mike’s work.” He went on to de­scribe Peinovich’s echoes meme as “one of the big­gest pro­pa­ganda coups since the death of Adolf Hitler.”

With­out a shield of anonymity, Peinovich’s com­mit­ment to the white na­tion­al­ist cause seemed only to sharpen, and he be­gan mak­ing public ap­pear­ances with more ex­treme fig­ures, like the neo-nazis of Na­tional So­cial­ist Move­ment and the nowde­funct Tra­di­tion­al­ist Worker Party. He also ramped up TRS’S con­tent and in­vested more time in its growth.

On the eve of Char­lottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally, Peinovich urged his lis­ten­ers, “Bring what­ever you need, that you feel you need for your self-de­fense.”

Those ef­forts are now jeop­ar­dized by the Char­lottesville coali­tion’s law­suit, which could po­ten­tially force Peinovich to re­veal the iden­ti­ties of his anony­mous fans. Roberta Ka­plan, the at­tor­ney lead­ing the suit, tells Newsweek that he should be ex­pected to pro­duce only in­for­ma­tion about his fans that is rel­e­vant to the case at hand, concerning whether they con­spired to com­mit acts of vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville last sum­mer.

But even the mere prospect of being ex­posed has cre­ated a panic: Many fans fear los­ing their jobs and being iso­lated from their com­mu­ni­ties. Peinovich, who is rep­re­sent­ing him­self in the case, has ar­gued that he has a right to pro­tect the pri­vacy of un­named in­di­vid­u­als that con­trib­ute to his site. In court doc­u­ments, he said that “his ‘rep­u­ta­tion and abil­ity to earn a liv­ing’ will be ‘ir­repara­bly dam­age[d]’ if those vis­i­tors ‘no longer feel they can browse’ the web­site’s ‘po­lit­i­cally con­tro­ver­sial’ con­tent with­out fear that their ‘per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able in­for­ma­tion’ will be dis­closed in lit­i­ga­tion.” The judge shot th­ese at­tempts down in April.

“Dude, get a lawyer,” a TRS fo­rum user named @j-r-ewing wrote in a thread about a recent Newsweek story on Peinovich. “The fact that you are [de­fend­ing yourself ] is the most concerning fact in the ar­ti­cle. It means that you don’t have com­pe­tent rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

“You don’t know what you’re talk­ing about,” Peinovich re­sponded.

He fur­ther alarmed fans in May, when, dur­ing a court pro­ceed­ing, he ac­ci­den­tally called his Char­lottesville se­cu­rity de­tail his “con­spir­acy” team, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who were present in the court­room. (“Say the words se­cu­rity and con­spir­acy five times in a row with­out mak­ing a mis­take,” he tells Newsweek about the flub. “Now, do it in front of a fed­eral judge. Go.”)

As the le­gal bat­tle con­tin­ued, the TRS fo­rum and its thou­sands of posts abruptly dis­ap­peared from the in­ter­net. Peinovich de­nied to Newsweek that he was re­spon­si­ble for ap­par­ently delet­ing its his­tory, and he blamed col­lab­o­ra­tors in­stead.

Mean­while, on air, the pod­caster has ver­bally at­tacked Ka­plan, laps­ing into in­sults when the sub­ject of the law­suit arises. “Al­right, Roberta Ka­plan, you poor, swine, sweaty dyke-y, lit­tle f***ing Jewish les­bian!” he said on an episode of The Daily Shoah. “F*** you! You don’t even know how the in­ter­net works.”

Ka­plan, whose ar­gu­ments dur­ing the 2013 Supreme Court case of United States v. Wind­sor paved the way for the le­gal­iza­tion of gay mar­riage, says Peinovich has struck a more def­er­en­tial tone with her and oth­ers in the pres­ence of the judge, per­haps in­di­cat­ing that he un­der­stands the threat the law­suit rep­re­sents to his pod­cast busi­ness.

She pro­vided Newsweek with a tran­script of a court hear­ing as an ex­am­ple. At one point, Peinovich re­minded the judge that he was rep­re­sent­ing him­self, with­out much le­gal mus­cle. “I’m kind of up against a lot of stuff here,” he said.

WHITE LIES Riot po­lice form a line in front of a statue of Lee on Au­gust 12 in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia. Op­po­site: Peinovich at the mic.

THE FIGHT STUFF Clock­wise from top: A vigil for Heyer, who was killed when a man drove a car into demon­stra­tors in Char­lottesville; Spencer, the white na­tion­al­ist; Ka­plan, the lawyer.

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