Net Hate in Neverland

To locals, he's a roadside institution. But to the Usenet, he's a monster.

"Even though what he's saying is hateful in nature, it's protected," Ali says. "It doesn't give someone the right to come and kill him. But if you are engaged in hate speech, you have to be prepared to embrace the consequences. If he ceases and desists from displaying hate and bigotry, well then, I'm pretty much sure the death threats would stop. If you're a Muslim, according to the teachings of our religion, you are not supposed to slander anybody. These kinds of behaviors tarnish the image of Islam."

Although locals don't condone Seredin's hate speech, they also don't seem interested in starting an anti-Seredin campaign. No one has boycotted or leafleted his store. And none of his detractors seems to have ever set foot in Peter Pan Gifts.

"If I lived in Florida, I would be tempted to see the place," Susan says, "and I would be curious to see what he looks like, but just the idea gives me the creeps."

In fact, the only Floridian who really seems to care about Alex Seredin's anti-Semitism is his worst enemy: Mickey Ben-Tovim.

"I'm one of the only Jews who knows Alex that's actually in Florida," Ben-Tovim says. "Most of them tend to be retired New Yorkers who aren't plowing around on Usenet."

But Ben-Tovim is oddly addicted to Alex Seredin. An Israeli Jew whose mother survived the Holocaust, his decade-long war with "Alex," as he calls him, became a personal crusade when his own life was falling apart, and now he can't let go.

"I lost a son — 21-year-old boy," Ben-Tovim says. "He was dead in his bed. He died of an aneurysm in his heart. I had just gone through losing both of my parents in a matter of 60 days. My wife started drinking a lot. I had a lot of pressure and frustration on me, and Alex was the dartboard. I just went and signed on and found a few of his posts and started going after him. I just torture him mercilessly."

Seredin himself is equally trapped. So why doesn't he just stop using the word kike in favor of some more diplomatic term? He says he can't.

"How many times have they called me 'raghead' or 'sand nigger'? I don't see no harm, when someone calls me a sand nigger, to call them a kike. They're throwing it at me; I throw it back at them."

Asked if he'll ever stop logging on to the Internet newsgroups for hours every night, he sighs. "Maybe I should. Sometimes, I think I should stop writing on the Internet. But it feels like retreating from the truth."

Then he perks up and chuckles.

"At least, I think it's been some good publicity."

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