An advertisement surfaced on BART has sparked a debate about free speech because the electronic poster was paid for by a group that has been classified as anti-Semitic.
A large luminous poster with the words "HISTORY MATTERS" over a green and white graphic of a globe was spotted on Tuesday at the Powell Street station. The ads by The Institute for Historical Reviews (IHR) are are in rotation at two BART stations in San Francisco, The Guardian first reported.
"BART does not endorse the ads placed in our system by the Institute for Historical Review," BART spokesperson James K. Allison said in a statement.
BART also has been tweeting out apologies to angry commuters who are disappointed with the transit agency's decision to run the ads.
"As a government transit agency, we are bound by law to carry the ads as written since they comply with free speech laws that allow advertisers to express a point of view without regard to the viewpoint. Past court rulings reinforce the fact that we cannot deny the ads," BART's statement read.
IHR was classified by The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group that promotes anti-Jewish narrative and Holocaust denial.
However, the California-based group says "The IHR as such has no 'position' on any specific event or chapter of history, except to promote greater awareness and understanding, and to encourage more objective investigation," the group's statement read.
IHR was founded by political activist and pro-Nazi Willis Carto in 1978. The organization is now what the SPLC calls "a shadow of its former self."
IHR's director Mark Weber says that the ad is "especially relevant now" because "President Trump, together with prominent politicians of both major parties, seem to have learned nothing from the record of failed US military interventions over the past half century."
BART said it sought legal advice in an effort to reject the ad but evidently thought it didn't have a winning case.
"We even made the group remove their website url based on the content of the website," BART said.
The ads are scheduled to be up from Sept. 3, Labor Day, through Sept. 30 at the Powell Street and Montgomery Street stations, according to IHR.