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."