Bart officials approve advert from Institute for Historical Review, known for publishing antisemitic views
A San Francisco public transit agency has approved adverts from a group that promotes Holocaust denial and antisemitic views, claiming the organization has a “free speech” right to buy train station billboards.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) officials defended their decision to allow ads for the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has classified as a hate group that aims to “defend Nazism” and spread Holocaust denial propaganda.
The electronic billboards, which say “History Matters!” and provide the name of the California-based organization, are in rotation at two Bart stations in San Francisco. They come at a time when antisemitic incidents have accelerated at alarming rates in the US and across the world, and as far-right groups and neo-Nazis have increasingly pushed racist and fascist views under the guise of advocating for free speech.
“We cannot deny the ads,” a Bart spokeswoman, Alicia Trost, said in an interview on Tuesday, noting that the agency does not endorse the message or group. “You have to look at it for exactly what words are used and what images are used … There is plenty of case law and court rulings that show if you deny the ad, you can be taken to court, and you’ll lose, and that’s obviously costly.”
The ads, which are running for most of September in the Powell and Montgomery stations, have prompted some backlash from the public, said Trost: “When people look into it, they are upset about the ads, which is understandable.”
The IHR was founded in 1978 by Willis Carto, a prominent far-right figure and Holocaust denier. The group previously published an antisemitic journal and sponsored Holocaust denial conferences, according to the SPLC, a not-for-profit that documents extremism and rightwing hate movements. IHR has been on the decline in recent years, but still runs a website where it promotes “extremist books and other materials”, the SPLC said.
The IHR website published an article saying there is “no evidence for Nazi gas chambers” and another saying “Germans were no more antisemitic than any other people”.
The Anti-Defamation League has also documented the IHR’s history of marketing Holocaust-denial ideologies.
“It’s pretty astounding to me that they would be running ads from this group,” said Heidi Beirich, the SPLC’s intelligence project director. “It has a clear track record of making light of Nazi atrocities … The last thing we need to do is give [the IHR] publicity and recruiting opportunities.”
Public transit agencies across America have faced controversy surrounding free speech rights and offensive ads in recent years. The Washington DC metro system faced a lawsuit after it rejected an ad from the rightwing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Islamophobic ads proposed in New York City also prompted a legal fight, leading transit leaders to ban all political ads.
Facebook and other social media platforms have also faced widespread scrutiny for allowing Holocaust deniers to spread falsehoods and offensive content.
Mark Weber, the IHR’s director, said his group paid $6,400 for the ads and that Bart initially rejected his proposal when the designs included a link to his webpage. After he removed the URL, the transit agency said the ad met its guidelines.
The SPLC says Weber has played a significant role in popularizing Holocaust denial viewpoints. Reached by phone Tuesday, he said, “I accept that millions of Jews were killed during the second world war,” but added, “Whether it’s 10 million or 6 million or 2 million is an argument among historians.”
Weber, who has claimed that his organization is not a Holocaust denial group, told the Guardian that his website has “published articles and items that reasonably could be called Holocaust denial, but it doesn’t necessarily represent my view or the views of the IHR”.
He said the Bart ads have already led to an increase in traffic to his website and some inquiries from the public, but did not provide details.
On the IHR store, Weber has promoted his writing, including one talk lamenting “the Jewish-Zionist grip on the media” and an address by him titled “An Introduction to Holocaust Revisionism”.
Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University professor and expert on Holocaust deniers, said the IHR was instrumental in presenting the denial ideologies as academic inquiry, framing their work as “revisionist”. The group has long promoted “distortions and inventions of history”, including the tactic of questioning the number of deaths, she said.
Bart should not have given the group an opportunity to promote itself, Lipstadt added: “This is an attempt by an entity that for a long time has been rather moribund to see if in this climate, it can reemerge.”
Read more: www.theguardian.com