The Guardian reports that ads from a hate group noted for its history of Holocaust denialism began appearing at two BART stations in downtown San Francisco earlier this month. The transit agency says it has no choice but to run the ads or risk a lawsuit.
The ads in question, which appear at the Powell Street and Montgomery Street stations, don’t look provocative at face value, consisting of an image of a globe, the slogan “History Matters,” and the name of the group: The Institute For Historical Review [IHR].
The problem comes when curious riders find out what the Southern California-based Institute For Historical Review actually is. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Founded in 1978 by [...] a longtime anti-Semite, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) is a pseudo-academic organization that claims to seek “truth and accuracy in history,” but whose real purpose is to promote Holocaust denial and defend Nazism.
[...IHR writers] would claim, for example, that the Anne Frank diary is a fraud because it contained marks made with a postwar ballpoint pen (they didn’t mention that the marks were made later by Frank’s father, who survived German concentration camps to edit and publish the diary).
The law center profile reports that IHR labors to appear outwardly innocuous; hence the generic seeming BART ads.
According to the IHR’s site (which we are not linking to here), the ads, which are electronic and appear on the mounted screens on the Powell and Montgomery platforms, began running September 3 and will be visible for the rest of the month.
IHR claims that it “condemns bigotry.” However, its homepage features long blogs from the likes of IHR director Mark Weber in which Weber complains, “In today’s America, the portrayal of Hitler and his regime is grotesquely unbalanced” and praises the German dictator’s “popular support” and “great effort cultivating friendship with other countries.”
The Auschwitz Museum dubs IHR “the focal point of world neo-Nazi propaganda since 1978.”
The Guardian cites BART spokesperson Alicia Trost as saying that as a public agency BART has no choice but to run the ads if they meet general BART guidelines, or else face the likelihood of a costly lawsuit on free speech grounds.
Update: Via Twitter, BART again said on Wednesday that it must accept the IHR ads on constitutional grounds and reiterated that it does not agree with the views of Weber or his organization.
We don’t endorse these ads. Free speech court rulings against transit agencies that have denied ads have made it clear that we must post these ads and allow advertisers to express a point of view without regard to the viewpoint.— SFBART (@SFBART) September 12, 2018
Yes we sought legal advice in an effort to reject them. We even made the group remove their website url based on the content of the website. They did but what was left "History Matters Institute for Historical Review" couldn't be rejected and are protected by free speech rulings.— SFBART (@SFBART) September 12, 2018
Curbed SF has not yet received comment from the three BART board members whose districts overlap with the two stations.