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When Mickey Ben-Tovim drives by Peter Pan Gifts, a small seashell shop in Delray Beach, he slows his Ferarri and squints through the windows cluttered with conchs and cowries, searching for a man he wants dead.
"He's truly one of the more vile individuals you'll ever come across," says Ben-Tovim, an Israeli-born Sarasota computer programmer. "I have on occasion thought about causing him bodily harm, but then I thought, you know, I'm not going to risk my freedom for his. But I was a Marine Corps sniper. If I had the urge to kill him, I would've done it a long time ago, and no one would ever find out."
For at least a decade, 74-year-old Alex Seredin, owner and proprietor of Peter Pan Gifts, has spent his nights posting Internet messages filled with his hatred of Jews. A search on his e-mail address produces thousands of messages laced with all-caps profanity and the word kike.
Using a variety of pseudonyms such as "El Conquistador" and "Strider," all of which trace back to the same BellSouth account, Seredin is a regular presence on messageboards dedicated to Jewish culture and Holocaust denial. Under "Serwad," his oldest nom de guerre, he writes with unflagging passion about the sins, as he sees them, of Israel and Jewry.
In a typical message, titled "HOLOCAUST IS THE JEW LIE AND DOWNFALL," Seredin explains that anti-Semitism is the fault of Jews themselves: "I am not against the Jewish people, but I really think they should know that those of us that are not Jewish, do not sit around all day every day thinking about being Jewish," he writes. "And that the idea to introduce oneself as Hello my name is David and I'm a Jew at EVERY encounter is really what engenders anti-Semitism, let alone that is very tiresome."
Many of his posts quickly degenerate into short, profane volleys with other newsgroup regulars, with Seredin demonstrating that he has a short temper and an oddball vocabulary of racial slurs.
"HOW ZIONAZIS FUCK AMERICANS" reads one post. "WATCH OUT KIKE WE ARE COMING" reads another. "PALESTINIANS SHOULD EXPEL ALL THE BLOODY KIKES" runs a third. "IF THEY DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE THEY SHOULD BE GIVEN PICK AND SHOVEL!"
By posting dozens of messages like these every day, Seredin has earned a storied reputation as one of the most venerable and irrational racists in the newsgroup community.
"There are 200 million Islamo-fascists who are bent on destroying our way of life, and Seredin is one of those people who buys into it," Ben-Tovim says. "It's anger it's all anger."
"His posts all sound alike," says Susan, a Usenet regular from Maryland who has been sparring with Seredin for years. "They're all the really frothing at the mouth, English not quite perfect. And then he starts making sexual slurs. He usually speaks about the clit. He says clacker, which I think is supposed to mean the same thing. He resorts to this when he's backed into a corner. He's vociferous and gross about it."
The war became a dirty one long ago. Ben-Tovim and others tracked down Seredin's home address and business and published them on the messageboards, along with his private telephone number and the name of his wife, Mona.
"I'm getting worried about Alex," one poster wrote in late 2005. "The anger. The upper case. This is an urgent message to anyone who lives in Delray Beach, Florida. Stop by Alex's home and shop and see how he is doing! Here are the coordinates."
Seredin, who refused to be photographed for this article, has fought back with similar tactics but has never managed to shift attacks away from himself. Ben-Tovim says Seredin serves a useful purpose in the Usenet ecosystem. "Alex is so outrageous that he's actually a very good example of how ignorant anti-Semitism is," he says. "He's a very good way of making all anti-Semites look bad. He shouldn't be silenced he should be exposed."
The fact that he spends his days selling seashells to aging Floridians out of a store named for a beloved children's storybook character makes him curiously compelling to everyone on the messageboards.
"I wonder what the heck he is doing," Susan says. "Sitting in the back waiting for customers, typing between sales?"
On a recent lazy summer Monday afternoon, Alex Seredin is behind the counter at the center of his large, whitewashed roadside shop, attending to a belligerent gray-haired customer while tinny piped-in country music tinkles above.
"Just let me see it!" his patron barks as Seredin handles one of the many shells she is buying. Square-faced, with a cap of white hair and a large round belly under his lavender T-shirt, Seredin responds good-naturedly with a genial "ho, ho, ho" as he hands it back to her. He looks exactly like a tropical Santa Claus after a good shave.
His jolliness soothes his customer. Pawing over her purchases, she becomes pleased. "This is really going to look kitsch!" she murmurs, delighted.
"There are some real treasures here. It's a wonderful place for kids," Seredin calls after her in his wheezy Eastern European accent. "Have a good day, my dear."