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Indeed Shank is no stranger to the police. He was convicted in 1987 of threatening Ronald Reagan after sending the then-President a postcard criticizing U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. Shank says he spent six months in a psychiatric institution, though local newspapers have reported he spent two years in jail. "That's a lie," he claims. In 1991 Fort Lauderdale police arrested the provocateur for disrupting traffic in the opening days of the Gulf War while he stood in front of a Fort Lauderdale branch of the county library holding a sign naming the elder President Bush "Hitler, Liar, Pig." (The ACLU represented Shank and got the charges dropped.) Under the Baker Act, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement put Shank in a mental institution for a week in 1995 for observation. Former State Rep. Tracy Stafford (D-Wilton Manors) complained Shank threatened to shoot members of his staff. Again Shank says no such thing happened. "This is what I have against a lot of these corrupt Jews. They make up stuff." (Stafford is not Jewish.)
Suffice it to say that Shank has never tried to hide his opinions and frequently prints, publishes, distributes, and causes to be printed letters, fliers, pamphlets, and leaflets rife with hatred, contempt, ridicule, obloquy, and vilification.
The single letter that he sent to each of several Broward County commissioners in 1999, though, was unsigned. The Broward Sheriff's Office recognized the language of the screed as vintage Shank. The content was never an issue. If he had signed the missives, he wouldn't have been in violation of the law. Now that point is moot, too. "The point is it doesn't matter what he writes, the letters are constitutionally protected," says Steve Wisotsky, a professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center who joined Shank's defense as part of the ACLU team.
Shank says he isn't surprised at the judge's ruling that the law is unconstitutional. "I was highly pleased," he says. "The lawyers made an excellent case. I think the Jews that wanted to prosecute me recognize their mistake."
In early October Shank welcomed New Times into his cavernous ranch home, offering a seat at a small dinette decorated with two yellowed Florida place mats. From the other side of the tiny table, Shank explained his life's work: alerting the American public to the Jewish conspiracy. "I don't know anything better that I can do than to be out on the street giving these messages out to people to wake up," he said.
It isn't easy.
Only two weeks ago, he typed a flier titled "Call to Action" on his Adler Universal 2000 manual typewriter. He printed 500 copies of the brochure and spent five days passing them out. In addition to information about what would happen if a nuclear bomb hit an American city, a major Shank concern, the document railed against the "American War Machine." He called on Americans to quit worshiping the country's false gods. "The BEAST must soon drink the cup of WRATH," the circular pronounces. He included his phone number on the bottom. But a week later Shank hadn't received one call -- more proof that Americans are gullible and brainwashed. "I think it is a terrible situation when I pass out 500 fliers and virtually no one responds," he says.
Just about then Shank's girlfriend, Mary, arrives with a sandwich for him. He beams, suddenly gentle and solicitous in her presence. "I'm glad you came by, dear," he says. "OK, dear, OK." And the van? Broward's Public Enemy Number One eased it up the street to Sam's Garage, where Sam had that needed wrench.
"I don't think there is any grounds for fear or concern," speculates Wisotsky. "As far as I know, he is all bark and no bite. If there had been, he would have been arrested for something of substance."