Florida's Hate Man is elbow-deep in battle in the bowels of his girlfriend's 1995 Chevy Astro van. The brakes are mucked up, and he has decided to fix them. But as balmy, breezy morning turns to sunny afternoon, Hate Man has to admit defeat.
And he is pissed.
After removing the brake hoses from the two front wheels, Lloyd Shank ran into a "technical problem," as he explains it. The brake jet, a small nut he must remove in order to bleed the brakes, won't submit to any of the tools in his copious collection. He needs a 13/32nd socket wrench. Wouldn't you figure? It's the one wrench he doesn't own. "You caught me at a good time," bellows Shank, a slight, stooped, spry 75-year-old with wispy white hair brushed to the side of a crinkled, mobile face. "I'm mad, I'm mad -- mad, MAD, MAD! [Shank raises his voice by a fraction of a decibel each time he says the word.] Don't light a match," he quips while tucking the stray ends of a blue striped shirt into a pair of burgundy polyester shorts. "I might explode."
He obviously isn't taking this well. In Shank's world that nut, tiny though it is, symbolizes everything gone horribly, terribly wrong with America. It is just one more piece of evidence of the vast conspiracy to make it impossible for a man to take care of his business with his own smarts and his own hands. In Shank's dogma -- which mixes communism with anti-Semitism in a strange brew -- behind the brake jet lurk the Jews, Clinton, Bush, Congress, the secret Jewish Bilderberg billionaires, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, capitalist-fascist dictators, banks, military warmongers, United Nations secret agents, police, lawyers, judges, bureaucrats, religionists, the spy network. In brief it goes something like this: The Jews control the corporations, which control the government, which makes it its job to keep a lid clamped on guys like Shank. The goal is to make us totally dependent on multinational corporations -- on Chevy dealerships for our brake work, on CNN for our news. A 13/32nd wrench! "They will do anything that helps the rich get rich and [the] poor get poorer," he spits out, blue eyes boiling. "It's junk. It's junk. The whole system is junk." This same group of thieves, he believes, is responsible for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Yep, Shank is back on his game.
The incorrigible, churlish, unflagging poster boy for freedom of hate speech has shifted into overdrive following an important victory last month. He beat a Broward State Attorney's charge that he violated a 1945 Florida law outlawing anonymous hate publications. Ironically the hyperliberal and Jewish-supported American Civil Liberties Union defended him, and The Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel beat the drum for Shank on editorial pages.
Back on August 23, 1999, Shank sent letters to six of seven Broward County commissioners who are either Jewish or married to Jewish men. Each missive was a diatribe against the "Jewish gang" Shank believes is responsible for a host of ills, including the 1993 attack on the Branch Davidians' compound in Waco, the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, and police harassment of people like Shank who pass out political fliers on street corners. Broward Sheriff's deputies arrested Shank at his Oakland Park home September 9 and charged him with six counts of breaking the 56-year-old law, which is a third-degree felony, after he confessed to penning the letters. Shank spent two weeks in jail, unable to raise the $6000 bond, before the charges were reduced to a single misdemeanor count.
Shank was the first person in Florida to be prosecuted under the law, which was enacted to hold organizations like the Ku Klux Klan accountable for their publications. Using the same statute, a group of nine Miami high-school students was arrested in 1998 because of slurs against school administrators published in the students' underground newspaper, but the kids were never charged. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle decided not to prosecute the case because she thought the law was unconstitutional and unenforceable.
Rundle's take on the statute proved correct. Broward County Court Judge Gary Cowart ruled in June 2000 that the law was unconstitutional. On September 19 the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld Cowart's decision. The Broward State Attorney's Office will not appeal, says spokesman Ron Ishoy. "I think the sheriff has learned from his mistakes," says Shank's attorney Barry Butin, who is chair of the Broward chapter of the ACLU. "And I hope he is doing the job of fighting crime instead of going after people like Lloyd Shank, whose views may not be in the majority but whose views are protected -- because by protecting his views we protect all of ours."
Shank, who was born December 7, 1925, grew up a sheltered child in a Mennonite family from rural central Pennsylvania. He refuses to give the name of the town ("not at this time") but offers Harrisburg as the closest urban location. As a child Shank studied the Bible carefully, he says, and was taught that the best resistance to evil is to turn the other cheek. He changed his mind about that philosophy as an adult. "I have learned that a true Christian or a righteous position is to stand up against evil," he says. Shank attended the Allentown Bible Institute (a seminary affiliated with the Wesleyan Church). In college Shank discovered communism and began to equate the teachings of Jesus with communistic ideals. His distrust of Jews, he says, came from reading the Bible and from personal experiences. "If someone treats you wrong, you notice who they are. If someone treats you right, you notice who they are," he explains. After college, Shank says, he was ordained by the Independent Holiness Church, a Wesleyan denomination. He became a radical activist following an arrest in West Palm Beach in the mid-1960s for protesting the Vietnam War.
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.
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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."